When Jason Lomoriello, now 38, first traveled to Brazil right out of college, he was blown away by, well, everything--the towering skyscrapers, the emerald trees and grass, the panoramic mountains and, of course, the vast rain forests.
Doing Business in Brazil
Carmenza Gonzalez is vice president of international business development with the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, which connects companies in Orlando, Fla., with those in Brazil. She's immersed in all things South American, so she offers these suggestions for any entrepreneur prepping for his first business meeting in Brazil:
"When I landed, I landed in heaven," says Lomoriello, who came as a tourist but eventually returned to start a business seven years ago.
Lomoriello, who owns Exporting Brazil, which specializes in Brazilian furniture, doors and home-related items, has blazed a path that many American entrepreneurs have been traversing or considering heading down.
"Nearly every one of my clients who has come down to Brazil has mentioned how they prefer Brazil to Asia. What they usually tell me is, 'The quality is better, the food is better, the time zone is closer, the people are nicer, it's cleaner. ' But then the compliments always end with, 'Too bad Brazil can't beat China on price,'" Lomoriello says.
Brazil may be more expensive than Asia, but if all goes according to plan, the capital city of São Paulo, the 20th largest city in the world, will be the 13th biggest by 2020. But if you're going to capitalize on Brazil's emerging fortune and grow with it, there are many things to consider before striking up a business deal.
The Deal-Breaker: focusing the conversation on how Americans do business. It's one thing to talk about how it's done in America; it's another thing if you sound like it's your way or the highway. And careful if the conversation turns to American superiority, warns Anthony Stiso, president and CEO of DEUSA Enterprises, a marketing and communications firm in Miami Beach, Fla. Stiso has been doing business with companies in Brazil for the past 10 years.
"Some Brazilians feel a national pride that is immense and view American ways of doing things as arrogance," he says. "Others realize that Brazil is lacking in many areas and seek out U.S. solutions."
The best tack to take, Stiso says, is the center, agreeing when you can on areas where Brazil bests America.
"Admitting a U.S. shortcoming will give you a lot of credibility among Brazilians and separate you from the arrogant Americans who believe in 'my country--right or wrong.'"
The Deal-Breaker: discussing business over lunch
Lunch, which can easily stretch out over two hours, is sacred here, Lomoriello says.
"When doing business in Brazil, you should respect and enjoy their lunch ritual. Business is rarely discussed during lunch and is seen as an American stereotype [if you do]. Brazilians hardly ever eat on the run and enjoy personal conversations during their meals. Discussing business during lunch is [considered] bad for digestion."
The Deal-Breaker: refusing a cup of coffee. No need to invite your Brazilian colleague to a coffeehouse, but if it's offered, have a cup of joe--a lot of cups.
"Think golf was important in closing a deal in the U.S.?" asks Stiso. "In Brazil, it's coffee."
Sure, you can refuse and ask for a Coke or mineral water, but you'll convey the message that you're not really in sync with Brazil and--not to sound high schoolish--but that you're not all that cool.
The Deal-Breaker: not understanding social mores and hand gestures. "People will use words that Americans might flinch at. Calling someone a 'big black man' is not an offensive term," and neither is 'gringo,' so if you're called that, don't take it as an insult, Stiso says.
And while touching and kissing is part of Brazilian culture, and you may get a hug or be patted on the shoulder during a meeting, you could kill all of your progress if someone asks for your opinion and your hand suddenly flashes the OK sign. It's like giving someone the middle finger. Don't do it.
Cultural mishaps are forgivable, of course, but if you want to build a reputation as a serious business owner in Brazil, learn the social norms--coffee cups and all.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.