24/07/2014

By Nynzi Maung, NECC’s Access Programme Leader


I was talking to a friend recently, who works in PR, and the conversation turned to the subject of business relationships. PR is of course a very relationship-driven industry and one that is built on trust and honesty. This got me thinking…

I work on a daily basis with business people who work just with Russia, Brazil and India respectively. They all tell me how doing business in their receiver country is different; unique to anywhere else in the world. I’ve had enough of these discussions to work out that it’s not the Brazilians, Russians or Indians who are different – it’s us the British, and our way of conducting business that differs.

The British business culture is focussed on contractual interactions. We’ll happily meet a potential new business partner for the first time; work through an agenda and discuss business issues, and leave without knowing anything personal about the people we were interacting with in that meeting.

That’s not how they do it in India Brazil or Russia – relationships are key and if you want your business to succeed there, you’ll need to spend time understanding the business culture; adapting to it and working on building strong robust relationships based on trust, whilst learning and appreciating their ‘way’ of doing things.

India, Brazil and Russia are all renowned for their own unique customs and traditions. With this in mind, I called on some of my contacts through the Access Programme to get a steer on how we can use these individual cultural differences to our advantage.

Kevin McCole, from the UK India Business Council, advises:

- “Indians place great value on relationships so take the time to develop contacts and build a bond.

- “There are many ‘Indias’ within India, and there are now 29 States, each with its own government – it's more diverse than the EU. So be aware of the cultural and regulatory diversity, and be cautious about generalisations. The great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson once observed: "Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true."

- “India has a reputation for being bureaucratic, but that's not private sector India. Many businesses are family run and hierarchical, and fast moving.

- “If you've got a good relationship with the decision makers in a company, you can do a deal.”

Gareth Moore, British Consul in Recife, gives the following advice in regards to doing business with Brazil:

- “In Brazil, business will only be done after several visits and bonding over topics such as food, family and football.

- “Learn about the culture, particularly around payment terms for goods and services – what works in the UK or other markets won't necessarily work in Brazil.

- “Don't try and change the Brazilians – sometimes 'their way' of doing things may feel frustrating and different, but it will pay dividends taking the time to fit your model to the local market and its language.

- “Be persistent. It can take time to get things off the ground in Brazil but don't confuse this for inefficiency. People don't always respond to emails, instead they may prefer face-to-face discussions or negotiations.”

David Cant, managing director at Albion Overseas, offers the following advice on building Russian relations:

- “Don't be surprised if the Russians 'act differently' in business; they may arrive late for meetings, their tie might be at half-mast or they may wear a t-shirt. They may even sit listening with eyes closed and arms folded but they don’t mean to be rude.

- “Be prepared to field personal questions. ‘How much do you earn?’ is common; they are just curious and the more the relationship is working, the more they will take an interest in you. Personal questions are normal in Russia, where there is literally no word for “privacy” as we understand it. Try not to bluster indignantly by way of a response!”

Perhaps more than in most countries, it pays to read some of the literature and learn even a tiny bit of Russian. They will respect the fact that you have made the effort.

If we look at relationships out of the context of business, they form an essential part of our daily lives. They are a powerful thing which, in my opinion, can be used to an advantage when setting your stall out to do business with each of these markets.