Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Brazilian Organization Culture in a Nutshell

Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Adapting a business model to a Brazilian reality is a challenge faced by many European companies relocating to Brazil, raising the question: what are the main differences between Brazilian companies and the foreign ones?


Since the fall of the military regime in 1985, Brazil has gone through great changes in the corporate sector. Many of the state-run companies were acquired by multinational giants and many of these companies brought their own presidents, directors and managers with them.

This process of relocation can be stressful for both parts: to Europeans, that now have to deal with a lack of planning and a strong influence of personal relations on the business environment; and to Brazilians, that feel threatened by the new set of rules and by the high level of commitment they are now expected to achieve. What we aim with this article is to point out the main differences between these two business models: the well organized and fixed European model versus the flexible and somewhat improvised Brazilian one.

Relocation and Brazilian Attitude

The socioeconomic situation of Brazil can hardly be described in a single definition, but I think we can talk about at least two “Brazils”: the first one is modern, urban, upper-class and strongly influenced by western culture; the other one is rural, traditional, lower-class and non westernised. Of course, this definition polarizes the question and does not include the many rich farmers throughout Brazil, or the poor people living in urban and modern cities, such as São Paulo, but it suits the purpose of this article.

Most companies relocating to Brazil are established in the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Curitiba, which are the classic examples of that first Brazil, previously presented. As Brazil is known for its strong inequality in terms of income, most Brazilians do not believe in the virtue of hard work as means for social mobility. Work and wealth are associated with exploitation, failure, adventure, risk, luck and corruption instead of being related to hard work and the consolidation of a good career.

Traditionally, when a Brazilian company was acquired by a foreign group, there was this feeling of distrust and concern among Brazilian employees. Workers were afraid of the new rules and changes to be applied by the new company, while the employees who were working directly with management adopted a defensive position, thinking that Europeans were coming to show the Brazilians how to do business.

This scenario has changed a little as administrative models tend to globalization. Companies are becoming more homogeneous and the same principles are being introduced all over the world. Consecrated theories are sold as management literature and spread by consultant firms around the world, tending to a more homogeneous management policy.

Even so, there is that side of business culture that simply cannot be apprehended by homogeneous policies, which is the side of the Brazilian culture and history that causes a great impact on business models. This side is the expansion of social practices and values to a business environment and it is where things get really complicated between Brazilians and foreigners.

Management Policies

The first major difference in terms of management policies is the relationship between boss and employee. When a typical Brazilian president walks around the factory of a typical Brazilian company, it is almost as if the employees had to face down and adopt a servile position. The president is always very well dressed and it is very hard for a worker to get in touch with him, as there is a lot of bureaucracy to go through.

On the other hand, an European president would dress more casually and would probably gather around workers more often. Also, many presidents of foreign companies in Brazil invest in a closer relationship with workers, trying to be available to a direct contact with the employees. His position is not reinforced through hierarchy, but through professional knowledge, expertise and competence.

Most Europeans working in Brazil are expatriates, often holding key positions such as top management, directors and presidents. It is typical of Brazilians to use the word boss with a capital B, as he is seen as the one who has the final word, the one in charge of important decisions and the one whose opinions should never be contested. Having that in mind, it is easy to realize that the relationship boss/employee is naturally a stressful one. Now picture an employee who cannot fully communicated with his boss. This is a reality in many multinational corporations, as only a few Brazilians speak English and in most cases is the foreigner who has to learn Portuguese.

Here are some of the greatest differences between the European administration style and the Brazilian one:

Brazilian Administration Model European Administration Model
Control-based organizations Trust-based organizations
Decisions are imposed Decisions are discussed
Planning only involves today and tomorrow Long-term planning
Flexibility seen as positive Flexibility seen as lack of planning
Deadlines are never a deadline Deadlines are strictly followed
Employees seen as nothing more than employees Employees seen as partners
Employees must be told to do their jobs Employees act more instinctively
Control, monitoring, directing and obedience Persuasion, negotiation, equality and democratic leadership
Ability to negotiate Tendency to settle for the first option

Jogo de Cintura: the Brazilian Know-how

While Europeans and Americans value planning in advance, Brazilians usually rely on luck and on a practice called jogo de cintura, which corresponds to the last minute way of accomplishing a goal by breaking rules. It is a general belief that there is no need for worries or plans, as everything can be arranged in the end.

This “arrangement of things” is mostly related to exemption to certain rules and use of favors. In this sense, personal contacts play an important role. Just to give an example, let's say I missed the deadline to turn in a document to the Human Resources department, but I happen to have a friend who works at this department. I would easily ask her to turn in the document for me, even though I have missed the deadline and she probably would and things would probably be fine.

Actually, personal contacts do play a primary role in the Brazilian business culture. In Europe, a business offer can be made almost without any personal contact; in Brazil, this is almost impossible. Brazilians expect a good relationship with the people they are going to enter a deal with. The decision is almost based on the person participating on the negotiation instead of the deal itself.

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