As the developed economies crater, many vendors are looking beyond the borders of North America and Western Europe to grow into Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
For open-source companies, in particular, Latin America shows a great deal of promise, as countries such as Brazil and Argentina deliver many leads--but to too few closed contracts.
Over the past three years, part of my role has included managing Alfresco's business in Latin America. In so doing, I have sought expert advice from Red Hat, which has a booming business in Latin America, and other trusted sources. This weekend, however, I was privileged to hear from an unexpected source: Dorian Turner, president and founder of Lingo Consulting, a firm that helps enterprises expand internationally.
Turner gave some excellent advice on the nuances of building a business in Latin America, which she has kindly allowed me to share here:
- Most Argentines do speak English, and certainly, (that includes) Argentines in IT and hard-science fields...The most common issue was not the language barrier, but a) understanding other employees with accents over the phone..., b) correctly understanding differences between American and British English..., and c) getting nervous when speaking with their English counterparts here in the USA or when they visit. The same is very true of Brazil.
- Understand that (Latin American) employees are in awe of how American business works (especially how we work as a "team" that even includes management, when they are so used to an "employees vs. the big, bad boss" kind of mentality). So if you are hiring there, and (your company) has one of those "we are all one" corporate cultures, this is something you will have to train new hires in, as it is not the norm culturally.
- When you don't have operations there, hire someone local to help with local hiring...Argentine and Brazilian people are accustomed to doing things in person. Of course, IT professionals and other corporate employees are typically very Web-savvy, but as a rule, they do everything face to face.
- In addition, (Argentines and Brazilians) are used to going through several grueling rounds in the hiring process...In both Argentina and Brazil, it is permissible to ask for photos, have age and gender requirements mentioned in job descriptions, and even to visit a potential employee's home during the hiring process. Unlike the U.S., it is not only legal, but acceptable that a potential employer also ask personal questions, such as marital status, as well.
- I highly recommend that you make sure to have a representative team from your company or a U.S. representative team to train and/or assist in recruiting. Argentines have a way of hiring friends and relatives that makes an objective eye (who has your company's interests at heart) essential when it comes to hiring decisions.
This also helps to set the tone of inclusiveness, rather than that these new hires will simply be "cheap labor," even if that may be one of the perks of hiring there. Argentines have a complex about American businesses because of a past history of U.S. companies coming there and abusing employees.
- You should look at Uruguay as well. It is a small country wedged between both Argentina and Brazil. They are almost identical culturally to the Argentine people (sort of like how Canadians are similar to Americans), but with more flexible tax laws and reciprocal agreements with the USA that may make it worth your while to investigate.
- Ideally, (your company) would put a small or satellite office in either Argentina or Brazil (preferably both) as again, it has been my experience that this is best for everyone; these will be "full-time employees." The only other alternatives would be to either work with a partner firm or to have a designee fly there periodically to ensure that your company's goals are being met.
Great advice, and great insight into how to pragmatically grow in a growing, but sometimes difficult, market.