Campus: CSU Hayward -- March 14, 2003

CSUH Students in Brazil Learn That In Business, Cultural Awareness is Power


When it comes to international business, cultural awareness can be far more important than a company’s wealth, power or prestige. It is a lesson in global business relations that American corporate executives learn first-hand as participants in the Transnational Executive MBA program, known as TEMBA, at California State University, Hayward.

For example: “You would never attend a business dinner here in Brazil before 8 p.m., and you shouldn’t expect to discuss business unless the host brings it up,” said Martin Desmaras, business professor and coordinator of international affairs at Centro Universitário de Jaraguá do Sul. “Here, business dinners are basically social events, where you don’t leave in a hurry and thank-you notes and flowers are often sent afterward.”

Desmaras was one of several Brazilian professors who gave presentations on South American business culture to a group of 24 Cal State Hayward TEMBA participants in southern Brazil last December. The visit to the state of Santa Catarina was one of three overseas trips that TEMBA participants take. During these journeys they hear presentations in global business practices from international professors, economists and business leaders. Then, they put their lessons into practice while working in teams on consulting projects for Brazilian companies.

“One of the great strengths of TEMBA is its ability to bring students into direct contact with these experts,” said Desmaras, who has lived in five countries. “And the most important lesson we can pass along is the one we have learned from economists Edward and Mildred Hall: ‘The greatest barrier to businesses success is the one erected by culture.’ ”

Desmaras said Brazil is good example of how cultural differences can interfere with both social and business relationships. On the surface, America and Brazil have similarities: they are large multi-cultural democracies with about the same land mass. With a population of 170 million, Brazil is the world’s fifth most-populous country and has the eighth largest economy, with a gross national product of $805 billion.

“When they think of Brazil, Americans might come up with images such as the Amazon, deforestation and soccer,” Desmares told the TEMBA class in December. “Getting rid of stereotypes is a part of understanding each other’s culture.”

When Not to Wear a Tie

Doing business in Brazil requires an understanding of that country’s differing work ethics, the result of colonization and immigration. There are even regional differences.

“For example,” Desmares said, “In the region south of São Paulo, which is much more affected by European immigration, business people can be more direct, even blunt, than those farther north. In the south, a suit and necktie is expected at a business meeting of executives, but in the north ties have been discarded.”

Desmares had these other suggestions for Americans doing business with Brazilians:

  • Try to obtain a personal introduction from an intermediary and avoid self-introduction (an approach similar to that in Asia).
  • Avoid doing business during the nationwide Carnaval celebration as well as the weeks before and after.
  • The best times for a business appointment are from 10 a.m. to noon and from 3 to 5 p.m.
  • Shaking hands is customary, but friends or closer acquaintances kiss once on each cheek.
  • Keep eye contact.
  • Exchange business cards.
  • Remember that meals are a time for socialization. Talk about your countries’ two cultures and your family.

“Brazilians value modesty, friendliness and reasonability,” Desmares said. “Once that has been established, you aren’t just doing business together, you have friendship and trust.”

Students Witness Historic Moment

The importance of learning from an international relations expert like Desmares is one of the reasons the two-year-old TEMBA program has become so popular with American executives, according to Shyam Kamath, a professor in the College of Business and Economics at Cal State Hayward and director of the transnational MBA program.

“TEMBA participants go beyond the theoretical to learn first-hand how to succeed in the world of global business,” said Kamath, who has made 16 trips to Brazil. “The students in this latest cohort learned from a series of Brazilian presenters that some American-style approaches to business won’t work there. High-pressure tactics emphasizing point-by-point discussions where the main emphasis is on monetary gain just aren’t accepted as the way to do business.”

The Cal State Hayward TEMBA delegation made its trip to Brazil at a time of historic economic importance to the continent. The six member nations of the South American common market, known as Mercosur, approved a plan where they will allow their 250 million people to live and work in any other member country and be granted the same rights as the citizens of those nations.

Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are full members of Mercosur, and Bolivia and Chile are associate members. They have a combined gross product of more than $1 trillion, making it the world’s third-largest trade group.

The agreement was formally ratified Dec. 6, while the TEMBA cohort was in Brazil. The students were able to learn from Brazilian experts how Mercosur countries hope to coordinate economic policies to be able to negotiate better trade deals with the United States. They also learned about preliminary discussions to adopt a common South American currency.

“This is the kind of world view that our students have come to expect from the TEMBA program,” Kamath said. “And the same cohort that had this amazing South American experience in December will hear about business approaches in Europe when they travel to Brussels in a few months.

“It’s experiences like these which make TEMBA a program like no other.”

CONTACT: Kim Huggett (510) 885-2032


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