Friday, February 17, 2012

Growth and Optimism Abound in Brazil

Today's guest post is from Mary Lynn Fayoumi CAE, SPHR, GPHR

Mary Lynn Fayoumi
Late last year, I had the opportunity to spend a week in the exciting country of Brazil as part of a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)-sponsored Executive HR Exchange program. The seasoned group of over twenty professionals I had the privilege to travel with represented a broad array of American and international organizations from many industries and geographic locations. Combined we represented over $53 billion in revenue, 184,000 employees, oversight of almost 1,000 HR practitioners and more than 500 years of HR experience. Our common desire was to experience first-hand the transformation that is taking place in Brazil in order to better understand the business climate and more specifically, the Human Resources practices and priorities of the largest economy in Latin America.

Having been in a number of developing countries during my travels, my first impression was that Brazil does not fit in this category anymore and also does not have much in common with the other BRIC nations (Russia, India and China). While there are still significant challenges with infrastructure, poverty, corruption and racial inequality, there are signs everywhere that things are changing quickly, and optimism abounds. As Brazil prepares to host two major world events, the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 (for which Chicago competed), there is a determination to present Brazil in a whole new light to the world as an intriguing, progressive and safe place to visit. In both Rio de Janeiro, which is well known for its beautiful beaches and annual pre-Lenten Carnival celebration, and São Paulo, the third largest city in the world, I was highly impressed with the openness of the people, the national pride that exists and the vibrancy that seems to permeate this country that is growing rapidly in sophistication and opportunity.

Given that this was a business exchange, we spent much of our time visiting companies. Three of the six corporate visits were to organizations familiar to most American business people: HP, FedEx and ChemTech, a division of the large German multi-national Siemens. The other three visits were to employers very familiar to most Brazilians. Rede Globo (Globe Network), most well-known for its Portuguese telenovellas, a popular hybrid between our soap operas and a TV mini-series, but also known as a leader in news and all things media, hosted us for an entire day at their studios, where we brushed shoulders with a few Brazilian actors. Natura, a multi-national cosmetics and personal hygiene company (somewhat like Avon or Arbonne), also welcomed us at their breathtaking corporate headquarters campus which was built in concert with its focus on the environment. Having been on hundreds of plant tours over the years, their sophisticated, automated and spotless manufacturing facilities were best in class.  Finally, we spent time with the HR team at the flagship store of Magazine Luiza, Brazil’s largest big box retailer with over 700 stores, which has rapidly expanded through acquisitions of smaller stores in various regions of Brazil.

During every visit, we were provided a thorough and enthusiastic company overview often delivered by the CEO, president or general manager. Then, the HR team would take over and share their structure, priorities, practices and challenges. It was abundantly clear that while HR regulations stemming from the 1940s might be out-dated, HR in thriving businesses is by necessity very current and seen as integral to organizational success. Something that struck our entire delegation as unique and important was that all of the companies we visited stressed their values as core to achieving their mission and finding the right “fit” for talent to help them drive their goals. In contrast, I doubt that a visit to six American companies would all start with a presentation featuring values. In addition, we learned that relationships are essential in Brazil and much care and consideration is given to building strong and lasting bonds before jumping into business. The patience required to get to know each other and make assessments as to potential connections can be frustrating for Americans who like to move things along quickly and get right down to discussing the business at hand.

As part of our visit, we also took time to take in some of Brazil’s breathtaking sites, including Copacabana Beach, Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain and the Tijuca rainforest. Of course, I also fell in love with the great Brazilian music, the mouthwatering array of fresh fruit, the coconut water served fresh out of the shell, the delectable desserts and the warm-hearted people. Overall, the trip was worth every minute and real (Brazilian currency) as I came back with a much greater understanding of why so many companies and many of our members are headed to Brazil. It is truly a beautiful place with much untapped potential in the midst of a rapid transformation. Definitely, it is a place to keep our eyes on in the years to come.

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