5 Things Every Foreign Investor Should Know when Managing Projects in Brazil

5 Things Every Foreign Investor Should Know when Managing Projects in Brazil

Do you want some valuable tips on managing projects in Brazil? Keep reading to learn how to deal with project rework and  how to get things done in Brazil without losing your temper.

A Real Story

Let me share a short story of how things usually work in Brazil.

I wanted to build a new fitted closet in one of the storage rooms in my home.

In preparation, I meticulously created a draft with all measurements. The sketch contained a detailed description of the piece of furniture to be built.

Next, I hired a local company to do the work. The store manager saw my draft and said he would need to send someone to my home to make sure the dimensions were correct.

“You know, we must be certain these measurements are right,” the manager said.

“Fair enough,” I thought, “Measure twice, build once.”

Specifying the Work

A few days later, a professional came to my home and measured the storage room. He took some rough notes in his notebook.

As he was heading to the front door on his way out, I asked him,

“Don’t you want to take my draft with you just in case?”

The carpenter paused for a second, scratched his head and replied,

“Ya, ya, your measurements are kind of identical. OK, sure… I’ll take it.”

I gave him a copy of the specs and was told they would get back to me later, without specifying a date.

Rework is the Norm

To make a long story short, regardless of my detailed specifications, the closet was finally installed after several failed attempts.

On the first try, the closet was too big for the room and was the wrong color. On the second, it was too small. On the third and final attempt, it was kind of the right size. After some experimentation, they finally found a way to force fit it into the space.

When leaving my home for the last time, upon noticing my air of disapproval, one of the installers gasped,

“You don’t look happy… This wasn’t my fault, sir… You know, it’s always like that: something happens and someone along the line ends up cutting the pieces not exactly right. There is nothing I can do about it.”

The story ends with the white closed fitted into my storage room, hiding a few extra holes in the wall – a nice extra bonus for the work done. Good enough…

Business as usual.

An Important Pattern You Need to be Aware Of

Interestingly, this negative experience wasn’t a big surprise to me. There were lots of reworks, time wasted and wooden materials thrown away; but, this is how business is usually done here.

All right. You may be thinking to yourself, “What’s the point of the story?” After all, bad experiences with tradespeople is a global problem. You may have already experienced the same type of situation yourself when remodeling your home in Ontario, right? What’s the big deal?

The deal is that, in Brazil, this situation happens not only with construction workers, carpenters and tradespeople, it happens with all sorts of professions, even the most noble, such as accountants, lawyers, and expensive service providers.

This pattern is widespread in Brazil.

Here is how it works:

  1. You request some work to be done.
  2. The person nods positively.
  3. The person goes away for a few days.
  4. Suddenly, the line goes mute and you don’t hear from anyone anymore.
  5. You follow up.
  6. No answer.
  7. You follow up.
  8. No answer.
  9. Then, finally, they come back with something completely different than what you specified.
  10. You need to make two to three iterations to fix things.
  11. When questioned, no one seems to feel responsible for the issues you are experiencing.
  12. In the end, someone will always blame the system as the reason for the problems. Here are the most common excuses I get:  ­

“We had an impediment.” – If asked, they won’t be able to specify what it was.

“These are our company procedures.” – Which company procedures? They can’t say!

“It’s my boss’, co-worker’s, assistant’s fault.” – Whose fault? They aren’t sure!

Here is an example to prove my point that this pattern affects all types of professionals. Just recently I had a strategic meeting with an account manager from a top global bank. This is someone who is highly qualified.

Amongst other things, we agreed to move forward with a very time sensitive financial operation. In the meeting, I vividly remember providing him a print out with all my account details and the exact transaction amounts, so there wouldn’t be a problem carrying out the transaction.

A few days later, when calling back to know if everything went OK, the first words out of the banker’s mouth were, “What’s that account ID again?” Immediately, I knew that things hadn’t been done according to what we had agreed.

Another day went by and I had to call him again to say that, upon checking the transaction, the rates employed were incorrect. It took me two additional calls to have the transaction properly completed.

Business as usual.

How to Manage Rework in Brazil

If you were curious about the type of problems you’ll find in Brazil, the pattern I described is classic.

Note that this didn’t happened to me just once, twice, or, even, three times. It consistently happens whenever I delegate something to a person outside of my team.

If you have long-term investments in Brazil, you’d better get used to it…and have a clear strategy to deal with it.

#1 In Brazil, Check Everything

In Brazil, you need to check everything that comes across your desk.

No, I can’t emphasise it enough: check all details of everything you delegated and then re-check them when the changes have been made.

Check your flight details to see if your name is spelled correctly, if the dates are correct and if they have booked your hotel and transportation.

Check if your investments have been processed according to the conversation you had with your banker.  Verify if the money went to the right destination using the rates agreed upon.

Check if the contract you are signing says everything it is supposed to say as per your meeting.

Always ask questions…many questions…to surface potential problems and to make sure you have a good grasp of the details you are dealing with.

This is not time wasted. You are saving yourself trouble later on down the line.

#2 In Brazil, Factor Rework in your Schedule

A civil engineer, a very close friend of mine, used to say:

In Japan, they plan, plan, plan and build.
In Brazil, they plan and build, and build, and build.

Everything you do in Brazil will require rework and extra time. I know I’m just stating the obvious and that I’ll get a ton of negative feedback from my fellow Brazilians for saying this. But, I’m fine. That’s the reality, no need to sugar coat it.

It is normal for things to take two to three extra iterations to get things right and corrected.

The one thing you can count on in your project is that there will always be a lot of realignment work involved in everything you do.

If someone says something will be done at a given date, it simply won’t be. Don’t stress out. Do your follow up a day before the deadline and factor a couple extra days into your actual schedule to allow for a late delivery.

Read some common project management mistakes you can avoid in Brazil to understand a few other problems you can potentially run into.

You should take delays into consideration in any of your scheduling in Brazil. This is just a fact of life you will face here.

#3 Learn to Ask for One Thing at a Time.

When working in Brazil, forget the word multitasking. You will get more done by being sequential.

One thing I have learned in my Brazilian career is that you get more accomplished when you follow up with people on one thing at the time.

I know this is very sequential and may blow your mind, but it works wonders here!

Let’s say, just to illustrate, that you need a series of things from your Brazilian accountant. You just had a meeting with them discussing several action points that need to be taken care of.

Do you really want things to get done? Prioritize your list and follow up on the most important topic first. Just deal with that one thing at the top of your list and move to the next when it is resolved.

Also read my article on how to delegate effectively in Brazil to assign work to anyone in your circle of influence.

At this point, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. That’s our next topic.

#4 Manage your Anxiety

As you work in Brazil, you will reach a point when you will feel overwhelmed. People often describe it as if you had been pushing things through all day.

This means pushing your accountant to provide that important report. Pushing your travel agent to correct your name on the plane ticket. Pushing your lawyer to provide you the minutes for a contract. Gosh! No one seems to move by themselves.

That’s normal! You are not alone.

After writing this article, I’ll need to go after a couple things and push a few people myself today. Nothing will move forward if you don’t do your own follow up.  I must confess that, on certain days, I feel I have pushed enough rocks to raise an extra mountain in the Himalayas.

Accept, embrace and learn to manage this overwhelming feeling. I won’t go away any time soon – at least not while working in Brazil.

#5 Have a “Waiting On” List

One of the best tools I currently use is a waiting on list. I learned this concept from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.

Every time you delegate something, put it on your waiting on list so you can keep track of it. From time to time, go back to your waiting on list and check if something needs to be revisited.

In my case, I have an email folder called “#waiting on” which has all pending items assigned to other people. It’s integrated to my workflow and is easily accessible.

 The Best Advice I can Give You

The most valuable tip I can give you for dealing with projects in Brazil is not mine. It’s a maxim from Ronald Reagan. As he used to say, “Trust, but verify”.

Nothing is so true, especially when working in Brazil.

 

Have you experienced a situation that required lots of rework in Brazil? Do you have a killer strategy you want to share? Please leave a message, send me an email and let’s start a conversation.

Photo credits: Luís Estrela

 

Book Review: Bottlenecks and Solutions in the Brazilian Transport Infrastructure

Book Review: Bottlenecks and Solutions in the Brazilian Transport Infrastructure

If you are looking for research data on which to base your business case for the Brazilian transport infrastructure projects, the book “Gargalos e Soluções na Infraestrutura de Transportes” will be invaluable to you.

The Fundação Getulio Vargas (Getúlia Vargas Foundation) consistently publishes the top business research in Brazil. This book is no exception.  Its high quality information provides a rare glimpse into the infrastructure issues Brazil is currently undergoing – and does in a scientific way.

The book is written in Portuguese and was edited by Dr. Armando Castelar Pinheiro and Dr. Cláudio Roberto Frischtak. It contains several papers from big names in the infrastructure arena including Vinicius Carrasco, Ronaldo Seroa da Motta and Mansueto Almeida, among others.

The book speaks at great length regarding regulations, private investment and financing in the Brazilian infrastructure sector. Among the topics discussed are:

  • Regulatory risks in the Brazilian infrastructure sector
  • Private investment in infrastructure and financing
  • Infrastructure and environmental sustainability
  • Limitations of Brazilian public investment
  • Internal transportation costs and geography of Brazilian exports
  • Recent changes to and perspectives on the Brazilian airport infrastructure.
  • New legal reform for the Brazilian railway sector
  • The potential of Brazilian hydro ways
  • Evolution of and perspectives on port regulations in Brazil
  • Regulation and competition in highway concessions in Brazil

As you can see, it is very complete and dense material. You will see thorough academic research on infrastructure in this book, with lots of invaluable information and data.

This is not leisure reading, though, and will require a higher level of Portuguese fluency to read. But, if you are in the field, it will definitely be worth the effort.

If you are operating in the Brazilian transport infrastructure sector, I highly recommend this book.

gargalos e soluçõesBook: Gargalos e Soluções na Infraestrutura de Transportes
in Brazilian Portuguese
Editors: Armando Castelar Pinheiro and Cláudio Roberto Frischtak
348 pages
Publisher: Editora FGV (2014)

 

Buy it Now at Editora FGV

 

One Insider’s Tip that Can Save You Huge Nightmares in Brazil

One Insider’s Tip that Can Save You Huge Nightmares in Brazil

Is there a practical way to avoid problems in Brazil? Read more to learn of a practical way to avoid small problems that can grow into enormous issues.

Do you really know what your Brazilian suppliers are up to?

This is the story of a small but fast growing overseas organization that decided to venture into the Brazilian market.

As a way to quickly reach out to as many customers as they could, they decided to do some internet marketing.

“Let’s find someone to do it for us,” they thought. “We can delegate this work in order to focus on more important things.”

So, in the heat of the moment, the company hired a local Brazilian marketing provider to localize their content and implement an internet marketing strategy.

Oh, man! They were so excited to have the word out about their new products and about entering a new market.

Based on the premise that the more people you reach, the better the marketing campaign will be, the Brazilian service provider naïvely decided to send millions of unsolicited emails.

Pause for silence…

A couple days later, the CEO of the company got a call from their IT department in Toronto saying that they were receiving an unexpectedly high number of bounce back emails. Their corporate emails had also stopped being delivered.

“It seems our domain has been blacklisted on many servers and there is a strange flow of emails coming from… Brazil!” reported the IT manager.

Realizing that the emails may have resulted from their massive internet campaign in Brazil, the CEO called his service provider in Rio and got an interesting answer:

“Well, this is what we do for all our customers.
You didn’t tell us to do otherwise, you know.
Besides that, it’s how you can get the best bang for your buck.
We can reach a lot more customers at one time… yada, yada, yada…”

His local provider went on and on, giving long, wordy arguments without ever acknowledging any guilt over the incident.

It was clear that the service provider didn’t have a clue about the latest marketing permission trends, not to mention the many anti-spam laws had he just broken by carrying out this mindless strategy.

“But, it’s obvious you can’t do this!” shouted the CEO in disbelief.

And the milk was spilled.

 

The lesson we can learn from this story is that we must always check how things are done, especially in Brazil where everything ends up being assumed before it is actually done.

Something so obvious to the foreign CEO wasn’t at all obvious to the service provider. This is a classic problem of doing business in Brazil.

As you can imagine, the overseas company had to jump through not just a few hoops to get things back on track. They eventually recovered, but a lot of precious time and effort were wasted fixing the wrongdoing.

If it’s obvious, it needs to be said.

The issue with the company cited above might as well have been the story of the American company that inadvertently hired a local call center to reach out to their customers, and then used their “special” cold calling techniques. It could have been the French company that relied on their local supplier to raise “special” financing, or the Dutch company that never checked their supplier’s “special” sales tactics.

It doesn’t matter what field you are in, you will encounter “business as usual” situations and let your guard down. These types of activities look so obvious to you, that you’ll neglect doing the proper due diligence. Don’t be surprised to see your local suppliers implementing them in the most creative and strangest ways. But, then again, isn’t creativity one of the Brazilian fortes?

The provider’s conversation usually goes along these lines:

  • “Hey, don’t worry! This is simple. Let me handle the details for you.”
  • “Well, that’s super straightforward. Don’t worry about it, I’ll deal with it.”
  • “Never mind, we will find a way to solve this.”

That’s exactly the point when the milk starts to spill and you should stop the conversation.

The antidote is to insist on getting the details. Go after specifics.

In Brazil, nothing is obvious or simple. Ask the provider to spell out for you word for word what they are up to.

 

The Insider’s Tip You Need to Know

The secret to not having surprises in Brazil is to never assume anything when requesting work.

Whenever you are dealing with something obvious, use the golden rule to unlock the details:

Ask “But, how?”

Always solicit more details:

  • Ok, you want to promote my products using billboard advertisement. Tell me, how do you plan to do this?
  • You plan to do an internet campaign, right? How do you plan to interact with my customers?
  • You plan to raise some operational capital for this project? How are you planning to do it?
  • You are going to transfer the goods from São Paulo to Belo Horizonte? Nice… How?

Even if you are dead sure your supplier will do the work the way you imagine, ask for details.

Never assume anything until you hear the “how” they’ll be doing it. This will keep you safe most of the time and avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Not Micromanagement, But Effective Control

You may be thinking that asking for details may be perceived as micromanaging – not in Brazil.

By asking “how” you are effectively avoiding future headaches. Besides, there is already an expectation that you have a certain level of control over how things will be done in your project. Simply put, that’s how successful managers operate here.

If someone tells you they are blindly delegating in Brazil – using the typical delegate and forget approach – and not having any problems – they are most likely lying to you. Either that or they may be in bigger trouble than they think but just don’t realize it.

It’s literally impossible to work effectively in Brazil without probing how things are being done.

Summarizing, use this simple rule to avoid considerable headaches: remember that, even if something seems obvious, you need to have it spelled out, word for word. And, whenever you feel the details are not clear, ask “how” in order to gain better control. I guarantee you will have far less problems in Brazil using this approach.

 

Take a minute to share your experience dealing with details in Brazil. Leave a comment now and join the conversation!

Photo credits: Herval

3 Reasons Why You Should Start Paying Attention to the Water Crisis in Brazil

3 Reasons Why You Should Start Paying Attention to the Water Crisis in Brazil

Did you know that we are facing another water crisis in Brazil? Here are the main reasons why you should sit up and take notice.

#1 Another major drought is imminent in Brazil

Last week, while visiting some agriculture businesses in the interior of the Brazilian Southeast, I noticed a clear trend.

While farmers were extremely happy that their cattle pastures were growing exceptionally green and tall this year, they were also concerned that small creeks and streams on their properties were drying up way too fast this season.

This phenomenon is a reflection of the climate changes they are experiencing. Intense rainfall followed by intense periods of sun favored the development of grasslands.  However, those same intense storms with high precipitation in a short time period, followed by high temperatures, were affecting watersheds – which needed long, less intense rains to be replenished.

The impact was being felt in the entire farm water supply.

“The small streams in my pastures only have enough water for a couple months”, confessed one of the ranchers. Small creeks that run in direction of the region’s major rivers were drying up before the end of the rainy season.

I could see that the farmers in that region clearly knew they would have a hard year ahead of them and were getting ready to deal with the impact of a major drought.

In the cities far from the farming interior, no one seems to perceive what’s in store for them. They don’t know how dry their next drought will be.

#2 The Brazil Water Crisis is out of the headlines

I find it very strange that the Brazilian press has become very quiet in their coverage of the water shortage in Brazil.

It seems that the showers and humidity of the rainy season may have washed their worries away.

Many of the reservoirs for major cities of Brazil have been partially replenished with water. However, it may still take a few years and a lot of continued rain for these reservoirs to get back to normal.

No one seems to realize that the time to save is now, when there is still some water coming from the rainy reason.  Moreover, very little is being done to keep the topic relevant in the minds of the Brazilian population.

#3 A new water crisis will mostly affect the underprivileged

When new water shortages start to occur in major Brazilian urban centers, the most impacted group will certainly be the underprivileged. They will suffer not only with the physical scarcity of water, but also with increased utility costs, namely with electricity and consumable water.

But, how will the population react if there is, in fact, a large scarcity of water?

Remember what happened on 2013, one year before the World Cup in Brazil? At that time, a minimum increase in transportation costs triggered a major wave of demonstrations with a considerable number of people taking to the streets to protest against the government.

With water, we have a bigger problem.

Water is not like a cost, a tariff and a tax. If there is no water available, there’s nothing that can be done. No matter what, you can’t squeeze water from rocks.

During the 2013 protests, things quieted down substantially after government reduced the price of public transportation in São Paulo.

In the case of a major drought in mid-2015, will the government be able to distribute more water to quiet the population? Likely not…  There is very little room for political maneuvering under these circumstances.

So, this is reason I think you should keep a tap on the Brazil water crisis. There is a likelihood it won’t happen, but if it does, the impact will be big.

Keep the topic on your radar so you don’t get caught by surprise by something that can have a significant impact in your investments in Brazil. Also, read our report report on the Water Crisis in Brazil.

What is your point of view about the impact of the drought this year in Brazil? Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.

An Unconventional Analysis of the Petrobras 2014 Financial Statements

An Unconventional Analysis of the Petrobras 2014 Financial Statements

5 things everybody ought to know about the Petrobras 2014 Financial Statements which are not on their books.

The 2014 audited financial statements for Petrobras have just been released. It is a refreshing moment for many analysts who are now dissecting each line of the report, happy as clams at high tide.

However, important facts may have gone missing in translation as the company struggles with its restructuring plan.

The big Gorilla is slowly swinging by the room while everyone else is concentrated on crunching the numbers.

Point #1: Recording losses in the financial statement proves that corruption affected the company in a tangible way.

This is the first time a Brazilian company has openly admitted the existence of a corruption scheme and has attempted to measure its impact by putting dollar figures on the effects corruption has had on their books.

No matter how the press, government, auditors or anyone else frames the fact, it is a rare historical moment when one can mathematically gauge how corruption can affect the bottom line of a publicly listed company.

Point #2: Executives will think twice before entering corruption schemes.

For many decades, Brazilian executives – often surrounded by armies of corporate lawyers – felt they were untouchable and going to jail was for mere pickpockets.

As a matter of fact, we have reached a major milestone in Brazilian corporate accountability. There is a clear prospect that high profile people will indeed go to jail for their inappropriate actions.

Now, I ask you: if you were a Brazilian CEO and saw your colleagues in danger of spending time behind bars because of their involvement in corruption and bribery schemes, wouldn’t you take extra care next time you were approached by a corruptor? I wonder how many of those CEOs are now doing their own internal audits to make sure they don’t have corruptees on their teams and making sure they’re not liable.

Corporate leaders and their banking counterparts will be much more conservative in dealing with ethical borderline issues. They certainly know the implications of being caught in the midst of Bribery and Corruption Schemes.

Point #3: Independent investigations prove their worth when measuring the impact of corruption on an organization.

Picture for a moment if there were no meaningful facts uncovered during the fraud investigations at Petrobras…  There would be no way to quantify and qualify company losses due to corruption. Besides that, we would enter a cycle of “he said”,she said” debates with very little meaningful insight into how much money was involved in the schemes.  It would be very easy to refute any write-offs related to the impact corruption had on the company.

However, I’m sure the auditors had access to very precise information to present US$2 billion in losses and US$14 billion in impairment charges in the financial statements.

These estimates are a sure reflection of the thorough investigation independently done by Brazilian police and officials. This means that these independent investigators had access to actual facts and data – a testament to the amazing work done by the Brazilian police.

Point #4: The Petrobras crisis is a major test for Brazilian democratic institutions

Imminently, the Petrobras scandal will hit the courts. High profile executives, bankers, politicians and lobbyists will be judged and prosecuted. It will take some time, but it’s certain that some important people will end up spending a few months in a Brazilian jail – not the best place to be.

But, how will Brazilian institutions deal with this episode? Will there be an attempt to reduce the autonomy of the Brazilian Federal Police – responsible for finding the most relevant evidence in this case? Will the Brazilian Parliament expel old school politicians involved in corruption? Will the Supreme Court act in an independent manner?

Brazilian democracy is relatively new and this may be one of the most important tests it will face in its short history.

Point #5: Where there is smoke, there is fire.

It’s hard to believe there were so many people allegedly involved in the Petrobras corruption ring. The numbers involved are also staggering. $17 Billion in asset and corruption charges: many countries don’t have a GDP that big. But, are there other Brazilian institutions that may follow the same pattern of corporate compliance and accountability?

How about the companies on the energy sector? How about the infrastructure sector? Could they be operating along the same premises?

Recently, I was casually chatting over the water cooler with a financial analyst in Brasilia and mentioned my amazement over the Operation Car Wash findings. He paused and replied,

“Well… if you think Petrobras had a problem, don’t be surprised when (if!) they decide to open the BNDES books.”

Food for thought…

 

Leave a comment now and let’s start a conversation. What is your view regarding the future of Petrobras?

 

Photo credits: Ken Teegardin