Archive for January, 2012

MEX Airlines, cultural vignette

January 20, 2012

Write an executive summary (see guidelines in syllabus).  Feel free to write in either Spanish or English.

Company: MEX Airlines

Country: Mexico

Alejandro Naranjo, with 11 years of experience at MEX Airlines and 5 years as their fleet manager, begins by making an incredibly astute observation about business culture.  “When working with foreigners, I divide their cultural tendencies into three areas: the corporate style, the national culture, and the personal traits of the individual.”  Alejandro knows where he is coming from.  His work as fleet manager puts him at the forefront of the purchasing and leasing of airplane and airplane engines for MEX.  His work has included negotiations with people from all over the globe.  Recently he has been dealing with vendors and professionals from Chile, Brazil, France, Germany, England, and the United States.

“As an example of corporate style” he begins, “I find Boeing to be much more rigid and strict in their way of doing things than Airbus.  It can be tough, but you know what to expect from Boeing because they are always the same.  You don’t have to change things with them.”  This is not just a difference between the Americans (Boeing) and Europeans (Airbus), but it is part of their corporate style.

A few years ago Alejandro was negotiating with Boeing for the purchase of two airplanes.  These negotiation sessions are grueling.  They usually imply spending long days locked up in a conference room full of lawyers, technical support, and negotiators from both sides as you go page by page through the documents to discuss each item in the contract.  On this occasion the American representatives from Boeing had planned on returning to the United States on a Friday afternoon, and they were anxious to have the contract signed before leaving.  As Friday arrived however, it was clear that there were still a lot of details that needed to be worked out.  The Boeing representatives made a list of 10 items that were still pending, which had to be resolved before signing the contract.  Alejandro recalls, “I told them that I would need time to read through all of the 10 items, and that this would take time.”  He even suggested that they give up on the idea of having everything concluded that day, and that they might want to meet on Saturday to finish up.  They did not want to do this and so Alejandro retired to another room to read the 10 items list.  In the end the Americans missed their afternoon flight and the negotiations continued until about 10:00 that night.

“Since we didn’t resolve things that night, on Saturday morning they called me to ask if we could continue with the negotiations.”  By then Alejandro had already made personal plans for the day and although he felt bad for them, there was no other choice but to wait until Monday to wrap things up.  “On Tuesday we signed the contracts, and this was for just two planes!”  The difficulty that Alejandro found was that the Boeing representatives were extremely inflexible.  Often their response was simply, “The home office says no.”  Alejandro laments, “It actually takes a lot of time to understand the reason behind your counterpart’s proposals.  It just doesn’t help to understand their reasoning if the only answer you get is “The home office says no.” or “This can’t be done.”  That sort of approach to negotiations makes it difficult to get anywhere.  It bears mentioning that Alejandro is not criticizing Boeing per se.  He simply uses this example to show the rigid nature of their negotiation style.  Boeing representatives often fall back on the “home office” statements during negotiations.  “I’ve even heard them say things like, ‘Personally I agree with you Alejandro, but we still can’t change this’.”  As opposed to Airbus, for example, Boeing is extremely focused on their ultimate goal.  “I’ve never seen anybody else like that so much” he clarifies.  This is a corporate style, related but separate from a national cultural style.

As to a national cultural style, Alejandro notes that “Americans are always smiling and the tend to speak in superlatives and exaggerated words.”  That is to say, Americans are always saying things like, “Wow, that’s great.”  “Cool, that’s awesome.”  “How interesting, that’s really neat.”  Americans use the word “nice” a lot, which is uncommon in Spanish because the word simpático doesn’t really get used in the same way.  And Americans also use humor and jokes a lot more than Europeans do.  Alejandro has also seen over the years that Americans are more aware of being politically correct when they talk.  They are also reserved in their intimidation tactics.  “They don’t really make ultimatums, but they are always trying to figure out what is fair for both parties.”  Fairness is a big deal for Americans.  “I actually really like negotiating with North Americans because they are very experienced and we get a lot done.”  At the same time Alejandro also knows that Americans can be blunt in their communication style and he’s learned not to take offense at it or to be shocked by it.  He recalls one experience where an American colleague was asked if he had any children.  “No, I hate kids.  What do I have in common with any kids?”  Mexicans would never talk like that. It just sounds way too harsh.  And what is the reaction of the other Americans when they heard him say those sorts of things?  “Cool, how interesting,” all the time smiling of course.

As to personal style, which Alejandro separates from a national characteristic, he has another story about negotiations that were held in Chicago.  “I should begin,” Alejandro clarifies, “by saying that I actually prefer to do my negotiations on the road.”  When in Mexico, Alejandro knows that his personal and family life are more apt to infringe on his negotiations.  “When I am involved in negotiation situations at home, I clear everything else off of my calendar.  When I’m involved in negotiations on the road, it’s easier to dedicate 100% of my energies to the negotiations.”  In this instance in Chicago Alejandro was negotiating with a guy who was determined to end the negotiations by 5:00 o’clock that afternoon.  As the day worn on he got more irritable and grouchy.  Turns out that he had some appointment with his wife that night and as the afternoon wore on that is all he was able to focus on.  He started giving in to everything Alejandro was asking for.  “OK, that’s fine.  What else do you need? What’s the next item on your list?”  Basically Alejandro gained all the concessions, not because of the negotiations, but because the other person was totally uptight about whatever he had to do with his wife.  Alejandro again clarified, “I should say that I don’t have any children and I am not married, so I cannot say what I would do in that situation, but in this case, this man’s personal situation is what molded the negotiations.

So next time you fly with MEX Airlines, take a moment to consider that the plane you are on was purchased or leased during negotiations where corporate, national, and personal cultural differences were taken into account.  And chances are, if you are an American that you’ll say, “Wow, that’s really nice and really interesting.”