ABC Security Systems

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

Company: ABC Security Systems

Focus: The manager of the Latin American Marketing Division who has to coordinate worldwide operation on one hand, and specific Latin American differences on the other.

Cultural Conflict: Often North Americans assume that all countries of Latin America are alike, ignoring the cultural differences that exist among the various countries of Latin America

Case Scenario

Imagine being in the business of providing security systems for homes and small businesses in São Paulo, Brazil. São Paulo isn’t exactly known as a safe haven from crime. One can almost hear the advertising, “If we can provide security in São Paulo, we can do in your town too.”  For Carolina Battipaglia, this is precisely what she does on a daily basis. Carolina oversees the Latin American Marketing Division of ABC Security Systems, a multinational company with operations worldwide. And the company is truly multinational. Although the home office is located in San Jose, California, the current president of the company is from Malaysia and the former president was from England. The Brazilian manager is actually from Chile, and the Sales and Development Manager in Brazil is from Colombia. The V.P. for Marketing is a North American and the lead accountant in the local office in São Paulo is from Amsterdam. Although the company is international, at the same time, Latin American represents only nine percent of the company’s total worldwide operations. As a result, the US, Asian, and European divisions are well developed and well staffed; Latin America’s divisions are less developed, and spread thin.

Carolina is from São Paulo. (In fact you may have noticed her Italian family name. At the turn of the century nearly one million Italian immigrants arrived in Brazil and almost all settled in the state of São Paulo.)  Carolina has worked in the São Paulo office, located near Avenida Paulista, for the past 4 years. Previously she worked in the marketing division of a local television station. At ABC Security Systems, Carolina oversees the marketing in all of Latin America, which in the south includes projects in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, and in the north includes Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. The majority of her effort and time is spent in looking at strategic plans, where to focus their efforts, which projects should be identical throughout all Latin America, and in what ways projects should differ from one region to another. Those logistics can be challenging. Part of this implies that Carolina spends a lot of her time reporting back to the home office about the progress of her region. On the other hand, she has to deal with marketing issues among the several countries in Latin America, which are all culturally diverse. “We are very fragmented here in Latin America” Carolina confesses, “and almost all of the other worldwide regions have an infrastructure that allows them to implement procedures without some of the challenges that we have in Latin America.”  Interestingly, Carolina is the first to admit that in many ways it is easier for her to communicate with the home office than it is to bring together all of the various Latin Americans. She remembers once during a web seminar with the home office that the participants were assigning who would be in charge of the various projects that were being proposed. In every other region, a different person was assigned to each project. In Latin America, however, Carolina was in charge of all of the projects. After a while people in the web seminar were asking, “How many projects does Carolina direct?”  It’s just one of the realities of overseeing one of the minority regions of the company. All of the other regional groups would say something like, “Let’s do XYZ…” but in Latin America, Carolina just didn’t have the manpower to assign these projects to different people.

As to her work with the Americans at the home office, Carolina is quick to note that it is generally easy to work with Americans. “They are very good at Human Relations and they work at all levels of the hierarchy.”  She believes that relationships among North Americans are more “flat”, that is to say, you don’t have to worry about North Americans asking, ‘Why did you go over my head?’”  Carolina believes that in Brazil, really in all of Latin America, you have to be more sensitive to hierarchies. “People here in Brazil are more ‘vertical’. They put more effort into playing their roles,” she says. She finds herself, to use an American baseball term, “covering her bases” more with the Latin Americans. Rather than just implementing a decision, in Latin America Carolina makes sure that she has talked to everyone in the right order first. For example, recently ABC compiled research comparing the effectiveness of online marketing among the different countries in Latin America. When Carolina presented the results to the home office, she simply presented the data. However, before she presented the same results to her Latin American colleagues, she was more careful to show a “draft” of the presentation to the various regional managers before going public with the results. “I just wanted to be more careful about the vertical repercussions of making sure that I didn’t step on any toes.”   In Carolina’s view, this extra step isn’t as necessary with the North Americans because they are less focused on level, power, and authority issues.

Similarly, Carolina feels that Americans are adept at being transparent. Of course relationships and networking are important, but she finds the Americans to be very open and honest. “In Brazil you find yourself always thinking, ‘What are they not telling me?’ or ‘What is really going on here?’”  She thinks that in Latin America there is an initial resistance to things because people are not as open in their communication. “I always know where the Americans stand, they are brutally honest sometimes,” she adds. In Brazil, well, people like to say that the Brazilians are really good at free style, improvising, and being flexible. Maybe so, but Carolina also believes that behind this jeitinho brasileiro lurks their unspoken hidden agendas. “I almost prefer to deal with the North American openness and frankness. There is less guesswork with the Americans,” she adds.

On the other hand, Carolina admits that sometimes the Americans put work above logic. She remembers one time, for example, when the company brought in people from all over the world for a series of face-to-face meetings in San Jose. “We had all traveled all night, from all parts of the world, and they wanted to start 10 hours worth of meetings at 8:30 AM!”  Nobody was able to perform well in the meetings. Everyone was half asleep, with hardly any feedback and almost no interaction. However Carolina adds, “To their credit, I will say that after that experience, the company made a new rule: No more post-travel Monday morning meetings!”

Another challenge Carolina has with the Americans is related to holiday and vacation times. “Normally I cannot take my vacation during regular Brazilian vacation times because the home office in the US cannot relate to our vacations in February.”  In the US everything closes up for the Christmas season, but Carolina knows that by January fifth everyone is back to work full force. “It’s one thing for me to work in February,” observes Carolina, “but what the Americans cannot understand is that it is almost impossible for us to do market research during that time. Almost anyone who is part of our target audience is on vacation and this isn’t just true for Brazil, but it happens in all of Latin America. Add to this the fact that ABC Security System’s fiscal year begins in October. This means that Carolina has to juggle the US holidays in December and June with the Latin American holidays in February, and coordinate all of this with the fiscal year that begins in October. “October is kind of crazy here.”

In some ways, Carolina’s biggest challenge comes more from her work in dealing with the local Brazilians and the other Latin American regions. Carolina confesses that in Brazil people are really adept at making you feel good. “You leave a meeting and you think that you’ve made great progress.”  The problem is that they just don’t always follow up on what they say they will do, and as a result, Carolina admits to doing a lot more “hand holding” with the Brazilians. Carolina also believes that Latin Americans seem to want to hold more follow-up meetings, to talk about previous meetings. “It drives me crazy!  Why don’t we just make a decision in the first meeting?”  But no, the tendency is to have long initial meetings that end with no resolution and then have follow-up meetings to start all over again.”

Carolina also observes that you cannot put all of the Latin Americans into one big basket. “The Mexicans, for example, have a passive resistance to everything,” she says. “All of the other Latin Americans identify with being Latin American. Even the Chileans, Argentines and the Brazilians despite their various animosities, consider themselves to be Latin American brothers, but not the Mexicans. They are Mexican, and everyone else is a foreigner.”  Carolina says that the Mexicans may say, ‘yes’ to things, but in the end they do it their way. For example, last year it was decided that globally the ABC Security System web site needed to have a consistent look and feel. Everyone had to modify the way that the various sites looked.  This included the use of graphics, the number of the illustrations, and the links about home security systems. When the final sites were launched, although the Mexican team had agreed to everything, in the end they used different graphic representations. “Our homes don’t look like the ones in the corporate graphics,” they complained.

To provide another example, Carolina explains that in Brazil, security and safety is less focused on home security systems (which becomes the responsibility of the apartment complex) and more on protection from street crimes. In São Paulo there is a greater fear of being robbed in traffic than there is of being robbed at home. Consequently, things such as bullet-proof windows and even armored cars come into play much more than in other locations. On the other hand, Chileans, for example, are much less worried about street crimes, and their focus tends to center on home burglaries in the summer months (December – February) when many are away from home on vacation.

Finally, Carolina has an anecdote to share about crime in Brazil. Recently she heard from an American friend who was traveling with his wife in Rio. They were resting on a park bench when suddenly a guy appeared who tried to distract them while a second person attempted to steal their bags from behind. The American, who speaks Portuguese fairly well, yelled something at the would-be thieves. In response the thieves said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were Americans. I didn’t mean to take anything away from you. Are you here from São Paulo?  What do you think of Rio?”  So it looks like Carolina has discovered a new security measure… learn to speak a little Portuguese and act like you come from São Paulo!

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