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Globalization changes the balance of forces in the international market, and places new cultural and strategic demands on businesses. Globalization opens new business opportunities, but it also requires that businesses recognize the uniqueness of cultures and protocols in different countries. It goes without saying that culture affects the nature and essence of business relationships. That is why cultural transformations in different parts of the world remain one of the central objects of organization analysis (Leung et al. 358). Globalization facilitates the transfer of knowledge and goods; but it also emphasizes the existing cultural differences among countries, making them more pronounced. Many countries and cultures are, indeed, converging, but many business practices and cultural complexities remain mostly intact (Leung et al. 358). Argentina is no exception: being a country free of serious external influences, Argentina exemplifies a unique type of a group-oriented, mostly homogenous business culture with unique attitudes towards relationships, time, negotiation, and business protocol. This being said, businesses entering the Argentinean market require a detailed understanding of the country’s business culture and protocol; this understanding will pave the way to the creation of profitable and productive business relationships in Argentina.
Argentina’s Culture: A Unique Balance of Homogeneity and Diversity
Janet Whittle’s Argentina Business: The Portable Encyclopedia for Doing Business in Argentina is one of the most convenient and full sources of information about business culture, practices, and protocol in Argentina. The book provides a deep insight into the nature of business relationships with Argentinean enterprises. Whittle asserts that understanding the culture of Argentina is crucial for the success of business activity in this country (169). “A clearer picture of Argentina’s business culture will smooth the way in business transactions, and can make it not only beneficial but also enjoyable to do business with an Argentine businessperson or company” (Whittle 169). In this sense, Whittle’s book can become a useful guide to Argentina’s business culture, protocol, and etiquette. Businesses and businesspeople, who understand the basics of Argentina’s business protocol, will have greater chances to build productive and mutually profitable relations with partners in Argentina. It should be noted, that Whittle is not the only author discussing the principles of doing business in Argentina; much has been written and said about the most important elements of Argentina’s business culture. Other books and articles can complement the picture of business culture in Argentina, created by Whittle.
Argentina’s culture is a unique combination of homogeneity and diversity. Both have their roots in the country’s history; however, the latter is beyond the scope of this discussion. According to Katz, Argentina has been relatively free from external influences (1). With limited exposure to neighboring countries, the culture of Argentina has become quite homogenous (Katz 1). As a result, foreign businessmen should expect that Argentineans will want things to be done ‘their way’ (Katz 1). Nevertheless, the scope of cultural and business diversity in Argentina should not be disregarded. Above all, Argentina remains the country of immigrants, and the country’s ethnic diversity reflects the norms and principles of European cultural heritage (Whittle 170). Of all countries of Latin America, Argentina is probably the only place where Europeans and the U.S. citizens can feel at ease (Whittle 170). It is also one of the most accessible spaces for doing business in Latin America; and it is no coincidence that more and more business people from around the world come to Argentina, looking for new partnerships, business relations, and profits. Companies that seek to do business in Argentina should not be confused by the diversity of languages and cultural backgrounds they encounter in their way to market success. Although diverse and open to other influences, Argentinean businesses are in many respects distinctly Latin American. Moreover, as the pressure of globalization increases, Argentineans become more conservative in their striving to preserve their cultural individuality and uniqueness. Most Argentineans, including businessmen, try to keep their cultural traditions intact, and they may be extremely cautious and hesitant before they accept the innovations, proposed by their foreign partners (Whittle 169).
The culture of Argentina is equally individual and group-oriented. Most Argentinean businesses rely on relationships; foreign companies can never do business in Argentina if they do not have a complex network of relationships and acquaintances (Katz 1). Most Argentineans look for quality and lasting relationships in life and business, although relations are not always necessary for initial commercial interactions (Katz 1). However, foreign executives and businesspeople should not be surprised when Argentineans refuse to do business with them, simply because they do not know each other (Katz 1). Also Argentinean business partners may need time to develop and strengthen their relationships with the foreign partner (Katz 2). More often than not, business in Argentina is not about companies but about people. In other words, business builds on the relationships among people who create, run, or work in business enterprises (Katz 2). Argentineans choose foreign companies, based on the quality of their relationships with the executives or any other person in this company. They may trust the CEO of the American corporation but refuse to work with his/her subordinates. These situations are not uncommon, and foreign businesses in Argentina should be prepared to develop and sustain quality relationships with their Argentinean partners.
Being relationship- and group-oriented, Argentineans do not forget about the value of individuality in their business culture. Here Whittle mentions gaucho, one of the central symbols of Argentina’s culture (171). Gaucho is a legendary, almost mythical plainsman, who is athletic, independent, brave, generous, and loyal – a figure that reflects the basic premises of Argentinean individualism (Whittle 171). “Modern Argentines believe that they have incorporated the values associated with the gaucho into their own system, and in Argentina, Latin machismo is colored by the special case of the gaucho” (Whittle 171). These individuality’s features have far-reaching implications for doing business in Argentina. Businesses and businessmen value their independence and individuality by trying to act solely in their own interests, and being willing to be responsible for the consequences (Whittle 171). Argentineans will never take secondary or subordinate roles; they will never take orders and fulfill them (Whittle 171). Employees and busiessmen in Argentina view themselves as risk-takers and talented entrepreneurs, and foreign executives, working in Argentina, should be prepared to cooperate with their Argentinean colleagues on equal terms.
Simultaneously, Argentinean employees and executives are extremely open to the needs of others. They are always ready to offer their help. They may not be willing to fulfill an order, but they may easily fulfill the same task if they are asked for a favor (Whittle 171). Being helpful is an important element of Argentina’s culture and consciousness. It is also an essential part of Argentina’s gaucho mindset. Doing a favor is the same as being able to exercise free will, and acting like a hero. Therefore, whenever foreign executives and businessmen face the pressure of individuality and the wall of misunderstanding, asking for a favor can become an effective way to make Argentinean partners do something they would never do otherwise. Yet, even experts in Argentina’s culture and economic development should not forget the uniqueness of business environment and style in this Latin American country.
Argentina: Business Culture and Style
Whittle writes that the business environment in Argentina is a unique combination of Latin American flexibility and European commitment to efficiency in everything (173). Flexibility affects all aspects of business activity and culture in Argentina. This is particularly the case of time, since most Argentineans are extremely relaxed in terms of their schedules and time obligations. It is normal for business people in Argentina to be late for their meetings and appointments (Communicaid 1). This is also one of the reasons why businessmen and employees in Argentina tend to be multitasking; moreover, they can be easily distracted from the task they already have at hand (Communicaid 1). It is noteworthy, that most businesses in Argentina do not conform to the predominantly Latin American model of doing business; most people in Argentina are ambitious, resourceful, and well-educated (Whittle 173). They are not afraid of free economic relations, and welcome healthy competition (Whittle 173). Even the most controversial economic policies have proved to be a success in Argentina (Whittle 173). Yet, the nature of competition in Argentina is quite different from that in the countries of North America. Businesses, coming to Argentina, should realize that the locals will never cut their own and competitors’ throats just to win a share of the market (Whittle 173). Competition in Argentina is very similar to that in sports: only the best can win and take the prize. In this sense, Argentineans expect that their foreign partners will keep to the same set of business and cultural principles. Unfair competition is not accepted. North American businessmen should be prepared to give up their blind commitments to competition, and shift their emphasis to the human side of business relationships.
Argentina’s style of doing business builds on and reflects centuries of its cultural heritage. Nowhere else are Argentina’s cultural traditions as bright and pronounced as they are in business. Argentineans do not live to work; they work to live, and this is the essence of all business relationships in the country (Whittle 174). Despite the growing diversity of business norms and standards, Argentineans do not consider it normal to spend all their time at work (Whittle 174). They are not preoccupied with their careers, and approach business decisions with flexibility and friendly attitudes (Whittle 174). However, it is, at least, incorrect to believe that Argentinean business lacks formality; rather, employees and business people in Argentina approach their business tasks in ways that differ greatly from those in North America. For example, they are open to business and workplace alliances, since the latter help them to have their work done on time (Whittle 174). They form such alliances to achieve common goals, and are ready to share the profits they earn with their partners (Whittle 174). In teamwork, Argentineans will not express their disagreement openly, and will try to avoid conflicts, especially with their superiors (Whittle 174). Those, who try to jump over their heads, and let down their colleagues in the pursuit of career advancement, will never find agreement and understanding among the Argentinean staff. Meanwhile, foreign executives should be prepared to answer questions, as most Argentineans are extremely attentive to details (Whittle 174).
In Argentina, family and friends are at the top of the cultural hierarchy. Business is no exception, and foreign executives must realize that families and friends occupy the most important place in the lives of all Argentine businesspeople (Whittle 174). If a friend or a relative interferes with a business meeting, Argentine businesspeople will focus their attention on them, and postpone their business questions; foreign executives will have to wait and proceed with the meeting in an informal and leisurely atmosphere (Whittle 174). Being patient with Argentineans is one of the best ways to show respect for their values and commitments, as without respect no business with Argentinean companies is possible. In their relationships, Argentine people avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding; they do not tolerate open criticism, have pride and self-consciousness (Katz 2). The best way to earn Argentineans’ respect is to show patience, understanding, and empathy for others, with no aggressiveness and criticism (Katz 1). Whittle recommends that foreign businesspeople be patient, prompt, direct, and courteous; these are the main standards of business practice in Argentina (174).
Negotiations are a good test to foreign business people’s ability to accept and manage the cultural standards of business practice in Argentina. In negotiations, the most controversial aspects of Argentine’s business culture come to the surface. Most Argentineans view negotiations as a joint process of problem-solving, in which all parties carry equal responsibility for meeting their objectives (Katz 3). Argentinean businesspeople are inherently long-term oriented, and they expect that the agreement, they reach at the end, will help them to sustain long-term relationships (Katz 3). They always seek win-win solutions, and only those, who exercise an open and agreeable attitude to the problem, will be able to earn Argentineans’ respect. Certainly, companies in Argentina are getting closer to the global standards of business performance; many of them develop and implement official ethical policies to govern and improve employee behaviors (Mele et al. 18). However, in almost all situations, Argentine businesses rely on their cultural and moral standards, which are internalized and followed by all Argentineans. Most probably, corporate ethical policies will say nothing about the secrets of appropriate cultural behaviors in business. In any dilemma or dispute, long-term benefits and reelationships are of primary importance. Negotiations can be long and protracted, being another good test to foreign executives’ patience. Those, who have no patience, will look weak and unprepared to work with Argentineans. The latter will be reluctant to share information, and build business relationships with those foreigners, who want fast but unreasonable solutions. One of the most important things to remember is that Argentine businesspeople do not bargain; in any case, they do not enjoy overt bargaining (Katz 3; Whittle 174). Bargaining may be acceptable in rural provinces outside Buenos Aires, but Argentineans do not grant concessions easily, and are reluctant to enter this type of business agreements (Katz 3; Whittle 174). Foreign businesspeople should be extremely cautious not to hurt Argentineans’ pride; otherwise, they will have to leave the country with no chance for business return (Whittle 174).
In the discussion of business culture in Argentina, the question of gender is extremely important. The significance of the machismo values in Argentina can hardly be overstated. However, Argentina is making considerable progress towards equality in business relations among men and women (Katz 6). Argentine women are deeply respected, but are given secondary social roles (Whittle 173). Whittle notes that Argentine women are valued for the role they play in sustaining good family relations; yet, they have limited presence in business. Unlike female executives in Europe and North America, women in Argentina have few opportunities to pursue career advancement. This is also one of the reasons why female executives doing business in Argentina may fail to develop the degree of trust and respect required for productive business relationships. Verbal comments on businesswomen are not uncommon, and women should exercise coolness, and ignore such remarks (Whittle 173). These, however, are not the only aspects of culture and business protocol in Argentina.
The Main Features of Business Protocol in Argentina
Unfortunately, Whittle does not describe the main features of business protocol in Argentina. In this sense, the information provided by Communicaid can help foreign businessmen avoid conflicts and controversies in their relations with business partners from Argentina. Basically, most Argentinean enterprises work from 9am to 7pm, five days a week, but some of them may stay open until 10pm (Communicaid 2). Business lunches are not common, but most companies have their lunch hours between 1pm and 3pm (Communicaid 2). Argentineans are very flexible in their attitudes towards time, and it comes as no surprise that most social events and business meetings begin late, sometimes around 10pm (Communicaid 2). Organizations are hierarchical, and all business decisions are taken at the top (Communicaid 2). Friendships and relationships can play an important role in achieving the success in Argentina’s business world.
Argentineans do business in Spanish; many of them have a good knowledge of English, but it is always wise to have a Spanish interpreter during business meetings and conversations (Communicaid 3). The flexibility, which Argentineans exercise in relation to time and social events, does not expand to business meetings and relations, where clear work-related structures and rules are followed (Communicaid 3). Most business meetings and negotiations are very lengthy, as it takes time for Argentinean businesspeople to clarify the details of each agreement. Initial meetings usually begin with a handshake, which can be followed by a kiss on the cheek once the relationship grows into friendship (Communicaid 3). Argentineans do not hesitate to argue, when they feel that their goals and relationships are at stake; however, they never openly criticize one another, and are extremely cautious with the expressions and utterances that can hurt their and others’ pride.
The success of business relations with Argentinean companies depends upon foreign executives’ knowledge of the local and national etiquette. It is better to have business cards printed in both English and Spanish (Communicaid 3). Argentineans appreciate foreign business people’s ability to speak Spanish. Foreign executives should always arrive on time, although they should not expect the same courtesy from their Argentinean partners; the latter tend to come ten-fifteen minutes after the scheduled time (Communicaid 3). Status and social position of Argentinean businesspeople demand respect and understanding. Actually all Argentineans are extremely status-conscious, and it is necessary to use the appropriate title when addressing Argentine executives and businessmen (Communicaid 3). These simple rules should be followed if foreigners want to succeed in their market expansion endeavors to Argentina.
Argentina is a unique place to do business. Argentina is probably the only country of Latin America where Europeans and North Americans can feel at ease. Being the land of immigrants, Argentina is well-known for its cultural diversity. Its traditions and protocol have been heavily influenced by Europeans. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of Argentina’s business culture and protocol should not be disregarded. A reasonable balance of group relationships, individuality, respect for individual status and pride has to be maintained. Basically, foreign executives should not expect that Argentineans will speak English. Many Argentine businesspeople have a good knowledge of English, but it is always better to have business cards written in both English and Spanish. Also the presence of a qualified interpreter during meetings will guarantee the success of business interactions with Argentineans. Foreign executives, coming to Argentina, should realize that Argentineans are extremely flexible with their time schedules: they are late for meetings and spend hours discussing the details of each agreement. Patience and respect are the main prerequisites for being successful in Argentinean business. Argentineans value their independence and individuality, but they are open to help. They will not subject themselves to foreign influences, and will never fulfill orders; however, they will easily accomplish the same task if they are asked for a favor. Women executives may fail to generate trust and develop productive relationships with Argentine businesses; as a result, it is better to have a male representative to do business with Argentineans. Finally, open criticism is not appropriate, as it can hurt Argentineans’ pride. In all situations win-win solutions are preferable. Only those executives, who are oriented towards long-term business relationships, will have a chance to win the trust and support of Argentinean businesspeople. Unfair competition by all means is not acceptable. Argentineans view business as a sport activity, and only the best can win the prize. Being prompt, direct, courteous, and status-conscious, one can win the heart and mind of any Argentinean.