The Dichotomy of Brazilian Corporate Culture

Japan v Mexico: Group A - FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013

If you pick up a recent Economist and skip to the Americas section you are bound to read a story about the Petrobras money-laundering scandal in Brazil. It is arguably the most pervasive example of corruption in Brazilian history, involving high ranking politicians and business people. There is no doubt that a culture of corruption exists in Brazilian business and politics – Petrobras made this transparent to the world; but, this is in direct conflict to my experience thus far in Brazil.

The corporate culture I have experienced over the last two weeks in Brazil is one characterized by professionalism and transparency. The people I have met at my host company, the people I have interviewed at their financial services customers have all been very friendly and completely transparent. I have not witnesses any bribery. In fact, this transparency even finds its roots in the regulatory environment. All Brazilians social security number equivalent is public information here, so are peoples salaries, employment info – even what people spend on lunch is available for free from the government (employers are required to pay for employee lunches and employees use a special credit card to do so).

This culture of transparency is in direct contrast to the perception I had given the stories from Petrobras. When I speak to local business people here in São Paulo, they are not shy to discuss how distraught they are about this dichotomy. Many Brazilians believe this culture of corruption will persist, especially with the reelection of Rousseff – whose party was a major beneficiary of the money laundering scheme.

Brazilians are worried. They are worried that the young generation has been raised seeing white collar crime go unpunished. They are worried that the young generation today will learn from the executives and politicians of this era, and become the corrupt executives and politicians of tomorrow. In the words of a new friend and Sao Paulo businessman, “We are going to lose a generation”.

I worry as well. Brazil is beautiful. The beaches of Florianopolis are stunning, surrounded by gargantuan trees that look as if they grew alongside the “Tree of Souls” from avatar. Sao Paulo is a sprawling metropolis with more traffic congestion than any city I have ever seen; yet, this concrete jungle is pleasantly interrupted by lush trees and tropical thunderstorms. Brazil is a country I would strongly consider moving to, it is a place I would like to do business in. The perception I had of Brazilian corporate culture is in direct conflict with the one I experienced in person. I hope my experience is a microcosm of a trend in the greater corporate environment. I certainly hope Brazil doesn’t lose a generation.

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