This week’s interview takes us to Portugal with an English perspective from experienced on-line marketing professional, Chris Szabo. Chris is Creative Director for Navega Bem Web Design, an international company based in Madeira, Portugal that provides affordable full service digital marketing, development and web design services. Here is Chris’ perspective on the Portuguese business culture:
What do you see as unique cultural characteristics of Portuguese people that are reflected in Portugal’s business culture?
As an Englishman living on the Portuguese island of Madeira, I feel that I have a more objective view of the Portuguese people than perhaps native islanders. Certainly my most profound impression of the Portuguese people is their sincere, friendly, laid back and welcoming demeanor. Those people with less tend to want to give more; an admirable quality in anyone. When someone in Portugal tells you ‘Have a nice day’ – they really do mean it.
Bearing in mind that Portugal only became a democracy in the mid 70’s and with their subsequent integration into the EU in 1986, Portugal arrived later than most nations into an era of market driven technological growth and prosperity. This is totally reflected in their continuing pursuit of further financial growth and success in both their business and private lives.
Whilst it is very difficult to define the general character of a nation that covers not only continental Portugal but also its many islands, my dealings with Portuguese business partners have shown them to be very open to ideas, products and services from beyond their borders. Certainly there seems to be a veritable appetite to openly embrace new technology and it is surprising to see a total acceptance of English and other foreign languages – which is sometimes not the case in other south European countries.
In your opinion, what are Portugal’s most competitive industries in world markets?
Certainly, Portugal is most favourably recognized as a tourist destination. Holiday brochures for the beautiful city of Lisbon or the golden sandy beaches of the Algarve or the subtropical island of Madeira can be found in travel agencies worldwide. But surprisingly, Portugal excels in many of the world markets for industries such as wine, footwear, auto components, electronics and pharmaceutical goods. Until recently, amazing growth has been seen in the transportation, communications and financial services industries.
Renewable energy has also created a whole new industry and almost 36% of native energy is now generated from solar or wind power. That’s a lot!
With Portugal now manufacturing the most efficient wind tower in the world, the nation is not just highly competitive – but also a market leader.
What’s the best way to find potential Portuguese business contacts?
Bearing in mind that Portuguese business contacts will speak reasonable if not perfect English, sourcing new business is suddenly much easier than you may have anticipated.
Your National chamber of Commerce will be able to assist you in finding the right business partners, such as distributors, agents, importers or investment partners within Portugal.
What do you wish people knew about doing business in Portugal before they arrive in country?
Whilst the Portuguese are a very warm and friendly people, they are also a very proud nation indeed. ‘Saving face’ and respecting people’s honour and integrity are crucial for doing good business in Portugal. If you openly criticize someone in front of other people or even whilst having a one to one conversation, this may have a disastrous impact on your business negotiations. Refrain from showing that you are upset and above all else, do not get into any conflict and remain cool and polite. It is important to use tact and restraint at all times.
One of the finest strengths of the Portuguese is their willingness to be flexible, adapt and learn. They openly embrace, respect and admire more advanced economies and methods. Time and time again I re-discover that there is abounding drive to creatively resolve problems and adapt to new business ideas and strategies. So don’t hold back on information. If you have enlightening information to share that will benefit you and your business partners – share it all.
From your perspective, what’s the business climate like for entrepreneurs (supportive vs. unsupported, culturally accepted profession vs. not accepted, etc.)?
Within Portugal’s business culture, the respect a person enjoys depends first and foremost on his or her status, rank, and age. It is very important to treat elderly people with great respect. Particularly admired personal traits are flexibility, kindness and sociability.
Still of importance today is the system of Portuguese titles. I can tell you that having a title is both a business and a social advantage and will find that you will get appointments and a level of respect that you may not otherwise have gotten. Being an engineer myself and a stubborn British expat, I have always shown the courtesy of addressing someone with their title if they wish me to do so and I keep quiet about my own. However, if ‘you’ have a title – do use it. I suggest you don’t introduce yourself with your title, but instead have someone like your secretary subtly pass this information along before your meeting.
In Portugal, having a Degree entitles you to use the Doctor title ‘Dr’ or ‘Dra’ for a woman, however if the degree is in engineering then the Engineer title is ‘Eng’ or ‘Enga’ for the ladies. If the degree is in architecture, the Architect titles used are ‘Arq’ for men or ‘Arqa’ for women and believe me this is keenly adhered to.
People with PhD doctorates are entitled to be called ‘Professor’. Never assume that someone with the title ‘Professor’ holds a professorial chair or is even a university lecturer.
However, don’t let this put you off in any way. Portugal is waiting for you and your entrepreneurial flair. I believe if you can make it here you can make it anywhere!
About Chris Szabo
British expat Chris Szabo arrived on Madeira island in 1988 and became the Marketing Director for the company International Leisure SA. In 1990 together with Roberto Jardim Huber and Nick Bayntun he founded Atelier Jardim Lda. The design and communications company was the first of its kind on Madeira and quickly became the first choice for the big hotels and international groups that required quality design, photography and consulting. Chris also co-founded a Tour Operator in 1996 and spent several years introducing pioneering internet strategies for the tourism industry. Once nicknamed ‘Mr. Internet’ by the local press, Chris is an expert at search engine optimisation and social marketing. In January 2006 ‘Navega Bem – Web Design’ was formed. As Creative Director, Chris Szabo continues to be the creative force behind this globally-oriented company. For more information about Chris and his innovative company, please visit: