Tag Archives: company

Gringoes: why would you live in Brazil?

I’m a regular reader of the Gringoes.com website. It’s a magazine for foreigners living and working in Brazil and the downsides of being in Brazil are a regular theme of articles and discussion, particularly in the associated Facebook group where readers can vent their opinion openly without the need for an editor to approve what they submit to the magazine.

In the past day there has been an enormous argument raging on the Facebook group because one foreigner wrote a list of dozens and dozens of reasons why he hates living in Brazil.

Every foreign person living far from home has some reason to miss home, but for someone to sit and write a list of 66 – yes 66 – reasons he hates being in Brazil leaves me feeling rather incredulous. This is surely a hatred bordering on obsession?

It is easy to leave. Even if his wife has a good job. Or she wants to be close to her family. He could just leave, return to the USA and swallow the cost of visiting regularly as being better than having to endure a life in Brazil.

But comparing things to home is normal. I knew a British guy who has now left Brazil and he would lament about the quality of shops like Boots. I actually think that the drug stores in São Paulo are pretty good – even if the generic drugs are too expensive.

I spent some time living in the USA teaching kids when I was younger. I had a health-plan provided by my employer and I never needed to use it, but now I am self-employed, I think that finding over $1,000 a month to ensure I can see a doctor when I need one would seriously put me off ever living in the USA – but it’s a place I love visiting.

I spent a lot of time in India and Singapore when I was working for a bank and I had all kinds of comments and thoughts about those places. Singapore is clean and safe and well ordered, but nobody has any real ability to criticise the government – then you end up wondering how much that right is worth if the streets are clean and you have no fear of getting mugged?

In India the poverty is oppressive, even in cities like Mumbai where billionaires and film stars frequent the beaches and luxury hotels. All my foreign friends living there had to be in gated communities, sealed off from the ‘normal’ people – is that really what life in India is about?

And so what about Brazil? It’s true that the country is saddled with an inefficient bureaucracy and it appears there is no desire to streamline any of it – just dealing with the cartorios (notary offices) alone by using biometric identity would sweep away an enormous amount of time checking and stamping forms – often for no other reason than confirming a signature is genuine. But there are probably millions of people working in these offices so the government would give efficiency with one hand and wipe out jobs with the other.

Brazilian drivers are very aggressive. I don’t mind most of the time, but when someone pulls a stunt like overtaking me on a sweeping corner (it happens a lot more often than you might think) and their stupidity is endangering me and my family then I get angry – and there should be no need to.

It is tough to negotiate life in Brazil sometimes. I’m grateful that I’ve got a fantastic wife who can steer me through a lot of the things that would give a foreigner an entirely negative view of the place. I know a British guy who was robbed at gunpoint in São Paulo in his own home, but his Brazilian wife chose a crappy neighbourhood for them to live in where he would obviously stand out – so who is to blame?

I’ve also been lucky to get great professional advice. The accountant for my business had never handled a company like ours before – lots of foreign clients, money coming from all over the world, only really dealing in intellectual property  rather than tangible assets. She studied all the relevant rules to handle our company and has been doing a great job – and it’s needed because even a small company here has to file a tax or regulatory report AT LEAST ONCE A DAY… I did mention there is a lot of bureaucracy here.

Foreigners on the Gringoes website complain of being ripped off – try catching a taxi in India then and asking the driver to use the meter. It won’t happen. They complain of the ‘culture’ in Brazil not being like back home. They complain about how they can’t complain without being ignored.

I have even seen foreigners on the forums talking about how Brazilian music is just not as good as it is back at home. Are they kidding? Have you been out in São Paulo recently? It is packed with live gigs going on every night of the week. I admit, seeing the big international rock acts is expensive, but there is a thriving art, music, and culture scene in Brazil.

And then, when Brazilians respond with a list of all the great things about Brazil it just so often seems to be full of clichés… is feijoada really one of the reasons why people choose to live in Brazil?

The reality is that you can’t define a place with a single broad stroke. There is no Brazil this or that in the same way that living in Louisiana is very different to California or New York. Living far from home is affected firstly by the place you have chosen to be and the people you are with.

For example, if you are used to life in central New York or London then life on a beach up in the rural north east of Brazil might seem idyllic when you first arrive. The sun, the beach, the endless opportunity to live next to the barbecue. After a while though you might start wondering when you are going to next visit the cinema, a theatre, see a rock concert, or meet a friend who has read the books of Anthony Burgess. Living an idyllic life by the beach can have downsides too.

And the people are important. Moving anywhere can be improved by having a partner from that country, but people are people. I’ve met many Brazilian people from São Paulo who don’t even know how to get around their own city. In my short time here I’ve learned more about the public transport infrastructure and different neighbourhoods than they have in a lifetime. And I’ve also seen locals setting up home with their foreign partners in completely inappropriate locations – as I already mentioned.

I’m not suggesting that a foreigner moving to São Paulo has to live in a ghetto of foreigners. It actually annoys me when I meet ex-pats living in the city and they all gravitate to Jardins, Moema, or Brooklin. They are not really the most interesting parts of the city at all, but are considered ‘safe’ so foreigner-ghettos are created and then the cycle is reinforced – these are good places for foreigners to live because others are already there.

So the type of place, the location, the people you are with – these are all factors in creating your personal experience. The cultural complaints I read on Gringoes are all influenced by this – we are all in different places with different people so we cannot just assume the same about Brazil. The Brazil one person experiences can be entirely different to that experienced by another.

When I see the complaints about foreigners being treated differently, getting ripped off, I remember when I was living in São Paulo and every shop owner in my street would wave and say hello as I walked my dog down the street. I had a set of spare house keys in my local bar, in case I ever lost my keys. The taxi drivers at my local cab rank all said hello and were happy to do short or long runs at short notice. I never found any of the negativity I can see expressed on the discussion forums.

I was never burgled or mugged or witnessed any crime during my time in São Paulo, despite the statistics painting an image of the city as one step away from Gomorrah.

Now I live in a smaller town this has only become more accentuated. The paranoid may fear that standing out as the only English person in town might lead to being targeted by burglars or worse, but what have I found? Just a sincere welcome everywhere I go from the barber to the bakery to the bar to the local government – who are all excited about having a real English person help them with some music and culture related to the UK.

In fact, what have I found out about Brazil in short?

  • Business; running a business is bureaucratic. I cannot even personally deal with the number of regulatory and tax reports I need to file – it is more than one report a day. But my accountant does it all efficiently at a reasonable price and the corporation tax on my company is lower than in the UK. It takes a bit of effort to run the firm, but in short, the tax bill is lower than it would be in the US or UK so that can only be a good thing. I am better off that I would be back in the UK and I’m staying on the right law of the law and paying my taxes.
  • World focus; talking of business, I am busier than ever. Brazil is a great place to be as it has survived the global economic downturn and with the next World Cup and Olympic games coming here everyone is looking to do business in Brazil in this decade.
  • Home; I now live in a lovely spa town of about 30,000 people packed full of mineral water springs. I open the window in the morning and see mountains in front of me as the sun rises. I’ve got a pool and sauna at home and space to entertain friends when they come over. I can’t imagine having all this back in London – my last home in the UK was a small flat.
  • Nature; I’m surrounded by the most incredible countryside and real live toucans and parrots fly past – they are not just things you see on postcards from Brazil.
  • People; I’ve met so many fantastic people since I moved to Brazil – some locals and some foreigners living here. There is something about living away from your home country that encourages you to get out to meet more people than if you were back on familiar territory and this can be a wonderfully positive experience. I have even ended up working with the British embassy to promote the UK for business and tourism.
  • Weather; Brazil is an enormous country with searing heat in the north to snow in the south. Where I am living now will be dry until about September and I work outside in the sun almost every day. I’m pretty happy about that – would you prefer a balcony with a mountain view or a dull basement office?

In short, I have personally had a fantastic time since moving to Brazil and I have found opportunities and experiences that would just have never happened had I stayed in London.

There are things I would like to improve in Brazil. Maybe my voice and opinion can help to influence a few changes, but I see so many more positives than negatives. I think that the foreigners who endlessly whine about the problems of Brazil are living in the wrong place.

The foreigners may even be right. They might have a valid point, but if you want to while away your days complaining and dreaming of when you can move someplace else then why not just remember the words of John Lennon:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Airport bus

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Tax really can be taxing – moving location in Brazil…

I’m the director of a limited liability company. All my business in Brazil goes through the company and I am paid a salary from my own company. It all works well, and surprisingly, I am taxed less that I was in the UK.

However, running a company in Brazil is onerous  My firm needs to submit something like 30 different tax reports EVERY MONTH to the government which means that I pay my accountant about the same every month that I used to pay every year in London.

The day to day reality is that I trust my accountant to sort out all the tax statements so I don’t worry about it. She gets paid well by her clients to manage their reporting and I can sleep easy knowing that all those reports are filed.

But I’m moving house soon and I just got the shock of my life. By moving 150km north of São Paulo to another town inside São Paulo state, all of my company affairs get shaken to the core.

The town I am moving to does not use the electronic tax system my accountant uses, so I would have to start manually managing all these reports – posting them to my accountant to be dealt with. And this is inside the same state. That is at least one report a day to be manually collected, and posted.

And simply to change the registered address of my company from where I am now to the town I am moving to basically means I need to incorporate the company again with the new details. Plus then inform every government agency that deals with me – there is no central register of companies where I can file my details.

At the end of the day I’m paying hundreds to my accountant to take care of it all, and rather than move the company address to my own offices, I will keep it registered at the office of my accountant so I can avoid a lot of this nonsense. Even just to move the company from my address to my accountant – which is on the same street – means effectively reincorporation and about a month of fees just to change address.

Brazil might not be booming any longer, but it is still growing. If a brave politician stepped in and cut through some of this ridiculous red tape the country might once again experience the kind of growth Europe can only dream of. If only… those people in the company tax offices passed exams to be in their jobs – they now feel they have a job for life. How can a politician change that?

Tax

Is it really so strange to leave work at 5.30pm?

I once moved job from a French financial services company to an American one – Société Générale to Sanford Bernstein. My new boss was based in New York and he used to endlessly mock the holidays we were given by our employers in Europe.

After one particularly “hilarious” episode talking to him about holidays, I reminded him that I had moved from a job where I had annual leave of 30 days to his company where I was only permitted 20 – and that was the absolute minimum allowed under EU law. He claimed that I should be grateful because in New York he gets a week off for Christmas and a week off in the summer for a family vacation.

I never even wanted to move from a French company to an American one. The bank was reducing headcount by 50% (in London) and I was offered a job in Paris, Bangalore, or half my annual salary to leave the firm. So I took the money, left, and was in the new job within weeks.

This macho work culture also prevailed in the London office of Bernstein. I would get my work done and head off home at about 5.30pm most days. I almost always had to listen to colleagues calling out jibes such as “…going home now? Part-time or what?”

Frankly it never bothered me. I was getting paid more than the guys calling out and boasting about their long hours – who is the fool when you are putting in more hours for less cash? And looking back now, I know that spending long evenings at the office would never have made me any happier. Why do people do it?

I started thinking about my former employer when I read the breathless reports that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office at 5.30pm each day so she can enjoy dinner with her family each evening. The way it is reported makes it appear unusual for American office-based employees to leave work before 8pm – and assuming they might spend an hour getting home, then having dinner, it means that for most people it is normal to not enjoy any free time after work . The day is just commute then work then commute then eat then bed.

I work with clients now who respond to emails 24/7, schedule calls when they are on family holidays, and never seem able to switch off. Has it really got so bad that employees are now expected to be walking around DisneyWorld with their family and yet still taking calls from the office? This really happened on a conference call I participated in recently – with the guy at Disney trying to focus on work and keep his kids busy at the same time. What a multi-tasking dad!

I realise that in a tough economic climate people are scared and will do whatever they can to appear invaluable to the company, but why don’t employers switch the emphasis on what they expect of people to the output and value rather than time? If the employee is clear on what is expected for them to be judged successful in their job then the emphasis can be shifted away from long hours appearing to be impressive – if you know you are delivering for the company then you can feel comfortable heading home to see the family.

Of course, many people fear the idea that they might be judged on results rather than just time and apparent effort. It means that the less successful members of the team cannot hide their inability just by working 12-hour days when others can achieve more in 8 hours.

But while America – and the world in general – focuses on long hours as the key to remaining in a job, expect family problems and mental health issues to soar. If only companies learned to measure employees by what they achieve, rather than the hours they spend achieving.

Only psychiatrists benefit from the present approach, and I bet they get home in time for dinner with the kids.

Sunbathing?

Photo by David Reid licensed under Creative Commons

I’m now a company director in Brazil

I’ve been running IT Decisions with Angelica since I arrived in Brazil. We have been building a really good audience considering we started from scratch and we have spent nothing on marketing or advertising…

All we started doing was writing in English about what IT decision makers are doing here in Brazil. Not what the IT companies are doing or selling, but what the real company bosses with big budgets are up to.

A few months down the line, we are regularly seeing over 10,000 views a day on the site… over quarter of a million views a month on the stuff we are writing about Brazil in a foreign language. Just incredible – we are very pleased as you can imagine.

One of the attractions of the site is that we don’t carry advertising or vendor content. So it’s squarely focused on what buyers are up to and because there are no ads, we don’t have to keep any advertisers happy or skew the content in a particular direction.

That also means there is no income yet. That is about to change with the research network just launching. So we formed a limited company to handle the accounts of the research company. It’s a much more involved process than back in the UK, but despite the complexities of getting it all off the ground, I think that it will be easier to run the company on a day to day basis and I will be paying less corporation tax than I would be in the UK.

Many people complain about the bureacracy involved in starting companies in Brazil, but once over the initial hurdle of paperwork that all needs to be signed, the tax and accounting rules all seem much more straightforward to me. For instance, getting taxed on revenue (rather than profit) seems a negative step, but if the tax rate is reasonable and the process of accounting becomes much simpler then it seems like a good thing to me.

I’m now officially a director of a Brazilian company. Now I’m focused on creating the first million reais!
Angie signing company formation papers

Peerpex needs a friend

Two years ago, Peerpex.com was born. The idea was to tap into the increasing trend for smaller companies to use outsourcing, especially to search for overseas partners. That trend has increased and there is an increasing need for a tool such as Peerpex to connect smaller firms together, but the founders are struggling to make it happen.

Why? Because we are all really busy working on the things we need to do to keep the lights on at home.

Stephen Page runs Sapphire Group, and a number of other companies, including the ideas incubator Ortegra along with Jay Shah. Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is a well-known blogger and media commentator with several new books in production.

Since Peerpex was born we have built a strong technology platform and search engine. You can see the draft site at www.peerpex.com, which does work, but is not representative of the final product as there isn’t much data there.

Peerpex is not designed to replace Linked In – it’s unlikely anyone will do that for some time. It’s designed to be an international community for smaller companies interested in working together, to promote and facilitate a community of small and medium-sized outsourcing.

We originally planned a business model focused on the sale of qualified leads, but that idea cooled when we felt it presents Peerpex in the same light as the many sites that allow individual contractors and freelancers to pitch for work. Some of those sites work really well, but we want Peerpex to sit in a niche where it supports smaller companies, not just individual freelancers.

So, we think the idea is still good. P2P is a proven model. Outsourcing is expanding to be used by smaller firms. And there is no simple network helping smaller companies to find each other. Plus there is some strong technology that has been developed for Peerpex, along with a lot of ideas about how to make it work.

But Mark and Stephen don’t have the time each day to make this a success – we need an executive manager to take charge and redefine the business model, strip out the technology that’s not going to work, and to give the project some focus. It’s a success waiting to happen.

In return, you will get a significant share of the company. If you don’t have the time to do it personally, but you are interested in investing so we can hire a manager, that’s another option we could explore together.

Get in touch.

stephenp@sapphiregroup.com

mail@markhillary.com

Is it a crime to be a ghost?

As I scanned what my Twitter friends were saying today I saw a tweet expressing shock at hearing about ‘corporate ghost blogging’. I noticed a few tweets mentioning the subject today, probably as a result of the discussion going on at the Dell B2B huddle in Bracknell.

Ghost blogging elicits a shocked response from many in the online community, who believe that it’s no longer real or engaging if a corporate blogger has had all the work done for them by a writer.

It’s certainly true. There is a lot of corporate spam out there – particularly on Twitter. Accounts that just advertise various products or services are not what I’m focused on at all – or interested in.

What interests me is where do you draw the line and say that a blogger is no longer a ‘real’ blogger because his/her material is ghosted?

I work with companies in several sectors, including IT, law, consulting, and in many cases I am involved in drafting blogs. I see it really as an extension of the corporate writing work I’ve been doing for ages. Companies used to ask writers like me to come up with ‘Thought Leadership’ or material they could use in ‘white papers’.

For corporates, blogging is a natural extension of this earlier thought leadership. They want to be seen with a voice, an opinion, and some knowledge about the industry in which they operate – and all without a direct sales pitch.

So when we talk about ghost blogging online in shocked and horrified voices, let’s start drawing a distinction. When I do it, I’m taking rough blog drafts from executives and turning their copy into something worth blogging, making their use of language more direct, making the comment more open-ended to encourage debate. I’m not writing the blog for them, I’m just polishing up their own efforts because most execs either have a shortage of time or a shortage of writing experience. To a journalist, cranking out 200 words is easy. To a busy exec with no journalism experience, that’s half a day sitting and writing then improving the copy.

Sometimes I will write an entire blog, but that will be based on a conversation with the exec – who is normally rushing around somewhere in a taxi or limo. It’s not crafted from the depths of my own mind.

So, if I’m polishing up some executive thoughts and making them worth blogging, then is that really cheating?

If people think it is, then they might want to have a look at the serious press. Take a look at all those guest columns where captains of industry have sent 800-words to the editor on a burning issue. Do you really think that CEO sat down and crafted the newspaper column without running it past someone to tidy up?

Twitter is another topic entirely. As many companies have found, it’s difficult to create a corporate account and expect thousands of avid followers to come and follow a stream of press releases. Executives making Twitter work well are doing so because it’s short, direct, and personal – and written by the person on the profile.

So where do we draw the line with ghosting and blogs?