While the US perception of Latin American culture and business methods is still plagued with inaccuracies, some stateside companies with nearshore services vendors are speaking out to correct these misunderstandings.
Nigel Storey, COO and Senior Director at Johnson & Johnson Design, recently voiced his opinions of his Latin American partners in a webinar by Sourcing Industry Group (SIG), entitled Partners vs. Providers – Why I Enjoy Working with LatAm Suppliers. The talk gave listeners the chance to learn about some new pros and cons that the buy side is experiencing with Latin companies.
NB: The comments given by Storey represent his own personal opinions and not those of Johnson & Johnson.
Challenged by High Performance
“For us, the main challenge has actually been how advanced some of the Latin American vendors are,” he said. “There’s some really cutting-edge providers out there that have actually pushed my group and my team to advance their knowledge and their skills sets, meaning we had to retool and retrain our own people to keep up with them.”
Culturally, Storey pointed out the fact that Latin providers operate very differently to those in the US, taking a firm approach to project negotiations that many US buyers may not appreciate.
“We all have vendors who “yes” you to death and then don’t deliver, but you don’t find that in Latin America,” he said. “Partners will provide you with an early warning and an alternative (often more efficient) way of doing things, which can worry business leaders who want to push vendors around — they are not order-takers; they will give constructive feedback on how to do things better.”
Site Visits Reveal Resourcefulness
Storey recalled a site visit he did in Brazil, when he walked through the environment during an evaluation of the supplier. During the trip, he noticed an organizational discipline that spoke to him, such as numerous processes and plans sketched out all over the walls, and a dedication to English.
“During many of the site visits I have been on, language has been up to par,” he said. “Many have on-site instruction to further advance English skills.”
Another side that was revealed during his visits was the resourcefulness of the teams, which are “always thinking about creative ways to solve problems,” according to Storey. One case study cited by Storey involved a report with 70 pages of changes that needed to be implemented by 9am the next day.
“We at first thought it was time to go back to the drawing board, but our supplier asked for the list, analysed it, and tried to work out how to accommodate us,” he recalled. “I then worked with them through the night to achieve what we thought was impossible. When you consider the time zone advantage, it would have been far more challenging to do that with a provider in another region.”
Developing Friendships, not just Partnerships
Another challenge that Storey warns about is the kind of no-nonsense personality that Latin business leaders may have, but this shouldn’t be seen as a negative thing. “If you’re going into a relationship with a Latin American provider, and you just want to push them around, there may be a clash you weren’t prepared for, but it can be a benefit toward getting the job done the right way, which may not be your way,” he said.
Oftentimes, clients and partners might have different goals, leading to long and repetitive cycles of negotiations. In the best partnerships, there needs to be overlapping goals between the two companies. Thankfully, many suppliers in Latin America approach their work in this way, as friendships and relationships are highly valued in the region, which translates into the work and the passion for the work. “I’ve developed more friendships with Latin American providers than in any other region because of cultural nuances such as this,” said Storey.
This is the reality that US clients must embrace and become accustomed to, as the value of this kind of partnership will eventually pay for itself.