When doing business in Mexico, it is essential to establish relationships with associates who are well connected. This requires checking their backgrounds and reputations to determine the depth and breadth of their personal and professional networks. Joining local social clubs and business organizations, participating in the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, and visiting the nearest U.S. consulate and the Commercial Attaché at the U.S. Embassy are useful ways to obtain such information. Cultivating personal relationships with your Mexican banker and local executives of your joint venture partnership also provides access to this kind of business intelligence.
Mexican society can be visualized as being composed of interconnected human molecules. People all belong to groups that are connected to each other. The basic group is the extended family. It generally includes three generations plus all the uncles, aunts, cousins, and their families and often amounts to 50 persons or more. The family members remain in much closer contact than is usually the case in the U.S. They frequently give each other information, advice, support, and help in personal and job-related matters.
The extended family is connected to other families by means of compadrazco, whereby individuals become godparents of children of friends. The bond between the compadres is nearly as strong as the one that exists among biological family members. This process of linking together extended families results in the creation of networks of several hundred people. These groups are further expanded by personal friendships and relationships formed in school, social clubs, neighborhoods, military service, and the workplace.
These connections are used to deal with individual and family difficulties, to find employment, to solve business and legal problems, and to gain a wide variety of personal and professional advantages. The currency exchanged within these networks consists of insider information, advice, referrals, favors, and influence. This informal system is considered natural and legitimate in the context of the Mexican culture.
Coming from a highly individualistic culture, U.S. business people have a serious disadvantage in Mexico. They often fail to consciously develop alliances with local counterparts who have the clout and connections to help them succeed. They may inadvertently become linked to people who are considered "lightweights" or "losers" by important Mexican business associates. This makes them appear naive and vulnerable. Conversely, using networks and connections astutely demonstrates a level of savvy that will enable the U.S. businessperson to be taken more seriously and to get better results by having access to more and better information.
To Learn More
Read Good Neighbors: Communicating with the Mexicans, 2nd edition, by John C. Condon, 1997, Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, Me.; and Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans, by Alan Riding, 1985, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Richard Hill is a Brussels-based intercultural consultant, speaker, and author of "We Europeans," "EuroManagers & Martians," and other books.
World Culture Tips editor Gary M. Wederspahn is a leading intercultural business consultant, trainer, coach, speaker, and writer. His book, Intercultural Services: A Worldwide Buyer's Guide and Sourcebook, is available from Butterworth-Heinemann publishing and from Amazon.com
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