BY SARA D. ANDERSON
It is rush hour in Mexico City on a Tuesday afternoon.
This metropolis inhabited by 20 million people is swarming with locals and business associates, who are racing like New Yorkers to get from one place to the next.
Why does this seem out of context?
People in the United States, especially San Diegans, often have a stereotypical perception of a Mexican business culture, including siestas and informality.
We live so close to the border, that this intercultural society we see in San Diego and Tijuana forces us to apply these assumptions to Mexico’s business culture.
However, the Mexican economy in 2006 had a GDP of $1.1 trillion and a growth rate estimated at 4.7 percent compared to the Canadian economy that had a GDP at $1.2 trillion and a growth rate at 2.7 percent.
So with the Mexican economy expected to surpass the Canadian economy by 2008, Richard Villasana, president of The Mexican Guru, has us think otherwise:
“People take that idea and go to Mexico with these stereotypes, and they let the stereotypes control how they do business and how they treat their partners in Mexico,” Villasana said. “If you don’t understand who you are dealing with, you are going to make mistakes.”
But you can avoid making mistakes.
In the consulting business now for 10 years, Villasana teaches companies and small businesses how to be successful in the Mexican market.
His clients work for manufacturing companies from around the world, in industries such as transportation, telecommunications, electronics and health care.
Forte In Electronics
Villasana’s forte is electronics and health care products such as large medical equipment and surgical products used in facial reconstruction.
His experience consulting for companies started when he worked with Micron Technologies. But he dedicates most of his cultural expertise to his college years when he lived in Europe.
Villasana found that learning a language enables you to better understand a culture. He soon became fluent in English, French, Spanish, and learned Arabic, traveled around Europe and lived in Mexico on and off for 10 years.
In applying this to business, Villasana admits that “language can be an incredible communication tool to bring two people together whether for personal or professional reasons.”
Now running his own business that is on track to increase gross revenues by 70 percent, he works with established companies (both in the United States and abroad) that want to expand their business in Mexico.
Villasana’s job description ranges from conducting seminars on international marketing tactics and business culture to one-on-one consultations, such as setting up distribution for a client’s products that are new to the Mexican market.
As a consultant, he preaches on the important factors that need to be considered when dealing with an international market such as Mexico:
– & #8201;Researching the product or service to ensure that it will bring in revenue.
– & #8201;Finding appropriate distributors and/or suppliers to increase sales and profit. There must be more than one distributor, and you (the company) should work with distributors that operate with the government, a public sector, and multiple agencies. Note that it would be financially irresponsible to have only one distributor in the largest market, Mexico City.
– & #8201;Understanding the business culture and practices. This includes understanding Mexico’s federal rules and regulations, such as the NOM (certification of products), the Homologaci & #972;n (documentation to be able to connect to Mexico’s telecommunications system), and federal bids and tenders. Business culture includes, but is not limited to, formality in communication between two parties.
To Villasana, Apple Computer stands out as a perfect model in capturing a market in Mexico.
Villasana says that the cities Apple chose covers every valuable market in Mexico.
It was clear to him that Apple did their research to ensure that these cities would bring in revenue from the Mexican computer market.
On the other hand, Villasana has seen companies fail because companies did not incorporate international business tactics and cultural diversity into their business etiquette.
“The sad truth is that most U.S. companies, and most being small businesses, really do not understand that if they don’t add diversity to their business plans, they are going to lose out to foreign competition that is going to ‘eat their lunch.’
“It’s not easier today working with U.S. businesses, but with the realities of the global markets, it ought to be,” he said.
And so, like a missionary, he has set out to help business associates and business owners understand this cultural barrier.
Even though his clients are all over the world, he puts emphasis on helping businesses in San Diego.
Based in Chula Vista, Villasana has not only spoken with local businesses but also to San Diego Public Library patrons who are small-business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs.
Leslie Simmons, who held a position as a Business Reference Librarian at the San Diego Public Library, scheduled Villasana back in June 2006 to lead a three-part workshop on marketing in Mexico.
Simmons says she learned that communication is one of the most significant factors when doing business in Mexico: “It is best to be formal in introductions, (such as to) use the person’s title, (and to be formal) when writing a letter or sending an e-mail.”
On the flip side, Villasana also has been a successful consultant in Mexico.
Hired by an advertising agency in Tijuana, he was asked to work with a potential company in the United States that was considering doing business in the Mexican market and using the agency’s services.
C & #233;sar Gutierrez Ubach, a general manager for the advertising agency at that time, was so impressed by Villasana’s knowledge of both Mexican and U.S. business culture, when later working in Information Technologies at the State High School System in Baja California, arranged for Villasana to speak to international marketing students.
Villasana’s seminar covered the basic differences between the way Mexico and the United States conduct business, as well as what to find in a global marketplace. More specifically, Villasana talked about how to take a product global, keeping in mind that Mexico tends to become the distributor for foreign products.
You can also acquire international business advice from Villasana’s book, “Insider’s Guide to Doing Business in Mexico,” which he culled from his consulting business and the feedback he received from some of his clients.
One in particular, Barbara Pardue of Cornwell Pardue, a firm that specializes in marketing communications and business development, says in Villasana’s book, “You can discover some true business-making advice and real-world examples of when and where to apply his advice.”
She states that his book is very informative and includes examples pertaining to business etiquette such as how to address business contacts, appropriate use of fax and e-mail, where business should be conducted, and even how to entertain your guests.
Pardue believes that not only small-business owners would benefit from this book, but also any Chamber of Commerce representative who supports local businesses expanding into Mexico, state agency and private sector economic developers, and any businesses that have offices in Mexico.
Even Ubach, born and raised in Mexico, says the book shows him what a typical U.S. business associate expects when doing business in Mexico. “After reading Richard’s book I can now see several of the practices I considered to be a standard operating procedure in Mexico probably irked some of the U.S. suppliers we do business with, and now I can compensate for this.”
Pardue also has hired Villasana for one-on-one consulting on how to follow-up with a potential client in Mexico.
“If you have good guidance from the start by working with a consultant like Richard Villasana you will save yourself time and, potentially, save you from an unintended cultural ‘oops,’ ” Pardue said. “You will just be more aware and respectful of the cultural business differences.”
Sara D. Anderson is a freelance writer based in Pacific Beach.