Confessions of a Type-A businesswoman in Peru

By Kate Mulder

Kate Mulder had to slow her business style way down when she moved to Peru, but she’s found that it’s a better way to work.

Confessions of a Type-A businesswoman in Peru

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My Inbox – 10AM: An email from a friend in New York who emailed a company in Peru with some questions about an upcoming visit.

About 4 hours later another email hit my inbox from the same woman. She wrote “I haven’t heard anything yet – do you think they got my email?”

“This is Peru,” I replied. “You have to give it a little bit of time, don’t worry you will get your answer. “

It’s really no secret that doing business in a South American country takes a bit of patience, and of course the same is here in Peru. I find it highly ironic that I have chosen to work in a country where things take time, but it’s a perfect learning experience for me; a Type A, impatient, task oriented person, especially when I am focused on getting something done.

Sometimes we attract those challenges which help us to grow. Now I must be conscious of a new method: allowing things to take time.

I’ve asked business owners in Peru that work with North American clients what their biggest frustration is in working with clients from the US. The answer is often “My clients are very impatient. They ask for things or information and want it right away. And we want to address their need right away, we really do. It’s just that sometimes we don’t have a choice. Things take longer here. I wish they would understand that.”

There are plenty of reasons things take longer to get done in Peru.

Generally, information doesn’t flow quickly – there is a lack of infrastructure and logistics. Lots of red tape, and yes often a lack of urgency. It’s difficult to plan meetings in advance, and your schedule needs to be fluid. People cancel and reschedule meetings often – this is a normal cultural thing. It’s not necessarily a lack of respect, like we view it in the States. For some people, in the beginning, it’s enough to pull your hair out.

Things also take time because Peru has a very hierarchical corporate culture. Generally employees are told to only focus on their task and not encouraged to find new solutions without permission from the boss. Often this starts at young age in school: do what you are told and nothing else. Just work on this part.

Things move faster and companies improve when employees are empowered. When they are encouraged to find new solutions, do what’s best for the customer, and take ownership of their role and make decisions on their own.

In my experience, it’s easy for me to tell which companies do more business internationally – they are the ones who respond quicker and are more solution oriented.

Not that the US approach is necessarily the best.

Let’s not be fooled. The US may be task-driven and urgent and we’ve accomplished a lot, but it’s killing our workforce today.

I’ve been back in the States for a week: back to seeing schedules packed with hyperactivity. It’s reminded me how our sense of worth is in our “doing-ness”- how many things we can pack into our schedule each day, whether it’s the most productive or not.

When you are totally stressed and overworked, it’s difficult to be innovative and to think of new solutions. Innovative companies understand the importance of time off. Whether it’s during the day or during the year, they encourage you to take a break, re-charge your batteries. As a result, new and better products or services are created.

For me, my experience doing business in Peru is a welcome change of pace, incorporating the best of both worlds. I’m starting to love that sometimes things take a bit longer, because it allows me to take care of myself and do business the way I enjoy – having fun and connecting with people. I go to yoga, take long lunches AND get things done.

A typical schedule of 200 emails a day is replaced with doing the most important things that move me forward. The rest can be delegated, and when you work with the right people, you can trust them to get it done. For me, having to be patient lifts that really heavy cloud of immediacy and high pressure. It allows me to work in more of a circular manner – I’m more creative, more open to new solutions. I’ve never been so relaxed, so unstressed. It’s exciting to be able to create a culture from scratch – being productive, adding fun, and encouraging others to think outside the box.

There is a fine line between allowing things to take time and getting business done. I understand the Peruvian culture isn’t going to change overnight, and I don’t expect it to. Similarly businesses in Peru need to understand the US value on urgency as much as we need to be patient. Often one who gets things done the fastest and is most reliable will win the business from the States.

At the end of the day, neither the stereotypical Peruvian approach nor the American one is ideal. Both business cultures have a lot to learn from one another.

Kate Mulder aims to be the voice of tech, business, and entrepreneurship in Peru. Kate\‘s career in business development specializes in emerging markets, online technology, and cultural awareness. She currently works with investors and companies curious about doing business in or successfully expanding to Peru.