In my former life as a corporate lawyer, I often spent upwards of 15 hours a day working in the office. Most business was conducted over the phone or by email. I carried my Blackberry everywhere with me and would respond to all email within minutes. Face-to-face meetings with clients (or between clients doing a deal) were rare. And lunch only happened when I had time to sneak out for five minutes to grab something to take back to my desk.
Needless to say, my second career working in real estate development in Mexico was somewhat of a seismic shift for me in business cultures. In Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point), emails often remain unreturned for several days – or forever. “I will get it done by tomorrow” can mean “I am very busy and maybe you will see something from me within the next week.” Large, all-hands meetings happen frequently to hash out details of a transaction and to catch up on business. And lunch is taken very seriously (many offices are closed from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and important business lunches can extend several additional hours).
It is easy for Americans to criticize the Mexican business culture as being a little too laid back. I prefer to think of it simply as a culture that prioritizes its time a little differently than Americans do – taking more time for family and leading a more balanced lifestyle. The Mexican style of business also harkens back to the days in the U.S. where handshake deals were more common and face-to-face meetings were important in establishing a long-lasting business relationship. After working in Mexico for over two years now, I can say it is refreshing to have the opportunity to spend a little extra time in a room together with potential business partners telling jokes and getting to know one another. At times, the lack of urgency in getting things done has been frustrating to me, but it has certainly helped my patience (Serenity now!).
However, as Mexico becomes more and more Americanized and its business leaders spend more time shuttling back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, the American business culture has begun to seep into Mexico. My Mexican lawyer is a good example of this. He works all hours of the day – sometimes sleeping overnight in his office (I remember those days…). He has three cell phones and always answers them. He communicates efficiently by text message on his phone and instant message on his computer – often at the same time. And you will usually find him working right through the traditional Mexican lunch period. One of the main reasons he does this is because many of his clients are American and he has adapted to our business culture in order to serve us better.
From what I have read and been told by my Mexican friends, this transition to American-style business customs has advanced even more rapidly in the major cities of Mexico. I read an interesting article today in Reuters about how the new thing in Mexico City is to skip the long lunches and to have a short networking breakfast instead. As Puerto Peñasco becomes a more sophisticated business and cultural center focused on tourism in the coming years, expect to see more and more Mexican business professionals start to adopt American-style workdays. As for me, I am going to continue to relish the opportunity to occasionally spend a couple of hours in the afternoon with some of my old-school Mexican business associates eating shrimp at a favorite restaurant by the water…still handcuffed to my trusty Blackberry of course.