Business flavour in Italy and Spain – a personalised view
There is a tendency to categorize people of specific geographical origin into cultural groups – for example Scandinavians/Nordics as one, Mediterranean countries as another. However, if you ask a Finn whether they are as alike as a Swede when it comes to doing business, the response would be pretty sharp and swift. On the flip side, if you asked the same question from a race outside of the Scandinavian/Nordic zone, there would be some need for clarity. This was the case in point during a business meeting last week in Barcelona whilst introducing a Finnish company. The Spanish director concluded “we think they are all alike”. I discretely cleared the air and provided the Spanish director with some home truths.
Are Italians and Spanish alike? Well, firstly, you could ask me. I am of mixed parental origin and heritage (my mother is Italian). When I made the decision to leave my native country of birth, the UK, almost 15 years ago, my first spontaneous choice of destination at that time was Italy. So what altered my mind then from Italy to Spain? The result (based on a need for some written down focus and strategic thinking) took me completely by surprise when Spain scored higher than Italy on issues of importance to me. Being a woman in business and my sense of independence were two dominant criteria which helped sway my decision.
What is it like to do business in Italy and Spain on behalf of Finnish SMEs? With my experiences, if there is demand for a product or service, the ease of doing business would be no different than it would be for any other market areas, particularly if there is proven innovation and differentiation and the Italians perhaps more than the Spanish would need to see, hear and feel this all round.
For sure, there are differences in communication, presentation styles, business etiquette & practices between the two cultures. For example, working day hours, including lunch breaks differ between the two countries and they have an effect on business meeting time schedules. Formality in business approach also differs, with the Spanish, in my opinion, displaying more formality than the Italians.
Generosity, hospitality and politeness unite both business cultures so do not be surprised if your host invites you for a business lunch or dinner. This generosity could extend itself further. I recall one vivid case when our Spanish host took us (me and my Finnish SME counterpart) on a personalized city tour before inviting us for lunch. We struck luck because it happened to be the last business meeting of our trip, thus we had no time pressures. My Finnish counterpart was so pleasantly over-whelmed by this business experience that he concluded that the Spanish market was designed for him.
So, if you are interested in sampling these market areas, why not take that chance and come my way.