Tony Cleaver (Senior Teaching Fellow in Economics/Finance & Chair of the Undergraduate Board of Examiners at Durham University) will soon be relocating back to Colombia. Here he shares his views about life and work in Colombia with Gabriela at Sunny Sky Solutions.
So we hear that you are relocating back to Colombia after having lived in the UK for over 13 years – what are the main challenges you face?
For an Englishman, the main challenge is learning Spanish. Fortunately Colombian Spanish is very clear and not heavily accented as you might find in other parts of Latin America. Also there are many in Bogota that speak English (though that is not a reason to avoid trying to learn the local lingo!). The other challenge is simply learning the culture of how things operate. Advice here is to go through local contacts: listen and learn how they do things. Business is always best done by meeting people, making things personal and as soon as you have agreed to a deal, follow up and confirm immediately with e-mails, phone calls, etc.
In what way is living in Bogotá different from living in Durham?
People are very warm and welcoming. They are genuinely interested in visitors from the UK (Is that true of British attitudes to Latin Americans??) Bogota, of course, is a big city so the difference from tiny Durham is immense! It means getting used to big city life: the distances and difficulties with commuting, the pressure of living in the fast lane, lots of people to see, places to go, parties to join, etc
People in the UK are often wary of the situation in Colombia, what are your views?
I lived in Bogota for three years in the 90s when the security situation was allegedly the worst. I never saw any trouble. Follow local advice. Of course in all big cities there are places you would not want to go to, especially at night. And it is never good practice to walk around like a naïve tourist, all lit up like a Christmas tree with cameras, watches and big, fat wallets bulging in your pocket. If you act sensibly you will be fine. Especially nowadays.
You will both be working in Colombia soon, how different is the work ethic from that of the UK?
Not that different, in my opinion. I guess much depends on your particular work but the old fashioned notion that Latins are all laid back, nobody delivers on time, and everything is bureaucracy and ‘manana’ could not be further from the truth. Everyone in my experience works hard, hates paperwork and complains they get paid too little – just as in the UK!
What are the key sectors of the Colombian economy that would interest UK businesses?
Thanks to the improved international image of Colombia, travel and tourism is fast opening up. Like in many developing countries, the construction industry is booming – in the 15 years I’ve been away, buildings have shot up all over Bogota and beyond. But trade in all sectors is on the make – difficult to predict where the opportunities are.
What advice would you give to UK business people travelling to Colombia on business?
Fix up as many contacts you can in advance. When you get there, don’t stop asking questions and listen to the advice. Learn as much Spanish as you can and don’t worry if you make a hash of it, they will love you for trying.
Any cultural tips you would like to share?
Bogota’s climate is cool (2,500 metres above SL) and like a (normal) British spring all year round. Dress is quite conservative: you do not do business in casual wear. If you go down to the hot country (anywhere near SL) then it might be short sleeves and no tie..but not in the capital city. Travelling around Colombia is difficult by road and the distances are great. Doing business out of the capital means by air – there are many domestic flights to all parts. One last thing: All Latins are very conscious of the economic power and influence of the US and Europe. They are too polite to ever criticise but don’t go around acting like everything back home is bigger and better and you are doing them a favour just being there. It is very easy to give offence that way.
Thank you, Tony! We wish you and your family all the best in your new life in Colombia, keep in touch! Next week, we will be sharing with you the results of our research into UK business attitudes to trading with Colombia. Keep up-to-date with our blog posts and international information by following us on Twitter @castrofontoura