Where are we going? (Part 1)

Pop quiz. Here’s three experiences I’ve had this week – let’s see if you can guess where I am?

  • My taxi driver rounded down the fare by 20% when he took a wrong turn.
  • As we walked along a side street, another driver stopped his car to ask if we were lost and helped us find our way to a restaurant (we weren’t lost actually, but must have been looking a bit gormless).
  • And one of our prospective clients turned up early to a meeting with us.

Where am I? Somewhere in Western Europe? Developed Asia? London? North America? Nope, none of them. I’m in São Paulo.

Brazil trip 2

It’s my first time in the country. I’m proud to have been invited by Banco Santander and UKTI on a trade mission to Brazil – we’re the only Scottish company on the trip. Copylab and five guys (the ‘Boys from Brazil’) from other UK SMEs are visiting Sao Paulo and Rio for a week to investigate the market potential and peddle our wares. Particularly good luck to Peter from Cafepod who’s trying to sell coffee to the Brazilians!

Having read up on these cities, I admit I got on the plane at Heathrow with some trepidation, fully expecting to be mugged, pickpocketed or carjacked on every corner. That nervousness disappeared straight away after I met my fellow delegates, shared a beer with our super-organised guides from Santander UK and slept most of the way on the overnight flight from Heathrow!

It’s obvious that Brazil is changing fast – at least in São Paulo. People are now able to use their mobile phones on the streets – albeit discreetly and only in certain places. It feels safe to walk around – particularly in the business districts. And, most importantly, the numerous business people I met all bent over backwards to make me feel welcome and help make my visit useful. This is a great global city, fast moving and feeling a lot like a continental European version of London or New York.

[Click to enlarge]

The guys from Santander (and UKTI) have been exceptional hosts. In three days, I’ve been introduced to a large number of high-profile organisations, including some of Brazil’s largest listed banks, insurers and healthcare companies. I also met with the trade body governing the investor relations industry. And Santander and HM Government hosted a glamorous networking event in the Consul General’s residence in the city. I am sad to report a lack of Ferrero Rocher, though the Consul General certainly did spoil us with his caipirinhas.

Of course, São Paulo isn’t perfect. No-one would claim that. The traffic is… interesting, with speeds of zero and 100 mph and little in between. There’s plenty of poverty, begging and street-corner trade. And the tax and regulation involved in trading here is eye-wateringly complex and expensive. Note to self: Copylab should diversify into tax law.

However, the main lesson I’ve learned from the past 72 hours is this: don’t believe all you read on the internet. There’s no reason to be worried about visiting São Paulo – just follow the golden rule of ‘be sensible’. And most of all, enjoy it.

Next stop is Rio de Janeiro, from where I’ll report at the end of the week.

Ross Hunter

12 November 2014