Be Local, Buy Local

In the United States, the phrase “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,” is frequently repeated (and oftentimes accurate) in business. What if the expression went one step further, becoming even more exclusive? In the world of Nigerian oil and gas, it’s not just what and who you know, it’s who you are.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest exporter of crude oil. In 2017, Nigerian exports of crude oil brought in a whopping $33.3 billion, making it the eighth-largest exporter of crude oil in the world.1

In 2010, with the objective of promoting local participation and growth in the oil and gas industry, then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Nigerian Local Content Act (NLCA).2 The act effectively strengthens and stabilizes the country’s portion of the global oil and gas markets. The legislation mandates that Nigerian operators and contractors receive first consideration for any oil/gas contracts and clarifies exactly how first consideration is given.

One of the many stipulations is that the lowest bidder is not automatically awarded the contract. For example, if a foreign contractor submits a bid for a certain contract, a competing Nigerian contractor does not have to meet its competitor’s price. Instead, the local contract only needs to be within 10 percent of the foreign contractor’s price. Beyond that, if multiple Nigerian companies have comparable prices, the company with the largest Nigerian “content” (percentage of employees) wins the contract.

Similar guidelines are in place regarding individual employment: Nigerians must be given first consideration when hiring and awarding promotions, and Nigerian contractors may only employ natives in their junior/intermediate positions. At the management level, foreigners are only allowed to occupy five percent of available, permanent positions.

Nigerian oil and gas contractors are also limited in who they may enlist for external guidance and consultation. For example, they may only contract the help of Nigerian legal and financial services where at all possible.3

At times, many of these guidelines are neither practical nor feasible. For this purpose, the act provides a provision for the creation and maintenance of the Nigerian Content Monitoring Board (NCMB). The board’s main functions include implementing policy, supervising compliance, evaluating performance, awarding contracts, and establishing audit procedures.4

Ultimately, the NCMB aims to uphold the NLCA and keep a larger portion of the Nigerian government’s spending in the oil and gas industry at home. Nigeria currently boasts Africa’s largest GDP, and the NLCA is helping the Nigerian economy to maintain its top rank.

In the Nigerian oil and gas industry, it pays to be Nigerian.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: The Brazilian Jeitinho

Whether in business, government, or their personal lives, Brazilians have a knack for getting around difficult situations. They do this so often that there is even a word in Portuguese to describe it—jeitinho. Jeitinho literally means “little way” and can be used in positive or negative contexts.

Brazilian anthropologist Lívia Barbosa describes jeitinho this way:

…To be considered a “jeitinho,” the situation must involve an unforeseen and adverse event to the individual goal. The solution must be a special way—efficient and fast—to deal with the “problem.” It cannot be any strategy. It must produce short-term goals. … It does not matter if the solution is or is not final, provisional, ideal, legal, or illegal.1

Let’s imagine a situation: a group of men are building a two-story home. They need to move a load of bricks from the ground to the second story, but the only way to get to the second story is to climb a makeshift bamboo ladder. Rather than making dozens of trips up and down a rickety ladder with a ton of bricks, a few men stand on the ground and use a broomstick handle to toss the bricks up to the other men on the second story.2 This is an excellent example of how jeitinho can be used as a positive response to a problem.

Jeitinho can also be used in a negative context. Usually, this means that an individual, business, or even the government will act in a way that best serves their interests, even if it has a negative effect on those around them. A classic example involves individuals who only have a short time left on their lunch break and run to the bank to pay a bill. They see that the line is very long, but they also realize that one of the tellers is an old acquaintance. They walk to the front of the line and tell the teller about their desperate circumstances, managing to pay the bill while the rest of the line gets angry.

Not everyone uses jeitinho to skip a line or bend a rule. Business owners are sure to be impressed with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of their employees as they channel this trait in a positive way. As you prepare to visit or set up shop in Brazil, be prepared for everything its beautiful culture has to offer, and don’t be too surprised when you see someone finding their own “little way” to get something done.

The Indian Nod – Yes, No, Maybe So

In the United States, we don’t use head movement in our gestures very much. In India, however, head movement conveys important information. The most unfamiliar movement to foreigners is the Indian nod, or the Indian “head bobble.” To perform an Indian nod, sway your head from side to side without turning, giving the appearance of a “bobble head.” The meaning of the Indian nod depends on eyebrow placement, speed, and duration.

Eyebrow placement can indicate the enthusiasm of the gesture. If eyebrows are lowered, it means the person agrees, but isn’t totally convinced. If the eyebrows are neutral, it means he or she feels fine about what you’re saying. If the eyebrows are raised, it means the person enthusiastically agrees.

Speed indicates intensity. The faster the nod, the stronger the feeling. If someone is nodding quickly with lowered eyebrows, the less certain his or her agreement is. Because saying “no” isn’t as socially acceptable in India as in Western countries, this “maybe” is probably a “no.” A slower, neutral nod can simply indicate understanding. A short, quick nod is generally used to say yes. Moving your head while someone is speaking shows respect and attention for the person who is talking. By nodding your head, you are showing the speaker how well you understand what he or she is saying.

By paying attention to the gestures people use in a foreign country and how they use them, foreigners can avoid misunderstandings and ask for clarification when they need it.

The Swedish Fika

Americans are obsessed with productivity. From self-help books to TED Talks, we find ourselves searching for ways to work longer and more efficiently. While diligence and efficiency are hallmarks of great professionals, are we missing something? Is there a better way than the tried and true American method? Could a Swedish tradition hold the key to increasing employee morale and developing better teams?  

Fika in the Workday

The tradition is fika, and it couldn’t be more antithetical to the American-styled business day. Twice a day, Swedes break for a half hour to fika: once in the morning and again in the afternoon.1 According to the Swedish Academy’s dictionary, fika2 refers to the daily practice of drinking coffee and tea. However, this word has a meaning far greater than a mere coffee break. While Americans use coffee breaks as opportunities to refuel and recharge, Swedes use fika as an opportunity to focus on building relationships and enjoying the moment – this means that work takes a back seat.

The Practical Elements of Fika

Fika typically consists of a beverage3 and food.4 During the fika it is customary to drink coffee, tea, soda, or hot chocolate. The beverage is typically accompanied with either a sweet (i.e. kanelbulle,5 kladkakka,6 or äppelkaka[noteApple cake[/note]) or a smörgås.7 In any case, fika isn’t about what is eaten – it’s about enjoying company.

Embracing Fika

Whether you find yourself in Sweden on business or you just want to build camaraderie with your colleagues, remember that fika is centered on building authentic relationships and enjoying the moment.


Works Cited

Jones, B. W. (2015, April 22). For the Love of Fika. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from

Saudi Arabia – Can You Show Me the Ladies’ Room?

Most people are aware that women’s choices and opportunities are comparatively constrained in Saudi Arabia due to a strict interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism. However, in addition to enacting economic reforms, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is actively working to temper the religious atmosphere of the country: “We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.”1 Recent reforms have included incremental gains for women, including increased employment opportunities, the right to hold a driver license, and most recently, eligibility for military service.2

As promising as this progress is, real obstacles still exist for businesswomen working in the kingdom. While Prince Mohammed’s economic reform calls for a female workforce participation rate of 30% by 20303, government regulations surrounding female employment dampen business enthusiasm for such a move. Ahmed Al Omran4 reports that though strict gender segregation is no longer enforced, businesses employing both men and women must have separate restrooms, a security system, and a private lunch and prayer room for women. He notes that in a country where most office buildings were designed with only men in mind, many companies are not eager to pay for remodeling and retrofitting.

Joe Sharkey relates the experiences of Nancy J. Ruddy, the co-founder of a New York architectural firm working in Saudi Arabia. Ms. Ruddy was involved in designing the Elaf Galleria hotel in Jeddah. She describes her experience meeting with the development company in a modern office building:

But there was no ladies’ room, which was totally shocking to me. … During my first trip there, if I needed to use the bathroom, I would have to say that I need to go back to my hotel, and I would have to be walked back to the hotel by a man, because you’re not allowed as a woman to walk around unaccompanied on the streets. And because there are almost no women in the work force in Saudi Arabia, there are no ladies’ rooms in office buildings.5

Ms. Ruddy planned ahead for future trips, requesting that one of the male executive bathrooms be temporarily converted for her use while she did business in the country.

Hopefully, Saudi Arabia and its businesses will continue improving both foreign and local women’s access to facilities of all kinds. But casually assuming that a women’s restroom will be readily available could prove unwise. A sensitivity to historic norms and the slow pace of progress coupled with a bit of diplomatic research and planning could save some embarrassment for all involved.

Lifetime Employment in Japan

A Manifestation of Collectivism

Japan is ranked as a collectivist culture by the well-known Hofstede Insights group, putting it at the opposite end of the spectrum from generally individualistic Western cultures. This measure is a product of the tendency of individuals in a culture to think of things in terms of “we” rather than “I,” and of the predisposition to consider the wider consequences to society of any given choice or action. This is actually a fairly common trait of many Asian cultures, but in Japan this collectivism manifests itself in a unique way.

In other Asian countries, collectivism can often be seen in a focus on and loyalty to extended family ties. In Japan however, the “in-group” of greatest importance is often found in the workplace.

Company Loyalty

In a more Western, individualist mindset, changing employment or even careers can be seen as entirely positive and an important part of finding a “best fit” for an individual – in America the average worker changes jobs 10-15 times during their career and changes careers 3-7 times. In Japan, such behavior might be seen as detrimental and as a blatant sign of disloyalty. In this group-focused culture, employment at one company from the time one graduates until retirement is not uncommon.

Employees are loyal to the company and work tirelessly for its wellbeing, and in return the company is expected to be just as loyal to its employees. For example, high-level positions tend to be filled exclusively from promotions within the company rather than outside hires, and a company will cut costs in every other way possible before laying off any full-time employees.

There are a number costs to lifetime employment, however, including a less agile and less responsive workforce. Additionally, while unemployment in Japan is incredibly low, many companies have to drastically cut employee hours to avoid layoffs. And even getting hired as a new employee in the first place is increasingly difficult in such an environment.