Always a rebel – My take on corporate culture in Peru

This weekend during our staff meeting at ICPNA my boss had to devote an entire slide in her presentation to the various rules and policies I tend to play fast and loose with, such as no jeans or sneakers allowed, no food in the classrooms, etc. While she was very kind not to mention me by name, the fact that I’m the only teacher who wears jeans and sneakers 4 days a week made it rather obvious who the culprit was…

To be fair, ICPNA, which is associated with the US embassy in Lima, is an excellent place to work. There’s a friendly atmosphere, a great group of teachers and my boss is always receptive of our ideas and suggestions.

I love all things Peruvian and I’m sure there are many great leaders and great places to work in Peru. However, I’m not naive to the poverty and needs of many people here, and I believe Peruvian corporate culture is a major reason why many in Peru live in poverty or have a miserable work experience:

  • Employees are not regarded as a valuable asset to the business and leadership in many places is totalitarian. As a result, employee participation and individual accountability is very limited, as is innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Discrimination on the basis of age or sex is commonplace, as is lack of opportunity for people with disabilities. Just look through any employment classifieds.
  • Lack of employee development. Many of my students are not allowed a flexible work schedule to attend class, even though they are learning a skill which is absolutely vital to any business here in Cusco.
  • Lack of environmental awareness and occupational safety in some industries. Read Corey Laplante’s blog about the La Oroya case.
  • Old fashioned and petty rules, such as dress codes, which don’t add any value to the business. Even GE and IBM, some of the most conservative companies in the US, did away with dress codes 30 years ago. Their thinking was employees should have something more productive to do than look at the pants or shoes their coworkers are wearing.
  • No long term vision or leadership. While India became the global IT hub and Asia became the world’s manufacturing base Peruvian middle managers were mired in bureaucracy – not to mention, busy worrying about their employees jeans or sneakers! Read this blog entry about out-of-touch leadership.

Class exercise for ICPNA I-12:

So what do you think, agree or disagree? What are the high-level values businesses in Peru should have today to be successful and improve the way of life in Peru? Read about the culture and values at some successful companies such as SAS, Southwest Airlines or GE – where I spent nearly 5 years.

Speak your mind, what are your thoughts or comments?

17 thoughts on “Always a rebel – My take on corporate culture in Peru

  1. Very interesting post, Ward. I think you’ve touched on an important point–that several elements necessary for comprehensive and stable growth and are being ignored in Peru.

    Often, when I speak with other foreigners living here, we discuss the ways in which living in Peru can feel like living in the past. The way things operate here… corporate culture among other aspects of Peruvian society… it can all just feel so out-dated. I almost hate saying that… and I realize it is a terribly complicated observation, but I think it is a truth that needs to be faced if Peru is to see any kind of sustainable growth.

  2. Thanks Corey. I like the way of life in Peru a lot, close families, less materialistic attitudes, friendly people, a society that’s very receptive of foreigners, etc. In fact, I wrote an earlier post about 10 things I love about Peru. That said, a lot of people don’t have the opportunities or quality of life that I believe should be possible for everyone in Peru.

  3. I am agree with you when you said that Peru is a very beautiful and a nice country but in the other hand there is such a huge poverty here in Peru and not only in the high lands also in the cities for example in some districts Lima can kill you just for one sol besides we have another problems like the rest in the world. For some of them Peruvian government can do something and for some of them it can not too, Is true that probably not many foreign companies want to invest in Peru not only for all the economic problems in the world specially in the United States and when Peruvians want to invest some business the government make them pay a lot of taxes and some foregin companies no pat at all that is no fair also Peru is having some in side troubles, here in Cusco there is not much but all the strikes, plunder that happened in Tacna and the problems are around all Peru just making protest against the government, salaries and of course the actual president, since the beginning of Peruvian history politicians and presidents promised everything and they did not do anything to resolved different problems or to make true their promises. In the first government of Garcia’s president young children of 5 years have to be on line so they we be able to buy some food and not only child’s also elderly people too, after that he steal a lot of many from the government and he run away to France where he lives several years in a nice neighbourhood in Paris. I do not remember very well because I was a baby when all this happened but my father told me about it, something happened in the 70´s too, the police department were in a strike for two days against of the government at those times and consequence of that vandalism, murders, pillage, etc began and everything was out of control so the government send the army to fixed the problem and they killed more than 20 000 citizens just in Lima all the streets where covered with blood but the historic books form Peru does not show it and it looks like Peruvian people forget all those things when they voted.

    I think , sometimes is dificult to start a business, because the people don´t like to take risks, But I ´M a person who like to take risks, it´s the reason that I think that the people have to be created and innovative.
    I think one of the business which can be succesful is the art in leather.
    I BELIEVE THAT the tourists are interested in the things which are hand made, whatever is the kind of materials that craftsman OR craftswoman uses.
    If the people want to be succesful, they have to invest in things like the place where they will sell the things and the services that they will offer, because the tourists have to receive the best attention.
    Something that is true is that ALL THINGS ENTER FOR THE EYES, it is important to star a business where the people can feel confortable as the tourists and the employees. If The employees feel well, they will service better, It is something that the businessman should seize to get more profits.

  5. well i do agree with you teacher, i mean the clothes we wear don´t make a difference in what we know and what we do. now i have the experience of living in a foreign country, canada. i loved there because we could wear the clothes we wanted and nobody said anything about it. not the teachers, the autorities or the students. that was the cool part, that people of my age didn´t care if you were wearing clothes out of fashion, or were really flashy or just wear horrible clothes. they saw you, your soul, they cared about the inside, both heart and brains. not the clothes. i suffered so much in Ecuador when i came back from canada cuz in my school we were not allowed to wear make up, have our nails painted and for the boys they couldn´t have their hair long. that was so stupid, i always got in trouble with the principal. And what i hated the most was that people of my age were always criticizing and judging everyone for the appareance. that was just an example of whats happening in our latin american countries, and that´s just in schools not to mention businesses and so.
    so i would say yes, it looks like we are living in the past in a “not going forward” society but that´s just for the stupid old fashiones rules we are obligated to follow.

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Yashira: I think you make a great point when you say employees must be happy in order to give good customer service. You must make your customers happy to have a good business, and your employees are the front line to interact with your customers.

    Sharon: I agree many places in the world, such as Canada and the Netherlands, are much more progressive and liberal than Latin America. I also agree with you that we shouldn’t judge people by appearances. This can especially be a problem when companies decide to hire only “pretty” looking (and young) people.

  7. In my opinion i think you´re right teacher. People in Peru are very “special” when they hire employees. Our brain doesn´t wear any clothes, it doesn´t need, i mean it´s silly that our intelligence, capacity, experience and values can be judged only for clothing. I think Peruvians, specially employers, should change their thinkings in this point.

    In other hand, Peruvians employers shouldn´t discriminate older workers. I learned that everything has its positive side. You know, older workers have more experience than young people. Employers should try to combine experience with, i don´t know, all of young people have to give. I believe that having an own business is a good oportunity to help people, so we should look for the way to do that.

    Anyway, i think that now is the time to act , to be different, to teach our children and young people to think different and better. And that is exactly you are doing. Thanks.

    All these “problems” can change, it´s up to each one of us.

  8. Hello teacher, I saw your web page and I really like that, It is very interesting and wonderful…………………………….
    I really like your different topics about your life in pERU, especially in Cusco, I think that you really love our city, I think that it is good for me and the cusco`people…………………………………..
    Remember that always the cusco´people are going to love and wait you…….. because the great people are always welcome to our city………
    Bye teacher

  9. I think that any bussines always improve our life … but open a bussines in cusco is easy but sometimes has a a bit difficult specially when is a biggest proyect when you open a bussines you need a lot of Money and do not forget that you can be in danger of failing … but when you do the things with god … the things are better.

    Well to begin a bussines it needs a good maketing strategies and don forget the Money is a factor important in a bussines … the cretivity is important and always think about what is best for the customer… I think that the advertising is the most important as the flyers, tv comercial , radio comercial and why not airplene banners … dont forget that we Would think in big… in the other hand the majority of people buy things by Internet and we need a Internet bannners …

    Have a human capital is the better for a bussiness the idea is has efficiency… about the appearance of company is important as there is a saying that says that “ all things enter for the eyes …a striking bright or shine local with local Sellers…different to the other locals … is what everyone looks… for me these things are important to open a Successful business.

    congratulation! i know that you are a good teacher, if you decided put your own business is cool but is a little complicated about the legal steps well if you don´t do that no is necesary but the the location is important i think close to main squart is very dificult but you can find close to San Blas is a cool zone or area if you want all the kind of customers them the service must be very good you can put pretty girls as waitress like top cafe you know for attend to customers is the main strategy and finaly the decoration could be very rustic, use the tipical pictures and tools and good music . well i think is all that i want tell you for last i want to say you that it has been a pleasure work with you and i hope that all your wishes has done reality and final you can invite to your new business ok
    your friend PAUL I-12

    PSD: You know Sharon is a crazy girl jeje won´t pay attention

  11. Our country, Peru is one of the most beautiful on the world, we have lots of natural resourses, we are fortunate, but when peruvians want to began a new business using our resourses, the first obstacle is the Peruvian state, the government makes us pay many taxes for many things that we don´t know why we are paying, and in the other hand, some big foregin companies don´t pay the peruvian taxes neither have responsibilities for many damages they cause. In adittion, the taxes collected don´t be used appropriately by the government in order to solve our needs, sand the bribery is a current problem in our country. these problems make peruvians be disappointed and indignated.

    One think that we almost never consider is the fact that there are employee´s rights that the majority of us don´t know and consequently, they don´t be respected by employers. Last month, I hear that a man around sixty-five years old, who was working as bricklayer in a construction, suffered a cardiac shock while he was picking up some blockes, and noboby noticed that…the elderly died and no one of the rest of the employees and neither of his boss engineers couldn´t help him. three hours later, an employee found the died man…and other three hours more, the bosses decided to call the police and inform the fact, because before that they were in front of the construction drinking some beer. When I hear it, I annoyed so much and thought that poor people dont´t have rights in our country. I think that if one of us have his or her own business or is the boss in whatever company, we have to consider that the employee´s rights have to be respected, as if they were us.
    In my opinion, the best way to improve a business is making happy to the employees, they work for me, they get money for my business, they have rights, they have to feel happy working for me and I respect them as people.
    the majority of peruvians are employees, the majority work for a company or other people…that majority have rigths

  12. A lot of good points from everyone.

    Elizabeth Pinedo: you are right that now is a time to change in Peru. Half of the Peruvian population is less than 26 years old. All of these young people are starting to grow up and starting their careers and families – sort of like the “baby boom” in the US and Europe after WWII. I’m an old-fashioned guy in many ways (read my earlier post about visiting Accha), but the world around us is changing, and we need to deal with it.

    Paul: I too enjoy the San Blas area, very scenic and authentic.

    Jessica & Elizabeth Moya: I love how you guys mention “human capital” and “happy employees”. I hope I was able to be a good and happy teacher for you guys!!!

  13. I think that in the peru it is a bit difficult to do company nevertheless the people are very hard-working and talented in addition I think,The Peru proves to be a very attractive place for business
    Overcoat places that have a lot of tourist affluence
    One of those places is the cusco
    When somebody wants to accomplish a business in the cusco
    They all think about the tourist item
    Since you generate a lot of profit
    I think that it is a good option
    And if I want to run a business,
    I would open a store of clothes
    Where blouses, skirts, frock coats, sweaters, etc have Andean, woodland and coastal details
    In order to show in them the cultural wealth, artistic and ethnic that the Peru possesses
    Besides that all that be manufactured not be too expensive
    And that way all the people may acquire it
    And may take it for his relatives

  14. Well,i read my classmate`s opinion i agre with some opinions but there are ather tings that we have to consider specially if you are a person who works because in some bussines you have to wear clothes acording the job you do for example when i was wonking in the koricancha i had to wear formal clothes every day because koricancha is a PRIVATE business because the rules are diferent and strics than national business obviously is not in all the business, like i said, is acording the job and boss you have ……….now i work in diferent travel agencies and for them doesn`t matter how i wear because i`m always traveling to diferent places sometimes i have to wear formal when a private group is coming …………
    Anyway whatever is the job in cusco and almost in all Peru we have to be adaptable and tolerant if you want to work……
    I am not an owner of a business i still learning many things about jobs and maybe in the future i`ll have my own business but always thinking not only in myself of course in the necesity of people who wants to out of the poverty because Peru is country where the goverment shows you only the good things but we are one of the countries with ileteracy and more in Peru we don´t live we try to survive thats the reason why people works in things that never done, our reality is other so i don´t want to detest …….remenber like one song said “every litle things is going to be alright”…..depends of you……..

  15. Well, I think this is part of culture, and also dress code policy from your employer. I am from Lima, and I went to ICPNA in Lima. I don’t know how ICPNA in Cusco is, but I assume it’s pretty much the same.

    Some of you are wrong to imply that countries with a sort of backward thinking have most of their work force dressed up for work. It all depends, for instance, in Europe, and Japan, people dress up for work. Also, in the US people who work in white collar jobs dress up for work. I think it all depends on culture and dress code policy, and what your employer thinks about it 🙂

    I encourage all of you to do more research about it, and to compare it with other countries. Also it’s a good idea to differentiate between white and blue collar jobs in the US 🙂

  16. hey ward –

    i have to agree on this point.

    i work at a large corporation. everybody in the office (excluding me for some reason) has time cards they have to punch when they arrive at work, go to lunch, return from lunch, and leave work. these are salaried employees – not hourly. these are educated, white collar professionals that punch time cards. i thought that was bizarre.

    the most current management trends and ideas from the states and europe seem a generation or so from taking root here in peru.


  17. Pingback: If you enjoy living in Latin America… Thank Ambassador Bob White. « Life in Peru

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