Doing business a la Grec in Romania; an inter-cultural perspective
Greek investments have a long history in Romania, Greece being among the first countries to invest in Romania after the revolution in 1989. Romania has always been attractive to the Greeks since both countries share very strong historical, social and cultural ties and businessmen of Greek origin have been living and thriving in Romania for centuries. The geographical proximity of the two countries and the size of Romania’s potential is one of the basic reason for the Greek business here. Let's look at the way Greeks and Romanians communicate and act in business.
By Irina Budrina
The main sectors in which Greek businesspeople invested are telecommunications, banks, insurance, real estate, food industry and commerce. Greek investors are sure that the country’s heavy economic crisis will not affect the companies present in Romania and thus the Romanian economy is not to be threatened by the evolutions in Greece. After the economic measures taken by the Greek and Romanian governments, the commercial exchanges between the two countries are expected to increase, offering new perspectives for the region. With nearly 5,000 companies registered here and employing some 22,000 people, Greek investors have so far pumped some EUR 4 billion into the Romanian economy. Briefly, this is the recent statistics about Greek business in Romania. But…What do we know about Greek business partners?
The Greek view of leadership is similar to the French concept – that is, rooted in rational argument and skill in oratory. Mastery of the language is seen as essential for commanding the respect of subordinates. Traditional leadership style is quite directive. Greeks work best in teams with a strong leader, who ultimately takes all the decisions and is then careful to make sure they are carried out. Individual leadership coexists with the team work. This combination of extreme individualism and collectivism can be confusing to Romanian people. It can be very productive in a small and paternalistic environment, but frequently leads to factionalism in larger organisations.
The meeting is a forum for the dynamic expression of strong personal opinions, preferable contrary to everyone’s else. Each person will be listened and energetically argued with. Formal meetings are arranged only for very important issues. Frequent informal coordination and briefing meetings are more common. There is seldom a formal agenda and rarely are there formal minute. The quality of cooperation and communication depends largely on the personal relationships.
Forecasts and plans are the preserve of the senior management and remain subject to constant amendment. The plan is a tool for negotiating with banks and shareholders rather than a management device.
Status is gained in different ways. There is great respect for education, qualifications and intellectual prowess on the one hand, wealth and connections on the other hand. The major consideration for preferment is whether the person can be trusted rather than his qualifications, expertise or performance. This is the basis of the nepotism, political affiliation and personal influence.
Trust is the basis on which outsiders are also judged. They are genuinely welcomed as as a source of new ideas and expertise, international contacts and influence, but any suspicion that they are exploiting the relationship or attempting to dominate will be detrimental.
Greece is a tactile culture. Its distance of comfort is similar to the Italian one, and hugging and kissing are common. Greeks are usually late for appointments, but they always have a good excuse and warm apologies.
Greeks often display great charm, but they are serious negotiators and know their business well. The senior person will dominate the discussion, as is the rule in the Mediterranean countries. They are shrewd, have great experience and do not give much away.
Personal contact is important. Only when it is impossible to meet face to face will the telephone be used. There is a distrust of written communication. Humor is frequently enjoyed in business as anywhere else. It is witty, satirical, and pointed, especially where government is concerned.
Greeks are skilled debaters and employ a whole gamut of verbal and physical expressions. To outsiders, used to a more restrained mode of expression, what appears like a full-blown argument may be a quite innocuous exchange of views.
Compared with most European countries, there is little discrimination against women. They are well represented in the professions and in politics and their opportunities in business, like those for men, depend more on their connections than their gender.
In a traditional company the titles and positions are irrelevant. There is one boss who takes all the responsibility. He is the owner or has the owner’s trust. Below him is a narrow and vertically oriented hierarchy of subordinates who are delegated specific tasks and have little responsibility. This approach works better in a small and medium-sized family companies than in a large or state-owned organisations. Corporate structure of the big companies has a board of at least three directors elected by shareholders. The chief executive is either a general manager or a managing director.
Greek banks are instrumental in introducing management discipline. The cash-flow forecast is the most important piece of financial information coupled with 1 year operating plan.
Despite a tradition of political and economic crisis, for a country with such an ancient and revered past, Greece has a propensity for constantly remaking itself. The latest transformation over the past few decades is from an underdeveloped Balkan backwater on the fringes of Europe to a modern mixed economy as part of the EU.
As you can see, Romania’s business partner and neighbour- Greece - is similar and quite different in many ways. Which way will prevail and lead the business here in future? How much local companies with Greek investments will be influenced by these differences and crisis traditions? Or how much similarities will tighten the business partnerships between Romania and Greece?
Irina Budrina, irina-budrina [at] hotmail.com