Business culture in Mexico

It is important to recognise that although Mexico and the United States share a common border, and that Mexicans consider they live in an American country, the cultures of the two countries are very different. This includes business.

Although English is widely spoken, particularly by business managers, do not assume it will be the case universally. Interpreters may be needed, so it is always important to check in advance.

When meeting someone for the first time individuals should be addressed by surname, and professionals are often introduced by job description as well as name.

Body language in and out of the business environment is different from that of the United Kingdom. ‘Personal space’ is much smaller, and there is more eye contact. It is important to replicate the latter as much as possible because an inability to meet someone eye to eye can be interpreted as a sign of being untrustworthy.

The United States has enormous influence on Mexico. Eighty percent of Mexican exports are shipped across its northern border, and the large number of US multinational businesses located in Mexico generates wealth and a large number of jobs. But day-to-day management practices are quite different from that of the flat management common to the west. With the exception of multinationals, doing business in Mexico is based on building strong personal relationships within hierarchy based business models.

In Mexico the boss is the boss and instructions are issued. Delegation and interpretation of tasks is not normal practice. It is therefore important to develop and maintain relationships with senior executives, and make sure they are senior enough to make key decisions. Building bonds is very important and may take time.

Within the remit of business managers is the commitment to look after employees. The rules of hierarchy dominate but in a benevolent form based on loyalty on all sides.

The normal meetings process that is the norm in the UK is usually quite different in Mexico. Meetings often start and finish late, and agendas frequently ignored. Discussion at meetings often goes off at tangents with raised voices and bold use of body language. Such behaviour should be interpreted as enthusiasm and within professional boundaries. Trying to impose any sort of discipline is difficult and it can be seen as confrontational, which can easily be viewed as a sign of disrespect. Disrespect is a serious insult and something that should be avoided at all costs.

It is also important to make a good impression by dressing well, particularly when in the larger cities where formal suits are the standard option. This applies to men and women. Women visiting on business from overseas generally face few problems despite the male orientated culture of Mexico.

In some areas of Mexico crime is a serious problem. Travel in the northern states on the border with the US should be avoided unless fully qualified UK based security professionals are present at all times. For those working in the region, hostile environment preparation is highly recommended due to the number of kidnappings and the high rate of serious crime. The current advice from the British government is that visitors should not travel at night anywhere in Mexico.

Corruption can be a problem in business. Some figures suggest it is on the rise, with the majority taking place between business and government or business and government agencies. Though this paints a negative picture of Mexico it should be remembered that many companies from outside the country have an important and successful operations in Mexico, and many more successfully trade with indigenous companies. There are good commercial opportunities in the country, but it is important to research the benefits and pitfalls, and it is best to take professional advice before embarking on business in Mexico.