Saturday, August 11, 2007

Diferencias entre mi trabajo en Argentina y en USA


Ayer fue mi utlimo dia de trabajo y hoy ya estoy en el aeropuerto Logan esperando la salida de mi vuelo para Argentina. Si bien aca en Boston estoy viviendo experiencias unicas y muy enriquecedoras, siempre es lindo cuando llega el dia de volver. No veo la hora de ver a mi familia y a mis amigos. Por suerte tendre tres semanas para dedicarles, sin casi ningun otro compromiso.

Como parte de mi pasantia, tengo que escribir un analisis de las diferencias culturales entre el trabajo en US y en Argentina. Ademas, como mi trabajo fue en una startup puedo tambien comparar este ambiente con el de la multinacional donde trabaje antes en Buenos Aires, Procter & Gamble. Lo que sige son unas partes de lo que escribi. Esta en ingles.

The company were I did my summer internship is Advanced Electron Beams (AEB). AEB is a start-up company founded in 1999 by Tovi Avnery and based in Wilmington, Massachusetts. Its core technology is an electron beam emitter on which Avery has 15 patents issued. The emitter is 100 times more compact and 10 times less expensive than the high energy ebeams equipments that currently dominate the market.

Similarities and differences

I would say that there are two comparisons that I can make. One is between AEB as a small and nimble start-up and the big corporation where I worked for most of my professional life, Procter & Gamble. One other comparison, at a higher level, could be between the US and Argentina as far as different environment conditions for new enterprises to thrive.

Let’s start with the first. There is a sharp contrast between AEB and P&G. At AEB you feel what some call ‘start-up culture’. The environment is mostly informal, with no ties and suits whatsoever. You can even see, to my surprise, people in shorts and flip flops during particularly warm days. The support functions are very limited. There is only one IT guy that comes to the office every other day. The same happens with the HR function, performed by a lady on a contract basis and coming to the office once a week. The facility planning is also done informally. As an example, I had to use my own laptop computer because the company did not have extra ones. I also didn’t have my own desk but I had to share a big conference table with another summer intern. I joked that I had the biggest office in the company!

This contrast with the structured environment at P&G. Dressing code is not formal at P&G, but even its business casual standard looks like etiquette when compared with AEB. At P&G you have huge support systems, which go from centralized IT call centers to HR departments that have almost one pre-established rule for each case. Employees would complain if they don’t get the latest model laptop or if the hotel where the off-site meeting is held is not good enough. All these perks are unthinkable for people working in start-ups such as AEB. When you begin working at P&G they provide you with a full ‘on boarding plan’, which includes background on the company’s most important markets and brands, as well as interviews with other employees that relate to your function. The on boarding may even start before you step in the office thanks to an online access. When I quit my job at Techint to start at P&G, it was funny that HR people at P&G sent me some readings to do even before I finished my duties at Techint.

In contrast, in AEB you have to provide your on boarding for yourself. I had to identify which persons where important for my project and ask them for a meeting. I had to make many cold calls, reaching contacts I found over the internet. Since the company knew little – if anything – about the markets I was researching, no one could give me very precise direction. A good way to compare both experiences is by imagining that the challenge at P&G is having the skills to drive an F1 car along very nice roads. It is an F1, so it is difficult to run even with perfect roads. In AEB, your task is to cut your way in dense jungle with a sword.

Access to high rank executives is much easier in AEB than in big corporations. I had meetings with the CEO – who was very aware of the project I was leading – and also with all the VPs. If you are an intern at P&G you would not even have exposure to the middle levels of the organization.

Perhaps the most important – and obvious – difference between start-ups and corporations is the perspective that you get of the ‘big picture’. The basic principle of division of complex work splits corporations into many organizational functions and layers, which relate to one another by many (overlapping?) reporting lines. So big corporations offers to an intern or analyst a very limited view of their whole business model. The best you can get is an understanding of the goal and measures of a particular team or department. In AEB, on the other hand, I could quickly grasp what the main problems were (the ones that ‘keeps the CEO awake at night’, as the saying goes). Manufacturing, R&D, Finance, Marketing and Sales are all small groups comprised in the same floor. It is easy to follow the product path from conception to delivery. In AEB, to be successful your mind has to operate in a more ‘holistic’ way, whereas in P&G you are a specialist in a particular area or task.

If you are looking for job security, AEB is not the place for you. Just a few days before I started here the VP of sales was fired. And as the company is struggling to come up with a robust and reliable manufacturing process, many people in the engineering function may lose their jobs. That is the rule for startups: high uncertainty to employees and investors corresponds to high potential rewards if the company goes public.

Now I will focus briefly on some of the high level differences in legal and regulatory practices between the US and Argentina that affect start-ups such as AEB. One first thing that is indirectly related to legal practices is the great availability of venture capital money in the US. I say that the relation is indirect because the first trigger for VC investment is the great liquidity that you find in the US (lots of funds wanting to diversify and get higher returns). But proper regulation facilitates those VC investments. The ‘term sheet’ is the legal instrument that allows VCs and entrepreneurs to set the conditions of the initial investment in a company. The model for term sheets has been improved over years of VC activity in the US, and now reflects this accumulated knowledge. In Argentina there are simply not such legal instruments. You can argue that they can be created ad-hoc, but then you have the problem of judges not used to ruling on such economic issues. It all ends up being more risky to the investor and thus turning away VC investments.

On the other hand, one regulatory element that you have in the US that negatively affects start-ups is immigration law. Today professional visas are very difficult to get – the applicants double the available spots – and this in turn is making the brightest students from abroad choose other countries to study. AEB already lost a key research and development engineer from Italy who couldn't get a work visa. AEB’s CEO Mitch Tyson commented on the issue for the Boston Globe and highlighted the importance of a regulatory change. “These people are an important supplement to the job pool here” he said referring to educated foreign work force.

A study at the University of California at Berkeley and at Duke University showed that about 25% of the technology and engineering companies launched in the Silicon Valley the past decade had at least one foreign-born founder. That is exactly the case with AEB, whose founder Tovy Avnery was born in Bagdad, studied in Israel and then came to the US to work for Energy Sciences. The legislation that allowed Avery to stay in the US has become much more stringent over the past years. If he had come to the US under the current immigration conditions, maybe AEB would have never been founded.

Cultural differences.

Having worked for an American company in Argentina, I would say that the cultural differences that I encountered at AEB did not surprise me. One particular aspect I confirmed is the frontal and blunt style of American communication, and the openness to arguments and dissent.

Another significant cultural difference is the extension of the working day. Even though US is, together with Canada, the only OECD country that has increased the number of hours per worker in the last 30 years, I think people here are used to a lighter work day when compared to Argentina. This is both a structural characteristic of the economy and a cultural trait. In Argentina people is willing to put great amount of hours in the workplace, even as much as 16 hours a day. This is true in the US in particular jobs (consulting and investment banking for sure) but in Argentina this is a widespread phenomenon. The origin of it may be high rates of unemployment that Argentina has been having in the last 20 years. The fear of unemployment has weakened the negotiation power of the employee with respect to employers. As a result, once people get a job they will do whatever the employer wants to keep it: put long hours, forgo vacations, accept lower pay, etc. The precariousness of job security has been going on for so long that it is already part of Argentine work culture.

3 comments:

Entretanto said...

Buen trabajo, Luciano. Y lo esperamos completo a tu regreso. Buen viaje y que lo disfrutes.

Ceci said...

Luciano, te parece que se este en el trabajo en USA menos horas que en Argentina? Como grad student, yo siento que en USA uno se pasa en el trabajo mucho mas tiempo que en Argentina (es "normal", casi esperado, venir en fin de semana o quedarse hasta las 2am). Sin embargo, si creo que el trabajo aqui es light - en Argentina, sin ir fines de semana ni quedarse toda la noche, se hace mas, es mas intenso (como por ejemplo, no estaria leyendo tu blog...). Pregunto porque no se si el ambiente grad school es representativo del "real world". Hasta ahora me parecia que si...

Luciano Tourn said...

Ceci,

Creo que tenes razon, en USA se labura mucho, y quizas si uno piensa en el americano medio si se puede decir que labura mas horas que el argentino medio.
Sin embargo, si comparamos como se labura en las grandes corporaciones en Argentina (mi experiencia es con P&G y Techint), si creo que son jornadas de trabajo mas extensas que en USA. Una posible causa es que como en Argentina las opciones de empresas buenas para hacer carrera son limitadas, una vez que estas corporaciones te contratan aprovechan del privilegio y te demanda mucho.