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Henderson Consulting International, Manila, Philippines
Even Western businessmen with extensive Southeast Asian experience in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur often don't know quite what to make of Manila. Sure, it's centrally located in the region, Manila's only a short hop away from the other major capitals, and the kamikaze taxi drivers weave around through the infinitely congested traffic more or less like they do in Bangkok. But . . . but . . . there's something about the Philippines that makes it very much a horse of a different color, something that's hard to put your finger on, but something very real nonetheless.
To the uninitiated professional, doing business in Manila can seem somewhat surreal (think of HAL analyzing the situation rationally and concluding that things just don't quite compute). To use another '60s reference, Manila can really be a trip. If you think you can do business here like you can in London, Frankfurt, New York, or (as in my case) Los Angeles, you'd better think again . . . everything gets filtered through a rather fascinating cultural screen, and if you don't invest at least some effort in understanding the culture you might as well pack up your bags and go home.
Why should doing business in Manila be so different from operating in neighboring lands? The answer can be found in the unique history and complex cultural amalgamation experienced by the Philippines over the last few centuries. From the moment Ferdinand Magellan spotted the distant peaks of Leyte looming in the morning mists of March 16, 1521, things were never the same again. The Spanish colonial era, dating from the 1570s, brought with it a nearly complete dominance of the Catholic Church and the imposing of the accompanying cultural values. In practice, what resulted was a complex blend of indigenous traditions with the substance and trappings of Catholicism.
Then, to complicate things further, the Americans made their own imperialistic moves at the end of the 19th century. As soon as the Yanks defeated the Spanish in Cuba (1898), Admiral Dewey steamed into Manila Bay and proclaimed dominion over the archipelago. The American era did not start smoothly, to say the least; indeed, the first years of this century featured an ugly and unethical clash between American military power and native guerilla opposition that foreshadowed the nastiness of Vietnam half a century later.
However, within a few years the opposition was "pacified" (as they said in Nam), and Uncle Sam ruled in grand colonial fashion for the next four decades. The two countries became intricately and intimately bonded together in what some have described as a "special relationship." More critical analysts have focused on the one-sided nature of the relationship, as reflected in William Howard Taft's demeaning phrase "little brown brothers." Sociologists would probably describe the American colonial era as one of cultural penetration, with American culture, values, and behaviors being superimposed on top of the already complicated matrix of native and Spanish blended culture. Even after the traumatic Japanese invasion and occupation, and after Philippine independence in 1946, the American influence has remained predominant.
With this much oversimplified history thumbnail in mind, consider the following observations about contemporary life in Manila:
In future columns, we'll turn to some more specific observations about doing business in this fascinating and wonderful country. We'll probably jump about from topic to topic, and I would welcome any suggestions or feedback at any time. I'll probably do a few of the basic "cultural do's and don'ts" sort of things, and provide some quick and dirty glossaries of useful Tagalog terms; but I suspect most serious readers are more interested in analyzing the nitty gritty of doing business in the Philippines (which means mostly Manila), so that's what we'll concentrate on. Hopefully the next few columns will provide some useful information about what the aspiring businessman in Manila should do, shouldn't do, might do, and had better never do.
|...from Clarence Henderson's Pearl of the Orient Seas|
|Clarence Henderson Henderson Consulting International Manila Philippines|
|Clarence has had over 20 years of consulting experience in New York, Los Angeles, and the Philippines. He brings to the forum many years of experience in the Philippines and his monthly column integrates the experience of working in the Philippines with business tips earned the hard way! You can learn more about Clarence by clicking on his photo.||
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|See also Clarence Henderson's Philippines Capsule and Prospect Reviews at Asia Market Research dot Com|
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