Few weeks ago I came across a very interesting LinkedIn post “Brazilian and Swedish cultures: can they go along well?” – the author was Swedish entrepreneur Rolf Kenmo. His take on the Brazilian and Swedish cultures wasn’t anything I had seen before. This was possible because Kenmo developed The HumanGuide concept, a personality test with a differential.

He also expanded his business to Brazil, nearly 15 years ago. The business is doing really well and I wanted to find out more:

Ana Picasso: How did you come up with The HumanGuide concept?  

Rolf Kenmo: To be honest, I had a vision to contribute with my HumanGuide concepts to the world and I like to discover new countries from “the inside”.The opportunity came then by accident, but a good one. We even have a saying in Sweden “Halkat in på ett bananskal” (Slipped on a banana peel).

Banana = opportunity

When you have a vision like mine, you will be open to possibilities.

The short story is like this: 1975 I started to cooperate with psychologists, because my mission was to improve the methods for developing IT systems. They taught me about a personality theory, which I realized it was very useful to understand mine and other people’s drives (motivation). It was Léopold Szondis personality theory.

The next “banana” for me was that one of my employee’s in my consulting company had a brother, who was CEO for a bus travel agency and he should select good bus guides for the company. And he was looking for a personality test. His sister asked me and I asked the psychologists, who I cooperated with.

The answer was that there was no questionnaire based on Szondi’s theory. So I developed that with those psychologists. We used this test for the selection of the bus guides and from the evaluations of their performance we confirmed that it worked well. And then “The HumanGuide personality test” was born!

AP: Why did you choose Brazil to expand your business?

RK: Later I noticed that there was every third year a global Szondi conference. I was curious about it and went there. I contributed with the workshop “Szondi-based applications for the working life”.

At the conference there was a Brazilian psychologist, Giselle Welter. She told me that she needed a good personality test in her recruitment assignments. A little later, she did the test herself and was impressed by the result. It was accurate, quick and convenient with an internet-based solution. Then she wanted to use it in Brazil.

However, there was a lot of work to be done. Translations from Swedish to English and then to Portuguese. Also, Giselle needed to learn a lot about the test and all the necessary documentation.

Why did I accept her wish to use the test in Brazil? Brazil has 20 times the Swedish population, around 200 million inhabitants.

And Sao Paulo city alone, where Giselle lived, has 20 million. Moreover, we have used the HumanGuide test for us both, so we very quickly had an idea about each other.

For our joint business partnership it was a good combination, both for the specific job in each country and for the cooperation.

During these years we have had our differences, different opinions, but we have NEVER had any destructive conflicts despite me never gone to Brazil or South America before.

AP: What were the challenges of setting up a business in Brazil? What did you do to overcome those challenges?

RK: The biggest was of course trust. We cooperated two years before we had a written agreement, drafted by lawyers. But with the HumanGuide test information about each other, we already knew the principles on how we cooperated and this was the key to resolve any challenges .

Basic principles for collaboration: Early in our [Giselle and I] business partnership I said what I believed in concerning a good cooperation.
I am straight-forward, transparent, open-minded and reliable. My motto is Freedom & Respect.

There is also a relevant Chinese saying: “Don’t start  by giving an ax to a stranger. You give something little and observe what happens.”

Working remotely: All the work was done long distance. Without internet, I think it had never happen.  However, it has also been an advantage to cooperate so far away, it is not so easy to preach in your own house. In Brazil I am “exotic”. Swedes have also a good reputation to be reliable etc. During these years we have seen each other once every second year. It is smart in the start to have a couple of months via e-mail and video-meetings, but then have a real meeting in real life for some days as a solid foundation.

Pricing:  Of course the type of business influences a lot the price strategy. In my case the most simple way is to charge based on the number of profiles (personality tests), which the agent’s customer do.  In my case I thought that a percentage is best as I didn’t know the Brazilian market and its competitors.

Written agreements:  If this seems very critical, then perhaps you have a trust problem…
The good thing with a written agreement is that you’d be proactive, if X happens, and also it guides how should that be handled. When you write it you have to be clear and you can sort out different opinions before it can cause problems.

Taxation:  I think that differs very much between the countries. I did not thought about that, so it made me astonished, when I got my first remuneration from Brazil – I mean how much tax you have to pay there. So ask about that before you make a deal. The Brazilian taxation system is extremely complicated.

Moreover, when expanding any business cooperation, using  tax experts and lawyers is essential. They are expensive, but you need them. It is crucial to select the good ones, otherwise their support can be worthless. 

So, to conclude, you can avoid a lot of challenges by choosing an expert as soon as possible. However, here I think the best advice is to ask someone who has done business with Brazil. You can also go to the Chamber of Commerce between the countries, very often there is one and ask them for potential contacts.

AP: Is Brazil worth the risk? (you mentioned that you were doing pretty well there – more than 100,000 test done there since 2010)
RK: Yes! I have not earned so much yet, but I have also gained from the cooperation. I mean, me and my business partner are both concept developers and users, so we develop together and exchange experiences.

AP: Any advice to other companies or entrepreneurs that want to extend their business to Brazil?
RK: This is normally a long-term project, so you need patience, but most importantly, you need to ask yourself these questions all the time:
Do I like to work with this? Do I have fun, at least now and then? If not, how can I improve it?

Rolf Kenmo is a management consultant with more than 44 years experience.

To find out more about The HumanGuide concept and its services, click here