However, one thing that is difficult with conducting business in Africa is the limits in infrastructure. “Even with a landline we experience cut-offs and these are some of the things one wouldn’t expect in a city like Johannesburg with the type of buildings and the way it conducts business overall. But they are little things that get in the way and make it difficult. Lagos is several steps even more difficult. Again, our offices need to have back up generation capable of maintaining adequate supplies of power to operate our computer and IT systems. So these are the areas that I think needs considerable improvement to get up to a world class level.”
However, Deiotte is amazed at how Africans don’t let the infrastructure issues prevent them from getting on with business. “If we had the same conditions in the United States there would probably be more excuses laid on the infrastructure as to why they didn’t perform as quickly. Here, people bite their tongues and they somehow manage through it … So it’s interesting for me to watch and observe that. It doesn’t block them, it doesn’t stop them. It may frustrate them but even the frustration level is not shown. This is just what they deal with and they move on with it.”
While there are a few things that Deiotte has struggled to get used to – such as driving on the left-hand side of the road, dealing with rain spiders in the house, and being awoken by the soul-splitting sound of South Africa’s hadeda birds in his garden – the real challenge is getting used to South Africa’s (and Africa’s) multitude of languages and accents. “We were told it would be easier in South Africa than Poland because everyone here speaks English. But South African English took me by surprise because there is a mix of languages in one sentence … But I am now more comfortable with it.”
Deiotte has also noticed some of the cultural differences in conducting business, in particular the speed of decision making, which is typically faster in the US. “When I look at the decision making process here, there is more deliberation, there is more discussion, there is more consensus building involved around certain decisions that are made by people within their day-to-day course of business. Neither is wrong, neither is better than the other, it’s just a different approach,” he said.
So what advice does Deiotte have for others who are interested in moving their life and career to Africa? “Reach out to your friends and colleagues, reach out to me. I would be happy to provide very positive feedback and thoughts on how to best prepare yourself for the African experience … It’s only been a short number of weeks since we have arrived here but already we are feeling very comfortable within our communities … We found that the transition has been remarkably easy but if [you] have any questions then just reach out and I think [you] will get something very consistent to what we had, which was that it is all about the people.”
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