Spotlight on Africa

Cristina Diezhandino, Diageo regional marketing and innovation director for Africa, gives her take on African business culture

Click here to read the cover feature: Beware the culture gap on global growth trail
Click here to read about two marketers who have swapped Britain for Asia
Click here to read about how recognising cultural differences that might seem small can make a big difference in Europe
Click here to read some insights on working with colleagues in America

Cristina Diezhandino, Diageo regional marketing and innovation director for Africa

I am originally from Spain, but I have worked in the UK, the Netherlands, the US and Latin America. I am now responsible for Africa but am based in London.

Because I’ve had many interactions with people from other countries, I have a good knowledge of cultural and geopolitical factors, and understanding of consumers in many parts of the world. But when I came to this job, my knowledge of Africa was shaped a lot by what we see on TV. So when I was offered this job I knew immediately that there was a need for me to learn more.

I travel a lot to the markets I am responsible for, and I have learned that it is crucial to form good relationships with your colleagues early on so you know where they are coming from and the other way around.

In the corporate world there is always a sense of hierarchy, so it is important for me to create closeness. In whichever market I visit, the days become very long and the evenings are very valuable so we can go out and get to know each other informally.

Occasionally I will be with a very senior member of a company. In one East African territory, the chairman of our company’s board is an 80-year-old man who is very well respected and is a member of various other boards of companies in Kenya. In my first meeting with him I quickly noted that people were calling him “Mr Chairman” and not using his first name. You need to keep your eyes and ears open to behave in a way that is appropriate to that place.

Another highlight of working in this region, more than in any other I have worked in, is the commitment corporations have to working with local communities. There is one particular Diageo programme that commits to delivering clean water to 1 million people every year. You can see the differences and possibilities open to big companies operating in Africa.

One thing you see is how women play a big role in these societies. A lot of our customers in Nigeria are big wholesalers that are run by women. You are treated with the highest courtesy when you go to see them; there is always a welcoming drink or lunch. There is a high degree of charm, which is relatively formal but very warm, which is not something I think you would see in the US.

There are quite a few local women in senior roles – the marketing directors for Ghana, Cameroon and Uganda are all women. They are highly educated, and have spent some of their professional lives abroad.

They are very committed to their career and willing to do things that I don’t think you would see in Europe. One marketing director’s husband and two children are based in London but she is willing to spend a lot of time away from them while she is running this market.

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