El Jefe.


If ever there was a desire to reassure the existence of the Spanish hierarchy, one would have to look no farther than the Spanish workplace.

On the left half of the 5th floor of the building on Paseo de la Castellana 120 is the office of ILP Abogados. Although it is a office of lawyers, I work for a subset of the organization named ViCe ILP which works with entrepreneurs to help them find investors.  And from my small desk centered in the middle of the office, I have an authentic view of how daily-Spanish customs mix with business-Spanish practices.

The featured picture for this blog post is a Picasso that hangs in the Museo Reina Sofia. I chose this picture because it’s a perfect representation of the business culture in the Spanish workplace, especially from the view of an American: bold, abstract, jarring, contradictory, yet in its own right, beautiful and harmonious.

I’ve been with this organization for three weeks now, and there is one experience that summarizes the stark difference between doing business in the U.S. and in Spain. In the United States, although it is an individualistic society with strong emphasis placed on the development of the individual, in the workplace, the ability to work well with others in a team context is an invaluable skill and individuals that possess it are highly sought. On the other hand, however, Spain lies somewhat on the other side of the spectrum: a more collectivist society, the Spanish value teams and the development of society as a whole as being more pertinent than that of the individual; so you can imagine my surprise when I saw these values pushed aside in the workplace.

Now, that isn’t to say that the team values don’t exist. The company culture is reflective of Spanish culture: midday siestas, frequent coffee breaks marked by conversation about personal topics, hugs, two-kisses, laughter, weekly office parties, smoking, sweating, heat, and the well-timed “Animo” that gives you strength to carry on with the day; but, then tossed aside in the presence of the classic Spanish “Jefe”, the patriarchal male that leads in absolute power. This power was demonstrated in one instance: they met in his office, about 4 of them, door closed, short spells of silence followed by loud voices capped with him saying his part and then silence again. They had proposed some idea to him, or some excuse, I only caught bits and pieces of the muffled words through the door, but he wasn’t happy and his word was final. They left him in his office alone, and what was shocking was that there wasn’t a look of scorn or distraught on their faces as you would see in the U.S., but rather their faces were matter-of-factly, as if this was the natural state of the world.

I can’t speak to the effectiveness of this type of company structure, in which one person has complete, unchecked power, only to how it differs from the common structure of a company in the US.  However, I think that like a Picasso, it’s not something that can be completely understood by someone who’s not the artist (in this case a foreigner), but rather something to be identified, experienced, and appreciated. My goal in being here is not to try to fit the world into a United States-shaped box, in which when things don’t fit they are considered out of the ordinary, but rather to look outside of the box and see that life is lived differently all over the world: boldly, abstractly, jarringly, contradictorily, yet in its own right, beautifully and harmoniously.