A Fanta and a handshake = a deal
Gray-suited executives sign multi-million dollar deals while wiring electronic transfers from their financial accounts across continents in seconds. This is the reality of the corporate world of business deals in developed countries. It is a high pressure, cutthroat world with an emphasis on how MY company will benefit.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the equally enterprising and creative entrepreneur using whatever resources are available to negotiate a business OPPORTUNITY that will benefit BOTH himself and the people with whom he is negotiating.
Welcome to a small coffee finca in El Salvador.
We have been invited to attend a negotiation session. It is not in a formal board room, but it is being held at Esperanza’s house at the top of the mountain. “Everybody knows Esperanza” making it the likely gathering place. Besides, she serves cold Fanta, which they all enjoy at the end of a day working in the fields.
Riding the rough, bumpy road in the 4-wheel drive truck up this extremely twisting and turning road of nauseating switchbacks to the top of the mountain, we notice machete-wielding men trimming undergrowth around the coffee trees. Camouflaged under the 60/40 canopy required for coffee growth, the red “cherries” are now ripening. Guards are now situated in the fields until the harvest is complete. In poor countries any cash commodity is at risk of theft.
This road is a major walkway for the locals who live on its mile and a half steep slope. Schoolchildren travel up and down daily, women carry the water jugs on their heads – empty down to the spring and full back to the top. All wave and greet us with the appropriate greeting of the time of day – buenos dias, buenos tardes, or buenos noches.
The picking of select red beans is beginning, but the bulk of the crop will come later with some pickings as late as early January. It would be interesting to experience the real harvest. Workers report at 3-4 AM to whichever finca pays a quarter more that day. Word gets out. Women will carry 100 pound to 125 pound bags on their backs, while men will carry over 200 pounds. Because the slopes are so steep, machines cannot be used. At the end of the day, the bags have to be weighed, and the beans checked; each picker is paid in cash for which he signs indicating he has been paid.
At Esperanza’ place we find chairs outside the little storefront property where we can be casual observers unobtrusively situated. This effort was largely unsuccessful, since the first thing each man did when arriving to the meeting was come over to shake our hands and make us feel welcome.
Esperanza offers the Fantas to each participant, and our friend begins the meeting. Rather than a high tech computer, he has a legal pad and draws vertical columns of lines to divide up each participant’s information.
These men represent small finca owners in the area who will benefit from the proposal on the table: our friend, also a finca owner, is offering them 33% higher pay for their coffee beans than they can receive at the local cooperative. The benefit to him is their fincas are located at a higher altitude making their beans more select and desirable to add to the mix and flavor of his blend. He has attended “cupping seminars” and knows this.
Details are now added to the columns on his legal pad with the help of an interpreter who is trusted by both parties and knows the nuances of the language better than the Spanish-as-a-second-language owner who is still trying to master it. They are working out things like licensing through the capital, dates for inspection by the owner’s own mandador (foreman), number of manzanas (acreage), kintales (estimated harvest), confirming phone number, and pick-up dates.
The atmosphere is casual, relaxed, low-key. No pressure.
Deals are made with a firm handshake and a warm smile. It is now very cool, and even Esperanza goes inside for a warm sweater which I wish I had brought. After everyone has left, she presents her own case asking if her harvest can be included in the deal. Yes, of course, she is in also. Who can turn down someone who offers Fanta?