Latvians think of themselves as straight forward and trustworthy and they expect their business partner to be the same. During the gradual transition to a market economy, many of the state companies were sold to either local businesses or to foreign companies. Many Latvians had the opportunity to work with foreigners who were brought in to help train them. In this process, there were obvious clashes, because of differences in attitudes and values. Latvians are well educated and do not like the idea of a foreigner telling them what to do in their country.
Clearly, if the foreign manager understood the general business environment he was going into, the reception he would receive would be more favourable.
Corporate social responsibility
Ecological problems are now less severe than they used to be. Yet, Latvia continues to have lots of issues to deal with: decreasing the high rate of pollution of ground water; clearing out areas where the Russian army was stationed; upgrading the old transportation network. The Latvian government has recognised these problems and is trying to solve them through new legislation intended to create natural reserves and other means.
Water quality is constantly increasing, although it is still not up to EU standards in a number of areas. The government has tried to reduce the amount of water waste since 1990. Agricultural effluent and the dumping of waste into rivers by large companies have been reduced through the introduction of sanctions. Waste management has been massively improved in most places, especially in terms of hazardous waste, compared to how it was managed during the totalitarian period.
Usually, Latvians are punctual and will appreciate the same courtesy. If you try to arrive a few minutes before your appointment, you will have time to prepare yourself a little more while you are waiting.
Business partners do not expect presents at the first meeting, yet small gifts to business associates are generally accepted. You should bring something small from your country, a unique souvenir representing your country or company. This could be a small plate with a monument picture, a key holder with a representative historical or natural monument, heraldic signs applied on various small objects as pres-peppier and so on.
Business dress code
In business, cleanliness and tidiness are essential for creating a professional impression. Men wear suits and a tie; women, jackets and skirts, or trouser suits. For most business meetings, anything formal will do just fine. However, the way you dress will express your status, which is why Latvians prefer expensive clothing, shoes and accessories and women, in particular, are fond of wearing gold jewellery and using strong perfumes.
First impressions are very important, so dress smartly and be polite, following the local etiquette.
At the office, business people follow a less formal dress code and in smaller businesses there are usually no formal dress codes.
Bribery and corruption
As in other former communist countries, bribery and corruption are used as a means of doing business in Latvia. You may need to give presents in order to speed up government processes and get things done, such as reducing waiting time for official papers or convincing politicians to pass favourable legislation. Latvia’s overall score in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012 is 49. It was improved in the last years.
For more information: www.transparency.org [English]