Issue #21 July 2006

A traveler's diary: Red Hat in Latin America

by Brandon Blell


The best preparation I've had for working at Red Hat was the time I spent in Brazil. There's something invigorating about the young and entrepreneurial spirit, the flexibility to survive even the most unpredictable situations, finding um jeitinho--some way to get things done when the resources required aren't available. Not to mention the warmth and compassion of the Brazilian people. These qualities permeate the culture at Red Hat, and I love it. So when it looked like things were finally going to come together to acquire our long-time partner in the region, and I was invited to go to Brazil for the launch, I got on a plane.

Sunday, May 21

6:19 p.m.

I'm always a little nervous before a long trip, and this one was tinged with both anxiety and excitement. At about 4 p.m., after packing and repacking my bag four times, I kissed my husband and my napping toddler goodbye and headed to the airport.

It seemed a good omen that my flight to Houston was on time and a friendly gate agent took pity on my center seat in row 43 and found me a window seat instead. I've made this trip a few times, so as I settled into my home for the next nine hours I strategically placed my iPod, noise-canceling head phones, ear plugs, Excederin PM, and "soothing sounds" eye mask in the seat pocket in front of me. During my pre-flight ritual, a six-foot-six, forty-something surfer-looking dude sat down beside me.

"Hi. I'm going to LinuxWorld," he proclaimed. Wow, this must be a bigger show than I thought it would be.

"Who are you with?" I asked.

"Novell," he answered."Been with them about three months."

This could be a long flight....

Monday, May 22

8:55 a.m.

Gratefully, my seat-mate turned out to be a really cool guy, and by the time we landed in São Paulo We were old friends. The plane arrived right on time at Garulhos (São Paulo's international airport). My one checked bag showed up with no problem, and I went upstairs where I was greeted by a fleet of uniformed men intent on ushering me to a cab.

I enjoy riding in Brazilian cabs. They're safe, and usually the taxista is very friendly and knowledgeable. I'm too tired to start much of a conversation--I'll have plenty of time to rub the rust off my Portuguese later. As we drove through one of the uglier, industrialized areas of the city, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Tietê River--once horribly polluted and a pointed example of how corruption and poor planning can destroy the environment--looked much cleaner than I remembered. I asked the cab driver about it and he gave me a full report on the three-year government project to deepen and widen the river.

We finally arrived at the hotel. The traffic was not bad by São Paulo standards, but it always takes an hour to get anywhere in São Paulo. My hotel room was nicer than most I've stayed in. The design was so sleek I had to ask the bellman where the bathroom was--the doors blended into the walls.

I'd planned to arrive Monday so I would be able to help Marianela Fernandez, my new Argentine marketing colleague, set up the trade show booth and take care of any last minute preparations. I learned long ago though, not to worry if things don't happen as planned the day before a tradeshow in Brazil. Somehow it all miraculously comes together.

And in this case, that was the right attitude. Around noon, Marianela called to make sure I had arrived and to let me know the crew had not yet set up the booth. I took the opportunity to get some fresh air and familiarize myself with the lay of the land--a walk to the convention center , lunch in the shopping center that joined the hotel and the convention center, a quick workout at the fabulous hotel gym, and email catch up.

At 5 p.m. Marianela and Julian Somodi (General Manager, Red Hat South America) called again with plans to leave soon for the convention center. But at 9 p.m., they still hadn't left the office and jet lag had fully set in for me. I promised to meet the highly-competent local crew early the next morning. As easily as I adjust to Latin time, it's hard to do on the first day. I was toast.

Tuesday, May 23,

8 a.m.

Let's get this party started. Tuesday was an an anxious day. Months, years really, culminated in this official launch. And only one day left to prepare for it.

Had an early breakfast with Julian to prepare for the day, and we headed to the booth. One of my few logistical deliverables from the US was a sub-titled version of the Truth Happens video. It never crossed my mind that there wouldn't be a DVD player in the booth to play it. Ugh. I kept trying to tell myself that if this was the worst thing that happened, it wasn't that bad, but I didn't really believe it.

By mid-morning Juan Ruiz, Latin America Sales Director, Scott Crenshaw, Senior Director of Product Management and Marketing, and Alex Pinchev, EVP of Worldwide Sales, had arrived. Alex was the intended star of our show. We had been working together on the presentations for a month, and we sat down in the lobby of the hotel to do a last run-through. I was relieved that he seemed comfortable with the last-minute changes we had made.

The show was not very big, but the venue felt both busy and intimate. Our booth looked great, and I marveled at just how easy this integration had been so far. I've dealt with other acquisitions in other countries where the branding just didn't translate. Not true for Red Hat. The only thing different here was that people were speaking a combination of Spanish and Portuguese (Portuñol) and there was a cool little conference room built into the booth where real meetings could take place.

The rest of the day went relatively smoothly. I eventually got a new version of the video that would work the next day, (no one seemed bothered by the English version), and our general anxiety turned into excitement knowing Wednesday's activities would make it a very busy and productive day.

7 p.m.(ish)
After closing the booth, the plan was to meet Alex and the Red Hat crew in the lobby of the hotel, pass by the Red Hat Brazil office, and go to dinner with the entire Red Hat team. When I got to the lobby, I was delighted to finally meet Marcelo Tossati--a demigod in the Brazilian community who we had just hired--and his wife. Alejandro Chocolat, General Manager of Brazil, passed by to pick us up and we headed off to the office.

The Red Hat Brazil office was exactly what I expected. Not brand new, but not too old. Lots of young and energetic people running around getting things done at 8 p.m. There was even a training class with students that didn't seem to mind the contingency from Corporate peeking in on them.

From the office, we headed to dinner. I was pleased to finally start to recognize the street names and scenery. We were in the elegant Jardins neighborhood where I had lived and studied during graduate school. Rua Oscar Freire--the Rodeo Drive of São Paulo, Avendia Paulista--Brazil's Wall Street. Now I really felt like I was returning to the city I remembered.

I knew that dinner would be marvelous--I've never had a bad meal in São Paulo--but I was not prepared for how beautiful the Figueira Rubaiyat restaurant would be. The entire restaurant was built around an enormous fig tree. This picture doesn't do it justice. The trunk must have been 10 feet in diameter and the branches hovered just above all of the tables in an area that must have been 1000 or more square feet in area.

Wednesday, May 24

I don't get to the gym as much as I used too, and after a late dinner it was unlikely I would get up in time. But when the boss says in his Russian accent,"I vill see you at ze gym at 6 a.m., yes?", you go. So, I did. Of course, the gym is another real piece of the culture that I love to observe. When I lived in Rio, I joined a posh academia (gym) where the local telenovela and samba stars congregated.

I digress.

The rest of the day was non-stop action. Here's how it went.

8 a.m.: Press release announcing the acquisition hit the newswire

9 a.m.. Booth opened

10 a.m.. Press conference with more than 20 journalists

12 p.m. Rushed Alex downstairs to speak briefly about our announcements at HP's VIP day. We huddled at the back of the presentation room as the previous speaker ran long. Alex was introduced and five minutes into his presentation, the power went out. Yes, the power went out.

All you could do was chuckle. I honestly think that one of us in the HP/Red Hat group talking quietly at the back stepped on the breaker. Now, why a breaker would be in a floor panel where someone could STEP on it, is beyond me, but several of us guiltily admitted, "I think I did it." I guess we'll never know. The funniest thing about it was that no one in the audience even seemed to notice, and Alex didn't skip a beat. He embodied Shadowman at his best. Cool, calm, and collected even when the lights went out.

I left lunch early to get to the auditorium and run through the keynote presentation. Truth Happens DVD played perfectly, check. Rehearsed with AV person the cue to switch from video to presentation, check. Presentation displayed properly to the big screen, check. Interpreter was present and knew how to translate "virtualization" and "stateless Linux" (she used the English words), check.

Uh-oh. Can't put the presentation on the big screen and the teleprompter. The local AV tech knew enough about an older version of Linux to be dangerous, so I logged on and opened a chat with the help desk back in Raleigh. We were never able to fully resolve the issue, but how cool was it that I was standing at a podium in Brazil talking real-time with the help desk at my home office? I have new respect for the Red Hat help desk team.

The keynote was well-attended and well-received. Everyone was happy. Whew.

We celebrated with a glass of wine at cocktail hour that we co-sponsored with HP after the booth closed. Tonight was a smaller group for dinner, but it wouldn't be Brazil without going to a churrascaria. So, Alex, Scott, Julian, Alejandro, Juan, and I went Fogo do Chao, one of the most famous churrascarias in the country and binged on red meat until we couldn't move.

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Thursday, May 25

Ah, the denouement day. After three exhausting and exhilarating days, I finally had the opportunity to really start getting to know my new colleagues. Marianela, Ana Castro, the Brazil Marketing Manager, and I escaped the booth for a marketing lunch and I brought them into the fold on how we operate in the US. Finally around 6 p.m., it was time to go. In Brazilian tradition, I kissed all my new colleagues goodbye and headed to the airport for a pleasant and completely uneventful flight.

When can I go back?

About the author

Brandon Blell manages customer and field marketing at Red Hat. In former lives she studied and worked in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She currently works at Red Hat headquarters in Raleigh, NC.