The Expat: David Hyman

From: Baltimore, USA
Age: 30
Profession: New business manager, online sales, for Spanish-speaking Latin America at Google
Education: Political economy at Tulane University
Currently reading: Quiet Leadership by David Rock
Last film: I Want To Kill My Boss which I watched with my team
Gadget: My 11-inch MacBook Air

Had you visited Argentina before moving here?
I lived in Madrid for two years after school and had heard lots of good things about Argentina, but I’d never had cause to come and visit.
I started working for Google in 2006 in New York, working with websites to help them make money by putting ads on their sites.
By mid-2007, I was looking to have another international experience because when I left Spain I didn’t have it out of my system. Google had just opened up an office in Buenos Aires. It was perfect timing and I came here to manage the new business arm for the mid-market.

Did it meet your expectations?
The typical things you hear are that it’s cheap, it’s the Paris of Latin America, beautiful women and that Argentina is a highly educated country. Besides the cheap part, as things are getting more expensive here, it has certainly met my expectations.

Do you remember the early days?
I usually find the work stuff comes together easily, so for me the biggest challenge was finding a social group. When I lived in Spain I realized it is important to build two circles of friends: one is your expat group, with whom you can share inside jokes, but also a local group.
At some moment, all your expat friends are going to go home, and unless you are constantly meeting new expat people, you’re going to run out of friends.
I’d been here for two weeks and had moved into my new apartment. I threw a party and invited all the people I knew in Argentina at the time — which was about 10 people — and they invited their friends, and that’s how I built my social network.

Are you still friends with those 10?
I am! Some I see more than others but I was able to build a close-knit network of friends from Buenos Aires who I see a lot. In terms of adapting, that is what has made it the easiest. Once you have a sense of community, and feel like you belong at a social and cultural level to some extent, then I think that’s when you start thinking less about going home.

Where have you lived?
I was in Palermo Chico and after my one-year lease was up, I moved to Nuñez, and I recently moved back to Palermo Hollywood. That’s where my friends are and where we go out. Not having a car in Nuñez meant it didn’t make much sense anymore.

Nuñez seems an unusual choice of neighbourhood.
I was searching for a house and I found this place that was so unbelievable, with a terrace measuring around 70 square metres. I fell in love with the place and decided I had to live there. But when the two years were up I decided I had to get out of there! Everything is far.

As you were sent here for work, how much help did you receive?
Google helps in getting you started, for example they will put you up for a month or two while you get settled in. They are super helpful with the legal part of it and help you get DNI and residency, even your driver’s licence. They are also very good at reminding you when that kind of stuff is going to come up. In that sense you feel very supported.

Do you think that takes away some of the “fun” or the experience?
It certainly does, but I’ve lived it on both sides. When I went to Madrid, I knew zero people, I came up with some scheme to get certified in English to teach, and I found my house on the internet while I was in Baltimore. I had to do everything myself. I had lots of interviews, I got rejected from lots of jobs, started jobs and then got fired from them because my Spanish wasn’t good enough. It was very rewarding but it was also a difficult time so having been through all that, it’s nice to have it on the other side and have a more coddled experience.

Is working here for a foreign company detrimental to your own future, if you went back to the US?
All I can think is whether there will be a high return on my investment of time if I leave or I stay. Up until now, the return on investment is much greater if I stay as I’m learning lots of stuff and you could argue that it depends on what you make on the experience of coming here.
If I were in New York, what would I be doing? I’d be working with bigger companies, bigger budgets, with thousands of people. How are those factors helping me to develop what is important to me for my career? Maybe the answer is very important, maybe the answer is nothing, but what when I was in New York it was important for me to work in a Spanish-speaking country.

What are the professional benefits of being here?
It’s a smaller office so the relationships you can develop with people in the office are much richer. It’s also a cross-functional office which is really neat, so for me that’s been a very cool part. Everyone is literally a 30-second walk away from your desk and you have access to lots of things.

What’s been frustrating, working in Argentina?
There’s nothing frustrating about the job, but the sense of the country not reaching its potential across the board is. Take a look at how intelligent the majority of the population is, how qualified and skilled and innovative it is, and you look at the most successful internet companies in Spanish-speaking Latin America, they are coming from Argentina.

You appear to have quite a tie to the Spanish language.
I don’t know why! I wasn’t very good in middle- or high-school. I wanted to study in Australia but it didn’t work out as the calendars were different, and Madrid was a last option. I didn’t have a super immersion experience studying abroad — I hung out in Irish bars with other English speakers, but I enjoyed the multi-culturalism.
I‘d planned to be a lawyer and thought a year abroad would help me get into a better school. But once I was in Spain I realized I didn’t want to go to law school, so I stayed longer and it seemed more exotic than working in English all day.

What’s it like working in Puerto Madero?
It’s a pain in the butt! It’s nice in the sense that there are pretty things to look at, but it’s a pain to get here from where I live.
I thought about moving here, as it couldn’t be any more convenient for work, but socially you’re extremely isolated from everything else. I decided it wasn’t for me, even though I have friends living here. It’s like The Truman Show. It’s nice that there’s a certain sense of safety and the naval police have their act together. But it’s not appealing.

What would your policies be in the presidential election?
I’d raise the Central Bank’s interest rate to slow down growth and inflation. I’d make sure there was co-ordination between state and local security forces. And I’d end the protectionism going on.

Coming from Spain, did you have any lost-in-translation moments?
A few, and I often still do. I have an awful accent and don’t know whether I’ll ever be fluent. I managed to change to a yankee-porteño accent quite quickly so I’m getting by. I once wished someone a happy new year, to which he replied “you just wished me a happy anus.”

What do you do in your spare time?
I do yoga at a studio near my house, and play tennis once a week. On Thursdays I have an asado with my Argentine friends and I usually take care of the fire part. Then I’m hands off until eating time. On the weekends we’ll go to bars and clubs around the city. The social life is very good here.

What’s your most Argentine characteristic?
For a short period of time, hair length was one. But it would be the importance of friends, and getting together on a regular basis with your close-knit group.

Being in business
On Tuesday, Forbes magazine released its poll on the best countries around the world in which to do business. Argentina ranked 95, beaten by regional counterparts Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil and, shamefully, Paraguay. Only Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Haiti and Venezuela trickled in behind South America’s third-largest economy.
Working for one of the world’s most renowned companies, David Hyman’s job at Google means he is in regular contact with small- and medium-sized businesses, seeing at close quarters how they work.
Although he recognizes Argentines are highly skilled, Hyman also notes the government hinders rather than helps in terms of doing business.
He says: “They (the government) are making it extremely diffcult to be part of the global economy and seem relish the fact they are making it so.
“One of the most expensive electronical devices people are buying are laptop computers, which is equivalent to democratic access to information. By trying to foment this domestic industry, they are really prohibiting that more people have access to what is going on around the world, which goes against the populist claims of the government,” he adds. Seeing as the import tax on a shiny new Apple laptop (if it actually makes it into the country) is so high, who can afford to buy one on a peso salary anyway?
The imports issue, which frustrates many foreigners living in Argentina long-term who can’t regularly get hold of goodies from back home (and which can be easily purchased in Chile, I am reliably informed), or indeed keep up with technology back home due to the protectionist policies Hyman mentions in his interview, is one that is increasingly rearing its ugly head.
On Wednesday, Brazil limited candy imports from Argentina, as it announced that chocolates and a variety of sweets would no longer receive automatic licences, while one million books and magazines have been stuck at customs over the past few weeks, awaiting a decision on their future. Doing business in Argentina and with Argentina is really not that simple and is riddled with hurdles.
Despite this, Hyman notes a positive difference in working cultures. “The entrepeneurial culture is bigger than anything else I have seen. In the US my friends work for companies but here more than half my friends have their own business, whether it’s a family one or a start-up.”
Let’s hope that entrepeneurial spirit is thurst further to the forefront in order to shift Argentina up that Forbes list in 2012.

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on October 9, 2011.
Photo by Mariano Fuchila

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