I’ve fallen in love with Portugal. I was invited to speak to Portugal’s business leaders from Lisbon and Porto at the University of Porto Business School led by the savvy Ramon O’Callaghan – Irish by name, Catalan by birth, but turning Portuguese in his new Porto gig. And hosted splendidly by Man City friends Luis and Francisco. Both Porto born and bred…And their beautiful partners…the M&M’s!!! The historic harbor city of Porto is an absolute charmer, the setting-off point in the 14th and 15th centuries for several of the world’s great sea voyages of discovery, mapping and trade (in the ‘famous Portuguese’ page on Wikipedia there are 88 explorers, navigators and pioneers, heading off 25 saints and a couple of football players).

Portugal has been in the doldrums, struggling out of the banking and debt crisis of 2008 (and onwards) that imperiled the USA and several European countries. Over 200,000 young people left, any discretionary income people had went on debt, and combined national debt (government, corporate, household) soared to over 300% of GDP. Several positive things have happened though. Portugal is 10.6 million people so it’s not so cumbersome to pivot (tourism regions, for examples, were condensed from 17 to 5 to have a clearer marketing focus); the government brought in effective measures to collect taxes (and unlike Greece, the citizens have been co-operative); government, the largest single employer in the country, has cut layers of red tape to improve business competitiveness; and most impressively, the country’s producers – manufacturers and service providers (including tourism operators) have cranked Portugal’s exports up to 40% of GDP. Young people – digital natives – have become entrepreneurs and start-ups are an emergent economic benefit. Tourism is the biggest export earner, with perfect weather, miles of coastline, and historic cities with a funky urban vibe. Direct international flight connections could improve. At its core, Portugal is Category 1 country for democracy, political rights and civil liberties, ranked 12th in the world for press freedom, 20th for democracy, and 28th for corruption (must do better). GDP is US$230B. Over three million people speak English. And did I say the weather is perfect?

During my visit I was interviewed several times by national media. Coming from New Zealand, people were interested in the perspective from a ‘small, remote, coastal country with a big neighbor.’ I am very interested in how cities, regions and countries develop and articulate a distinct global positioning, find their sweet spot in the world. We reframed New Zealand as the world’s “edge”. Knowing your One Word Equity is basic marketing practice. Say ‘Portugal’ to most people in the world and mostly, you’ll get silence, a stare…“er?” For a country that once had an empire of four million square miles, Portugal has shrunken its moxie, dimmed its sense of purpose. There is a tendency towards pessimism in Portuguese society, which is paradoxical to their approach to life in many ways. The Portuguese music fado is a form of music “characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia.” (Wikipedia)

To which I say, “The only thing wrong with Portugal is that people say there’s something wrong with Portugal.” Time for some radical optimism. In Portugal I found energy and desire. The people I met want to achieve, accelerate, transform and expand the business base of the country in an authentic context, not with imported models. I came away believing that Portugal is a country on the move, and so my one word equity for Portugal is Destiny. Destino. Revolution starts with language. The right language can move an entire population together in one direction. Every action – meta, macro and micro – can be inspired by the language. Destiny. That sounds like the right place to be headed.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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