December 5, 2023

Interview with João Graça Gomes: “I recommend thorough planning and rigor in tasks”

Portuguese people who stand out abroad are helping to find out where business opportunities are and what kind of companies and activities the country can attract. An initiative that brings together Negócios and the Portuguese Diaspora Council.

1- What led you to leave Portugal?

First, I felt the need to enrich my resume and get involved in more impactful engineering projects. China stands out as a leader in renewable energy investments, deploying hundreds of gigawatts (GW) of wind, solar and hydropower plants annually. For context, while Portugal has a total capacity of approximately 22 GW in power plants, China has a total of almost 2500 GW, with about 1030 GW dedicated exclusively to renewable sources. Being in China provides a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of climate action and collaborate on projects with a real impact on the global energy transition.

The second reason that contributed to my decision to leave Portugal was the personal development aspect. Living in a country as different from Portugal in cultural, political and socio-economic terms as China has allowed me to gain a more holistic view of human nature and the challenges faced in the development of nations. Living with cultural nuances and direct observation of Chinese socio-political dynamics have been essential catalysts for my personal growth, opening horizons that go beyond the professional realm.

2- What advantages or disadvantages has the fact of being Portuguese brought you?

Portugal has a vast and deep history, highlighting the long period of administration of Macau by Portugal. When revealing my nationality to a Chinese citizen, I often perceive an element of admiration for the rich history we share. This historical connection considerably facilitated my integration process in China.

However, it is important to note that the political and economic crises that Portugal has faced in recent decades have left their mark on the image of the Portuguese around the world. Comments from European Union leaders, who associated southern Europe with a culture of easiness, contributed to a less favorable view. That initial perception, however, was overcome when my colleagues observed the remarkable capacity for work, adaptation, and even perfectionism that characterizes many Portuguese, especially those living abroad. These qualities have played a crucial role in redefining the image of the Portuguese, overcoming negative stereotypes, and reinforcing the reputation for competence associated with our nationality.

3- What obstacles did you have to overcome and how did you do it?

The most significant challenges I faced were cultural and linguistic differences. As far as language barriers are concerned, I sought to overcome them through careful preparation before my move to China. I invested four years in learning Mandarin at the Confucius Institute, which gave me a solid linguistic foundation.

However, the biggest obstacle turned out to be cultural disparity. I note that in China there is no clear division between professional and personal life. The professional culture is deeply hierarchical, requiring a delicate balance between personal ethics, technical competence and “guanxi”. This Chinese term, literally translated as “relationship”, goes beyond simple networking in the business world. Dealing with guanxi can impose moral obligations and require the exchange of favors, which for a Westerner represents one of the greatest challenges.

Facing these adversities required not only technical skills, but also constant adaptation and an understanding of Chinese cultural and business nuances.

4- What do you admire most about the country where you are?

In China, I highlight the agility in decision-making, something that represents a marked contrast in relation to Portugal. While Portugal has been discussing for decades the location of the new Lisbon airport in China, once it has been decided to move forward with a national project, all national efforts are rapidly converging to achieve this goal.

This speed also extends to the business environment, where decision-making is remarkably efficient. The ability to implement change in an agile way is something I deeply admire, representing a distinctive feature of Chinese dynamics that in many ways contrasts with the more deliberate and gradual approach we see in other contexts.

5- What do you admire most about the company or organization you are in?

China Three Gorges stands out for its imposing size, bringing together a vast technical knowledge that makes it a true reference in the sector. In addition, the company stands out as an engineering school, thanks to the scale of the projects it develops.

In addition, the company exhibits a remarkably young dynamic. Recently, it has incorporated a considerable contingent of young engineers, many of whom have degrees from universities ranked among the top 50 in the world. For someone dedicated to research and development, like me, the opportunity to collaborate with a young and motivated team represents a crucial factor. This synergy between consolidated knowledge and a young and dynamic workforce contributes significantly to the company’s innovative and stimulating environment.

6- What recommendations would you give to Portugal and its entrepreneurs and managers?

Although I am relatively young, I approach this issue from the perspective of leading by example. I recommend that a special focus be given to the detailed planning of activities, ensuring rigor in the tasks carried out. Cultivating a positive and motivating work environment while maintaining a strong team spirit is crucial.

When it comes to leadership, it’s essential to convey to colleagues the importance of humility by acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers. Fostering a corporate culture where we seek help to overcome our weaknesses should be seen as a strength.

I recognise that Portugal already has excellent managers, some of whom are recognised worldwide, as demonstrated by the Portuguese Diaspora Council. I believe that promoting these values can contribute to Portugal’s continued success in the business landscape.

7- In which sectors of the country where you live could Portuguese companies find customers?

China is one of the largest investors in renewable energy, and the country stands out for aiming to achieve total carbon neutrality by 2060. Thus, Portuguese companies, specializing in renewable energy, waste management, and sustainable public transport, could find customers in the sectors related to these areas in China, especially by partnering with Chinese municipal governments.

8- In which sectors of Portugal could companies in the country where you live want to invest?

I see interest from Chinese companies to participate in renewable energy projects, especially in the area of offshore wind. China is fast becoming the global leader in the number of projects in this sector. Moreover, in the electric battery sector, I see several opportunities since China has extensive experience in the extraction and refining of rare earth minerals that are essential for these batteries. Collaborating in this context could result in a win-win situation.

9- What is the competitive advantage of the country in which you live that could be replicated in Portugal?

Agility in decision-making is a considerable advantage, although I am aware that this benefit in China comes at a high cost, due to the absence of broad consultation with all stakeholders. Despite this caveat, I consider it crucial for Portugal to optimize its decision-making processes.

In China, there is a proverb that says, “when you paddle against the current, to stop means to turn back.” Portugal cannot maintain anaemic economic growth. The country faces a real risk of losing talent. China adopts ambitious programs to attract talent, providing three-year state funding for PhDs from top 100 universities in strategic areas such as energy and computing, representing a 50 to 100 percent increase in their average salaries. Portugal could, with relative ease, replicate this model to attract a new generation of promising talent.

10- Do you consider going back to Portugal? Why?

Yes, in the medium term, I intend to return to Portugal and apply the knowledge acquired abroad to boost the country’s development. The hospitality of the Portuguese people, the pleasant climate and the rich history that establishes bridges between Asia, the Americas and Africa make our country unique.

However, it is unfortunate that Portugal’s image abroad is not more actively promoted, and there is a lack of a clear strategy to position the country internationally. I believe that Portugal has the potential to become a middle power with global influence, but for that, it is crucial to achieve political stability and combat the perception of facilitation and corruption. I wish to contribute to the improvement of these aspects in Portugal and actively participate in building a more robust and promising future for the country.

Read the original article here.