Home » Blog » Podcast interview with Leonardo Gil

Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast.

I’m delighted to be joined by Leonardo Gill, co-founder of Broaden Base Projects.

Janina Neumann (00:32):
Hi Leo, how are you?

Leonardo Gil (00:34):
Hi, Janina. Thank you for having me. Good to be here.

Janina Neumann (00:37):
I’m so delighted and really excited for our conversation.

Would you like to introduce yourself?

Leonardo Gil (00:44):
Yeah. Well, I’m Leonardo Gil. You said it right, correctly, which is good, yeah. I was born in Venezuela 39 years ago kind of old now, but yeah, I’m originally from Venezuela, Latino, and I’ll speak about my professional background, which is petroleum engineer. So I started engineering at university and then right at the end of the university, I joined this global company for oil and gas businesses. And from there, my interaction with other cultures in other countries started. And then after working there for a few years, I joined the University of Liverpool to get a degree, a master’s degree in project management. And then during the last 10 years, I’ve been wandering in about three countries, first one, Mexico, then back to Venezuela, and then I moved together with my family here in Scotland. I am now located and living in Scotland. And then as you said together with my wife, we found it Broaden Base Projects, which is our baby right now, it’s the company that we’re working on.

Janina Neumann (02:25):
Oh, fantastic.

I’m just curious, How did you get into being an engineer? What made you interested in it?

Leonardo Gil (02:34):
Well, I don’t know, probably since little, since being a child. My mother and my father just, you know, they kept asking, “Like, what do you want to study? What do you want to study?” And I always was fascinated with all these big industries. It’s like, you know, Venezuela they have the biggest oil and gas industries in the world, well at that time. So whenever we went to the beach, we passed alongside one of those big factories. And then, I don’t know, I was always fascinated about that. So the answer to that question was, well, I want to study something related to that. And when the time came to look at all the possible careers, then petroleum engineer just sounded right, and then that’s when I enrolled in engineering and then petroleum engineering.

Janina Neumann (03:44):
That’s really cool.

And it just makes me think about, so is it quite common for people to join like big companies who trade internationally?

Leonardo Gil (03:57):
Well, I guess it depends on the sectors. The sector I was in, petroleum engineer, is really common. By that time it was back in 2007, you had a few options out there. So let’s say the main option was to work on the national oil company. It didn’t happen for me, but the second option, then you can go to a big company, either a service company or a big oil company like I don’t know, Chevron or Shell. So it was the outcome of, you know, meeting CVS and everything back at that time just was to work on an oil and gas services company, which is supposed to be the number one, the biggest one. So yeah, in petroleum engineering, it’s quite common to start working with an international company. Yeah.

Janina Neumann (05:07):
Oh, that’s fantastic.

And what were kind of the first countries that you visited and what were your kind of experiences as well?

Leonardo Gil (05:16):
I’ll tell you a bit about the story. Beginning in when I joined that big company. So back in 2007, again, I joined the company, I remember like being in the company like for a few days, one week maybe, and they sent this you know, plane ticket, air ticket, to Rio de Janeiro, which was the introduction week for the company. So that was a big shock because, well, okay, my thought of working in a company is well you go, work, sit in a desk and that’s you. But I didn’t know about this big introduction weeks and events. And it happened just like that, one-week event, introduction week event, everything was paid and back in Rio. Plane ticket, hotel, food, everything was paid for. So that was like, hmm, by the time it was a good indication.

Leonardo Gil (06:20):
The event was really good. That was my first mix with all the cultures, other countries and mix internationally at least professionally, because, before that, I’ve been together with my family, like in holidays, vacations, traveled a bit around the world. But professionally, that was my first interaction with other cultures and other people, other nationalities, other languages, et cetera. So that was me back to Venezuela to work from Rio. And then after a few months working I received another email saying, well, now you’re going to France. You’re going to stay there for three months because you’re going to a training course for three months to prepare you for your professional career, which was amazing. It was good. So that was me living in France and getting interaction with a French culture for three months together with other cultures because I remember in that training course, there were people from all over the world Russia, Europe, United States, Saudi Arabia, and other many countries and other many languages and cultures.

Leonardo Gil (07:53):
So at least professionally that has been my experience, but not quite complete. When I was back from that training course, then I did work in Venezuela for a few years. And then I moved together with my wife now, we moved to Mexico because she was relocated, she was working in Venezuela as well, but she was relocated to Mexico. So I moved there with her, we spent there five years and then we were relocated back to Venezuela, back to our country of origin and we spent there three, four years. And then back in 2017, we decided to leave the country and move to another country and we ended up being here in Scotland. So that’s my story.

Janina Neumann (08:52):
Wow. That’s really cool. There’s so many things I want to ask you.

To start with like, you know, from the big introduction event to going to France, what are some of the things that you think worked well that the company did, like onboarding wise, like integrating these different individuals from different countries into, you know, the company culture? Is there anything in particular that you thought that worked particularly well?

Leonardo Gil (09:23):
Well, they worked well, exactly with what you said, introducing one to company culture. I think their effort went on that because it wasn’t really like a cultural event. It was a professional event. So it was like hidden in the bag that, okay, we understand that we are from different cultures and everything, but this is not a culture engagement event. This is a professional event. So you need to adapt to company culture while still adapting to different cultures, languages you know, nationalities and everything. For example, that was the first time I knew Halal food existed, for example. Like to me before that, prior that, I didn’t know what that was. So that was me learning about other cultures, other religions, other characteristics, and what they needed to do when eating, when not eating. That was the first time. So although, as I said, the final objective of the company was not a cultural engagement, it did happen because, we were mixing, we were different cultures and opinions and languages mixing together. But regarding again to your question with the company, the company just focused on saying, “Okay, this is what you need to know to work in this company”.

Janina Neumann (11:12):
It’s really good. It’s like a really good understanding, almost having a handbook, but also putting things into practice is really inspiring how they did that and to accommodate so many people, but also make them feel at home wherever they are based. I’m also interested, were there particular events that happened, you know, throughout your career where you thought, actually here are some differences or similarities across cultures and, you know, one of the things that I picked up is you know, you said about adapting, what kind of skills did those in a events highlight to you about kind of who you are?

Leonardo Gil (11:58):
I think it’s being aware, being mindful, of other differences you can have in between cultures and how to behave depending on where you are and with whom you are. I think that’s the main outcome of being interacting with so many cultures and different types of personalities, regions, nationalities, languages. I think I would say that being mindful of how to behave, what to say, how to say it. Kind of my point of view is I would like to be treated with respect, but I think the respect comes, or it starts with me. So if I’m not respectful with that person, I shouldn’t be expecting that person to be respectful to me. And in terms of cultural differences, being aware of what that person thinks is respectful or not, it’s a good start. So, all this interaction with different cultures around the world has taught me that being mindful is a powerful tool and I appreciate that.

Janina Neumann (13:33):
Yeah, that’s really good.

And I’m just curious, how do you go about finding out, you know, what respect or treating someone with respect means to them?

Leonardo Gil (13:44):
It’s a tough one, it’s a difficult one. Because what you want is always been in a good position with someone. You don’t want to fight with anyone, right? It doesn’t always happen. I’ll tell you a story, working back in, you know, back in oil and gas services company, I remember the company transferred this guy from Saudi Arabia, which had this religion. He was really, really religious type. He struggled working in back in Venezuela. Although we are religious, we are not that strong on that term. We’re a bit more loose. And I remember this guy having difficulties getting orders from females, for example. I remember this guy having difficult times with you know, everyone mixing together like women and men all together in the same room.

Leonardo Gil (15:02):
That was a mistake from the company, that’s my point of view. That was a mistake from the company. They shouldn’t have transferred team to that location to Venezuela. So again, back to the question, it’s tough, it’s difficult. You always wish to learn about the other cultures, like in the best possible way, but there’s always this potential times, this potential, you know, hard times and mishaps like that guy had on that occasion. It didn’t work out well. The guy couldn’t stand in the company, the company probably lost money, I’m not quite sure. But it’s really expensive to transfer someone from one country to another. So yeah, I would say that learning from another culture, again, I always try to do it like in the best way. So the other person and I feel comfortable talking and learning about each other, but it doesn’t always happen.

Janina Neumann (16:23):
Yeah, that’s a really interesting story. And I’ll just give you some background information before I go into detail about what my perceptions are. So I’m actually working on a project here in the UK, basically as an intercultural management trainer helping volunteers who work with refugees. And typically the refugees would come from Africa or from the Middle East. And one of the things that we’re exploring and looking at is actually about how the host country, so the UK, actually interacts with the newcomers. So I’m actually thinking, you know, could there have been an opportunity from the company to actually understand more where he was coming from? Because I think, you know, as individuals, like you and me, we can adapt, we can understand each other and, you know, perhaps he needed kind of some more guidance about how things worked, whereas perhaps, you know, the company didn’t really see that, you know, there might be other ways of doing things.

Janina Neumann (17:34):
So there could have been an opportunity for him to really grow, but obviously, I’m not involved in that situation. But that’s one of the things that I found is to have that understanding that that person’s also kind of on a cultural journey. So I found that really interesting that you mentioned that, and also, you know, it shows some of the challenges that occur because obviously in the Middle East, I can see how, you know, they link really well into the oil and gas industry as well.

Leonardo Gil (18:08):
Yeah, well, there are too many layers in that particular case. I think it was on both sides. The company not being mindful enough to say, okay, we need to give him guidance so he can adapt quickly or to the best. And this person was not opened to our culture.

Janina Neumann (18:39):
Yeah.

Leonardo Gil (18:39):
So again, it was on both sides. It was a mishap from the company and it was not particularly good behaviour from that person. Like I’ll give you the other side of the story or another story that happened just at the same time. It was another person from Middle East, another country, but he adapted so good to our country and to our culture. And to the things that we like, to the way we speak, the way we treat people, it was the same religion, it was another country, but at the end, same religion, same culture, same language. And this other person, person B, is going like that. He adapted like extremely well. So again, back to person A, it was two entities making mistake. For one, the company and to the other end him, himself not wanting to adapt to another culture. Here is what I said about being mindful comes into play. Like if you’re not mindful enough then things like that could happen. Like, I don’t want to adapt, I don’t want to adapt, I don’t want to adapt, regardless of what other people do or what the company does or whatever. You’re not going to adapt because you’re not willing to, you’re not open to.

Janina Neumann (20:25):
Yes. I think that’s fantastic that you also have that example to demonstrate for yourself. Actually, you know, there’s a newer model and it’s called, you know, the stress and coping phases of a cultural journey. So it’s four stages and you can go in and out of them all the time and, you know, it’s really interesting because you might have the excitement stage. So everything is new and exciting. You have the deeper confrontation stage, questioning values and beliefs. Then you have the adjustment phase, accepting and learning. But then also you have the frustration phase. So the annoyance with everyday differences. People don’t really understand sometimes that you could go in and out of these phases and that’s perfectly normal. And, you know, the person who is more receptive about the culture might be in a different phase. So it’s actually understanding which phase they’re in so that you can actually use a strategy, for example, learning and supporting strategy where you actually think about both cultures and that’s kind of the form of integrating them as well. And I think one of the things that really ties them together perhaps is that company culture. So it’s really important to, you know, know what the company stands for, but it’s such a good conversation and could go on for ages with you.

Leonardo Gil (21:52):
It can. Yeah, I know.

Janina Neumann (21:56):
It’s fantastic.

So tell us about Broaden Based Projects. How did that evolve?

Leonardo Gil (22:03):
The storyline would be back in 2020, me and my wife started a business virtual assistance business. It resulted that our main client, first client and main client, he owns a cryptocurrency company back in Peru. So he wanted to make, it was kind of a market research, but he wanted to understand what he needed to to do to establish his company here in the UK because he wanted to expand. He knew that expanding to the UK, having an cryptocurrency or a fintech company was the best option, so he wanted to know the ins and outs of establishing a business here in the UK. So we started working with him, we did the report in a strategic report. He was really happy with it. And it ended just there.

Leonardo Gil (23:20):
A few months later we joined a business coaching programme and basically our business coach just, you know, making the questions, just got to a point of decision, like, “Look, what you did there is really good. Why don’t you pivot from you being a virtual assistant to be in an international business consultancy based on different things?” Like our cultural background, our professional background, our professional experience, international professional experience at that time, and the job that we did for that guy. Because it wasn’t only the market research. We did quite a few good things for him. Mainly the strategic planning of moving to the UK and establishing the company into the UK. And so we did a very sound and thorough strategic planning to expanding internationally or expand his business internationally.

Leonardo Gil (24:40):
And so again, our business coach just proposed to go to being an international business consultancy, and then we said, “Okay, this is a good time to pivot to make that decision”. So we did it by the end of 2020, and that’s how Broaden Base was born. So now we are not virtual assistants anymore, we are an international business consultancy. So the main thing that we try to do here in Broaden Base is give a peace of mind to overseas companies, specifically companies or Latin American companies give them peace of mind when they are expanding internationally. So it’s not an easy process. It could be very long, very complicated, and if it’s not done properly, then the consequences could be catastrophic both in terms of time and money. So we offer our services, support services, to guide them through the complete process. So from start to having a soft landing in the UK and then from there, the company’s theirs and they grow it the way they want.

Janina Neumann (26:11):
How cool is that you know, bringing in together you know, all your cultural experience, but then also, you know, you have the systems in place from the VA business, and then you have, you know, your Master’s there in project management and you’re working as a team, which is fantastic. And I’d just be keen to know, you know for Latin American companies, what attracts them to expanding into the UK?

Leonardo Gil (26:41):
Although Latin America is really extensive, it’s a big, big market, it’s only a billion people market, differences between countries in Latin America can be really, really hard to go in. Moving country to country in Latin America is not very, it’s not quite easy. Although we speak the same language, have the same religion and everything. It is not that simple. The other thing, you know, weighing in, is the economic and political stability. It’s not a very stable region in terms of social, economical, politics, or issues related issues. UK on the other hand, offers big stability, offers funding opportunity, money opportunity, and offers a legal and commercial base or ground in which Latin American companies can establish and prosper. Grow in a very large region like Europe. I mean, UK can be your entry to Europe and if you decide to stay only in the UK, you have the fifth largest economy in the world, which is easy to say, but it’s really, really big. The opportunities that Latin American companies have here in the UK are endless. So if they have a product, which usually happens, that is well wanted here in the UK, I mean, they have huge, huge potentials here to grow and prosper here in the UK.

Janina Neumann (28:56):
Wow, that sounds so cool.

And what are some of the signs that a company is ready to explore the UK market for those listening?

Leonardo Gil (29:05):
It would be a case, a specific, like particular to each company. But yeah some of the signs are those, I would say the biggest one is just the that the current market or your own market, you already outgrown it. So your company or you’re selling, there’s no way to grow bigger in your market, so you need somewhere to expand. That would be the best, I would say that, yeah, the best indication. Like in the case of our customer, there with the cryptocurrency, fintech company in Peru, was that he knows the importance of UK in terms of fintech and opportunities for fintech company, so he wanted to go here before the competition. So that would be another indication, like what your competition is doing and where you can be better than your competition.

Leonardo Gil (30:22):
And the other, the third indicator would be if the market wants or needs your product. As you say, one of the things to find it out is if you’re having a lot of traffic from the UK to your website, for example, then that’s an indicator of, okay, there’s something here. What about the same products from another company here in the UK and how well or bad they perform here. Again going back to the example of the fintech, it’s heaven-like for fintech companies here in the UK. So that would be a good indicator. So yeah, I would say those, outgrowing your market, your existing market, and wanted to expand to a bigger one where you have more opportunities, outgrowing your competitor or your competition. Being first to get to another market. Fundings opportunities and selling opportunities the market is ready. If your new target market is ready for your product yes or no.

Janina Neumann (31:41):
Well, thank you so much for sharing those.

And if people loved listening to you, Leo, how can they connect and work with you?

Leonardo Gil (31:50):
I think it would be through LinkedIn. That’s the social media or that’s what I use and what Broaden Base is using to communicate. So you can go to my profile and yeah, interact with me there. LinkedIn, that’s where I spend most of the time.

Janina Neumann (32:12):
Fantastic. Ah, Leo, it’s been so good talking to you. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me today and sharing your insights. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Leonardo Gil (32:21):
Thank you for having me, Janina. I also enjoyed a lot.

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