Lara Bezerra (48) is an unlikely leader. The Mumbai-based chief purpose officer at Roche Pharma India believes in hugging her colleagues after meetings, occasionally teaches them yoga, and gets upset if they don’t leave the workplace on time. Her cabin doesn’t have doors, but it does have a swing. She dreams of a world where workplaces have no hierarchies. It is evident Bezerra loves her people with fierce pride.

Unlike most expats, Bezerra didn’t take long to acclimatize to India and its ways despite having worked in Venezuela, Mexico, Portugal, Germany, Hungary and of course, Brazil, her home country. “There are a lot of things common between India and Brazil; I feel very much at home here," she says. “The people in both places have great diversity and love getting together to do something more." Home, to Bezerra, is also any place that has her family–her husband, and three children aged 14, 12 and 10–living with her.

‘Ikigai’ and the Indian workplace

Bezerra expected the Indian workplace to be a competitive space, and she wasn’t far off the mark. However, she was pleasantly surprised at how people here love to learn. “The average intellect here is very high; everyone learns quickly and adapts."

She also believes in infusing spirituality in the workplace. “My way of working also involves looking after my people’s spiritual growth. I believe in the Japanese concept of Ikigai, where you can make the extraordinary happen just by working for something you are good at and are passionate about," she explains.

One thing Bezerra believes all working Indians should do is to “bring their whole selves" to work. How does one ensure that? “Despite the competition and the pressure to study well, parents here also instil a sense of doing something good for the community in their children," she says.

The sense of belonging and giving back is a goodness within most Indians, and Bezerra wishes more people recognized it in themselves.

In fact, one of the first things she did at Roche Pharma India was to make her team undergo a “purpose exercise". They had to answer a difficult question: “Does the purpose of your life align with the vision of the company?" She believes if people can marry the two, Indian employees will be able to achieve much more.

Great expectations

Bezerra expected India to be like the other countries she’d worked in before she moved here. “I thought it has three to four languages and the rest will pretty much be the same as any other place. I assumed everyone speaks English or Hindi and it will all be easy to understand," she laughs.

She remembers the first time she introduced herself to her colleagues in a town hall meeting. “I normally do this with hug therapy. I was warned that ‘hugging isn’t a tradition in India, but go ahead if you like’. I did, and now we hug after all meetings and town halls!"

It happens only in India

Bezerra practices yoga and meditation, and occasionally teaches her colleagues yoga. “It’s quite funny, isn’t it?" she asks, amused at the idea of an expat taking a class on an ancient Indian physical and spiritual practice, in India.

When asked what other innately Indian experiences she has had so far, Bezerra says, “I went for vipassana in Mumbai itself. We give our people paid leave if they want to go on a meditation retreat."

The spiritually inclined-Bezerra has read the Upanishads, too. A recent family trip to the Elephanta Caves had her feeling overwhelmed by the sheer historical and cultural significance of the place.

One thing she wishes Indians wouldn’t do was manifest respect towards authority in the form of Sirji and Madam, and standing up to open doors for bosses and seniors.

However, Bezerra has come up with an innovative way to wean her colleagues of these habits. “We fine people 100 and collect the money in a jar!" she says with a laugh.

Stereotypes and the lack of them

Bezerra didn’t have to bust too many stereotypes about Brazil here. On the contrary, she was surprised about how much her colleagues already knew about her home country, particularly about carnivals and football. “In fact, I was surprised how much they knew about the Amazon, and I can definitely say they know more than I do!" she says. So, will she extend her stay in India when it is time to review the contract? “Definitely," she says. “However, if and when it is time to leave the country, I want people to believe that I added a little something to their lives. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense, does it?"

Expat Speak asks foreign nationals living in India what clicks and what irks them about the work culture of the country.

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