On Foreign Language and Culture

Showing hello: 15 ways people greet each other around the world

Thai-waiA tourist meets a local farmer in Chiang Mai, Thailand, offering a traditional “wai” greeting.  IMAGE: HUGH SITTON/CORBIS

There are a number of ways to say hello around the world, and just as many ways to show them.  These traditional greetings, ranging from region to region, have developed into cultural norms — often to show respect. Take a peek at this helpful infographic made by Two Little Fleas, showing us the different ways people from all over the globe greet one another. And if you’re planning a trip anytime soon, take notes so you’re not lost in translation.

Greetings

IMAGE: WWW.TWOLITTLEFLEAS.CO.UK

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KISSometrics.com

A few months ago, Gal Nissani published an article about converting yourinternational audience. The article makes the point that translation is the most important step you can take to attract potential clients. Translation also makes browsing your website more convenient for visitors.

I would like to go further and explain how to drive traffic from foreign markets to your website, depending on whether your website is solely in English, already has translated content, or is available in different languages with ccTLDs. You can drive traffic from foreign markets through simple steps of adaptation and marketing as a native, with a little help from social media.

1. English Websites

First, we will see how to drive traffic to your English website when you go international. The first thing you have to do is determine where you want to increase your traffic from. You should not pick a country based on a personal preference.

Instead, you should choose the right country based on the results of a market study. Indeed, English will not get you anywhere. But if you are planning on keeping your website solely in English (assuming you are based in the United States), you will have more chance to drive traffic from other English-speaking countries and other countries open to the Anglo-Saxon culture.

Find the Right Country with Google Analytics

Unfortunately, market studies take time and require a lot of work. A first step, though, could be taking a look at your Google Analytics reports and considering countries with significant percentages of traffic.

When targeting English-speaking countries, you should look at places such as Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. For countries open to the Anglo-Saxon culture and language, you should look at countries such as Sweden or Norway. People in the northern part of Europe and Scandinavia learn English at an early age, and their languages are mostly Germanic.

Let’s imagine that the following is a country report from Google Analytics for your website. You can clearly see that European countries, India, and Oceania bring many visits to your website. This could be a big opportunity for you. To drive even more traffic from this market, you should focus your marketing efforts on these countries.

world map off traffic

Offer These Countries a Little Translation

So, now that you have picked a country based on your Google Analytics report, it’s time to take some action on your website. As explained earlier, these countries are either Anglo-Saxon or welcoming of English.

Let’s assume you picked a country like Sweden. According to the European Commission’s Eurobarometer of 2012, 86% of Swedes speak English so they won’t have any problem browsing your website. But, wouldn’t it be nice and convenient to offer your content in their language? They sure would appreciate it.

Action #1: Add the Google Translate bar to your site. The Google Translate bar and widget offer translation in 60 languages. It’s easy to add to your code and visitors can choose to translate your site to their convenience. To add the widget to your site, head to Google Translate. Note that you can monitor your widget’s statistics with Google Analytics.

But, isn’t it a little intrusive? Yes and no: the widget appears only when required, and if the user’s browser is in English, it will not suggest any translation. You also can limit the widget to the few languages you are targeting so it does not get too crowded. Also, it does not alter any links.

Action #2: Make yourself available to foreign users. There are several ways to make yourself more available to your foreign audience. First, if you are using a live chat, activate the translation feature. It will benefit both the visitor and yourself. They can write in their mother tongue, and you can write in English; both will be translated. Services such as Zopim (now part of Zendesk) offer automatic translation and detect the user language.

zopim chat

Adapt Your Product

If your website is converting only on the American market, it may be because your product is not entirely suiting the destination country. A solution to this issue would be to adapt to the local culture.

A classic example of product adaptation is the establishment of McDonald’s in India where cattle are considered sacred to the 80.5% Hindu population. Beef and pork are nowhere to be found in their diets; therefore, it is unthinkable to serve a Big Mac. So, if you would like to sample the local cuisine there, try an authentic Chicken Maharaja Mac.

3-big-mac

Chances are you’re not running a fast-food empire. But, for example, let’s say you run a fashion website. You may want to cater warmer weather clothes to your Indian audience, instead of bombarding them with winter fashion. Perhaps, testing and tailoring your experience by country could offer big wins.

2. Websites with Translated Content

Now, let’s assume your website already has some translated pages and content. This section is also for those of you who have a website where you can switch languages from the menu thanks to translated content. Taking the time to translate your content is a great first step! Let’s see how you can drive international traffic to your site with social media features.

Translate on Social Media

There are many ways to get your content translated on social media so that it reaches out to foreign audiences. You can, of course, use services such as Google or Bing Translation to share your messages in different languages.

If you are highly active on social media, I have good news for you. Facebook and Twitter offer automatic translation based on the user’s browser language. This service, coupled with Bing Translation, does not require anything from you, and it will automatically offer users the ability to translate your content.

obama on facebook

le monde tweet

Use Linguistics Options to Reach Your Target

As Gal Nissani explained in her KISSmetrics blog post, translating your website (or at least the main pages) lifts a huge barrier to potential customers. As the Harvard Business Review article quoted in the post stated, 72% of users spend most of their time on websites in their native language.

If you want to reach your target through social media and do not have time to manage several language-focused accounts, use Facebook. With Facebook’s PowerEditor, you can choose the language and country where you’d like your post to appear.

To do this, go to Facebook’s Power Editor, select your Facebook Page, and create a new unpublished post. You can choose to publish a link, a picture, or a video, just like you would from the regular posting box on your Page. Select “This post will be published on the Page.” Then, the languages and location options will become available.

Thanks to this trick, your posts will be available only to the country and language you have selected.

create unpublished page post

Go International with SEO

As Gal Nissani explained in her article, there are some SEO aspects to consider. You do not necessarily have to set up a new domain name to be a “native” in the markets you are targeting. But, a subdomain or a new directory should be considered. Make sure you also are adding value to your content with the right keywords strategy.

6 essential seo tips for international marketing

3. Websites Available in Different Languages with ccTLDs

This last section is for those of you who have a website available in different languages and want to go further to drive international traffic.

Be Local

If you are planning on doing social media in another country, it is possible that what we consider “classic social media platforms” (such as Facebook and Twitter) are not available in the market you are targeting. If we take the example of China, Facebook was banned in 2009. Another example could be the current situation of Turkey and YouTube.

Working around a censorship problem is not the only reason to consider expanding your strategy to local social networks. As obvious as it sounds, choosing a local social network will allow you to market your brand exactly where your target is. Here is a list of social networks to consider according to the targeted countries:

  • Xing: Germany’s social network for professionals
  • Viadeo: France’s social network for professionals
  • Weibo: China’s Facebook
  • Orkut: widely used in Brazil
  • VK: widely used in Russia

Use Language-focused Accounts

With social media, you can easily reach people all over the world, including the markets you are targeting. People spend hours on social networks, and that presents an opportunity to create a great community to drive traffic to your website. From a social point of view, you should offer your services in the desired language to reach the market and the customers you are targeting.

Take the example of Kaspersky Labs and their community management strategy. Their Facebook pages are available in several languages, so each community manager serves and understands their community around the same product, in different languages.

why cybercriminals target smartphones

Learn more about Kaspersky’s social media efforts and how it helped the companyengage social media communities in foreign countries.

Study the Culture: Go beyond Translation and Social Media

Marketing abroad cannot be generalized throughout the world. Each country is specific. As research by Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars, and Edward T. Hallshow, there are several aspects of culture you have to understand before doing business with a foreign market. These cross-cultural aspects of management can also be applied to the way you do marketing abroad. Hofstede explains there are two sides of a culture. Like an iceberg, there is the part you see, the obvious, above the water, and then there is the part you don’t see, the deeper unconscious beliefs, under the water.

visible and invisible parts of culture

This is why a simple translation won’t do the trick. So, if you want to drive traffic from foreign markets, you definitely should “be there” beside your potential customers. Understand their core beliefs.

If you are looking to raise awareness of your product in Spain, for example, in addition to translating your content to Spanish, you should promote your product through blog posts to be published on well-known Spanish blogs, just like a Spanish copywriter would do.

If you would like to drive organic traffic from foreign markets without the use of advertising, I strongly recommend blogging. Blogging gives you the opportunity to naturally drive traffic through content. As mentioned earlier, you should post your content on well-known local blogs, and foreign traffic will naturally come to your website.

Know Your Competitors

Competition is everywhere and the entry barrier is especially high for a foreign company trying to establish a reputation in another country to drive traffic. Michael Porter’s 5 forces model is made of:

  • Threat of new entrants
  • Bargaining power of buyers
  • Bargaining power of suppliers
  • Threat of substitute products/services
  • Rivalry among existing firms

potential entrants

When you look at the market you are trying to drive traffic from, consider yourself a new (foreign) entrant trying to get established among the rivalry of existing local firms. Now, you understand why the competition is going to be especially tough for you, the foreign company.

Therefore, to drive traffic from a foreign market, the solution is to not only market there “as a native,” but to become a native yourself. Promoting your business through channels like social media, SEO, and content is the greatest way to actually “be there.”

Conclusion: When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do

Just like any strategy, driving traffic from foreign markets takes time. It requires a lot of work and research, from the translation of your website to the SEO aspects. To implement your strategy through content and social media, you should take time to build your strategy and brand image.

What is important to remember is that whatever state your website is in, you can easily drive traffic from foreign markets. Work through each step. First, choose wisely what country you should go to. Then, adapt your marketing strategy to the targeted market. Keep in mind that it involves much more than language and translation. And, make sure you have diversified sources of traffic driving foreign visitors. To do so, reach out through social media. The more localized your strategy is, the better.

Driving traffic from foreign markets requires a lot of work, but when you adopt the right strategy, you can expect impressive results. Remember, the key factor to multicultural sources of traffic is do not market from your home country as an American adapting to the targeted culture, but instead become “a native” and actually be there!

About the Author: Anji ISMAIL is CEO and co-founder at DOZ, a marketing platform that helps websites to grow their traffic by organizing the work of vetted marketers around the world. DOZ’s campaigns are focusing on Search Engines, Social Media and Content; and have a unique Cost Per Click model.

A Global Travel Guide to Dining Etiquette

If you are what you eat, you are also how you eat.

BY JEFF HADEN @JEFF_HADEN, INC.com

Let’s say you’re dining with clients in Portugal. Did you know it’s considered an insult to the chef if you ask for salt and pepper to season your food?

Me either.Or, say, you’re dining with clients in India. Did you know eating with your left hand is considered to be unclean?  Me either.

To make sure you adapt your manners to those of the country you travel to next, here’s a cool infographic from The Restaurant Choice. Check it out … and make sure that, when you’re in Thailand, you only use your fork to push food onto your spoon!

http://www.restaurantchoice.co.uk/blog/2014/03/17/dining-etiquette-around-world

Here’s How People Define Financial Success Around The World

JULIE ZEVELOFF, Business Insider 

In a recent survey of affluent people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Mastercard found that people’s definitions of success varied widely depending on where they were from.

The survey looked at affluent people in the region, who are, on average, age 37, have one young child, and have investible assets of at least $200,000. The affluent population is growing quickly in the region, which is expected to be home to 70% of the world’s affluent by 2017.

Mastercard found that overall, in addition to finding satisfaction in buying and owning luxury goods, affluent people in the region view “wealth as the catalyst to experience the world.”

There are, however, some variations by country, as detailed in the map below:

image Mastercard
More and more, affluent individuals in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are placing value in experiences over things. 30% of the survey’s 1,000 respondents rated international travel as their most desired experience, followed by culinary experiences (23%) and golf (12%).

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-people-view-success-around-the-world-2014-5#ixzz33Hhuzpa6

10 ways shopping at Wal-Mart in China is completely different from how it is in the US

Wal-Mart just recalled donkey meat in China because it contained meat from other animals, including fox.

Despite the recent scandal, the mega-retailer has become wildly popular in China. Wal-Mart plans to open 110 additional stores there in the next few years.

Shopping at a Chinese Wal-Mart is totally different from shopping in one in the U.S.

We highlighted some notable contrasts.

1. People pick up raw meat to buy with their bare hands. 

Reuters captured this image of customers selecting pieces of rabbit meat with their bare hands at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the Chongqing municipality.

BI 1Photo: Reuters

2. The crowds are way worse. 

Reuters shows an insane stampede at a newly-opened Shanghai location. Travel writer Catherine Bodry says that Chinese Wal-Marts are uncomfortably crowded inside, with no room for personal space.

BI 2Photo: Reuters

3. You can catch your own frogs, fish, and turtles. 

American YouTube user ILuvTrading was a little creeped out by the open tanks. He also notes that they smell bad.

BI 3Photo: Wikimedia Commons

4. You don’t buy in bulk. 

Most Chinese shoppers don’t have space at home to store massive quantities of food, so Wal-Mart offers smaller quantities there.

BI 4Photo: Wikimedia Commons

5. Wal-Mart offers free bus rides for shoppers. 

YouTube user SurfDawg5 highlights how Wal-Mart makes it easy for shoppers to get to the store.

BI 5Photo: YouTube

6. You can buy alligator meat.

There are other exotic reptiles available if you prefer lizards.

BI 6Photo: Wikimedia Commons

7. LCD screens advertise the products in every aisle. 

These advertisements can change with the displays.

BI 7Photo: PRNewswire

8. Rice is sold in giant, open vats. 

Customers just scoop their quantity into a bag, similar to produce in America.

BI 8Photo: Wootang01 on Flickr

9. There are luxury candy sections. 

Flickr user David Thiel was surprised at the impressive selection when he visited a store in Shanghai.

BI 9Photo: David Thlel on Flickr

10. Foods are mostly kept in the open instead of being packaged. 

“The Chinese are more focused on eating natural-looking food straight from a farm,” Brian Sozzi, chief equities strategist at Belus Capital, told us. “It doesn’t make sense to necessarily package a piece of steak at a Wal-Mart China.”

BI 10Photo: JKSolomon on Flickr

5 Unique Customs Around the World

Latitude34's picture

The world is the best classroom, and whether you travel a couple hours from home or 1,000’s of miles, you’re bound to learn something new along the way. One of the more interesting things about travel is that is teaches us all about the different cultures around the world and how they differ from our own.

Customs differ greatly from country to country and some are more unique than others. There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing a custom in another country and unintentionally offending the local people. So sit back, whip out a pen and paper (or an iPad) and remember these 5 unique customs from around the world the next time you are traveling!

5 unique customs around the world

1) Never touch someone’s head in Thailand

In Buddhist culture, it is considered extremely disrespectful to touch someone’s head, as it is considered the most holy place of the human body. if you brush by someone’s head or accidentally touch their hair, apologize to them. It is often an unconscious thought to reach out and touch the head of a child, but watch yourself in Thailand. Outside of the major cities, you will even sometimes be asked by a hairdresser if they can touch your head while cutting your hair. So watch out and hands off!

2) Don’t give flowers as a gift in China

In China, flowers are a sign of death and traditionally only brought to funerals. While we would hope any fiance would warn you before showing up to meet their parents with a bouquet of flowers, think twice before you buy those roses. And if you are heading to a business meeting, while it is customary to bring a gift, don’t dare bring flowers as it will be a sign that any business deal is doomed from the start.

5 Unique Customs Around the World

3) Always drink the Vodka in Russia

Russia is known for drinking vodka, and while it might inspire some parties and mayhem, there is an order to the madness. First of all, never turn down a drink. Sure it might be 8 in the morning, and you might have thought you were going to have a productive day, but if someone offers you a drink, you take it. Sipping is not allowed either, so bottoms up!

4) Eat with your Right in India

Being left handed, I have struggled with this one every time in India. Since it is customary to eat with your hands in India, the hand you use to eat must always be kept separate from your “bathroom” hand. Even if you are eating in restaurants where you are offered utensils, it is still polite to only use your right hand to eat. While I can’t say I always remembered to do this, don’t be surprised at the stares you will get on the street if you are walking around eating anything with your left hand!

5 Unique Customs Around the World

5) Always remove your shoes in Japan

While taking your shoes off when you enter a house seems like a practical practice to many and a cleanliness issue to others, it really goes much further than that in many Asian cultures, especially in Japan. Entering a house without taking your shoes off in Japan is simply downright disrespectful. In Japan, it is considered an honor to be invited to someone’s home, and you should respect that as much as you can. Even a modest home or lower class family will remove their shoes and all provide uwabaki (slippers) for guests to wear inside the house. But keep your socks on, as going barefoot can be considered rude in some formal situations as well.

So there you have it, from Asia to India and Russia, make sure to keep these local customs in mind the next time you hit the road – and remember to always ask a local for any advice on local customs so you can make sure not to embarrass yourself to much along the road!

Jeff Johns and Marina Dominguez are the co-founders of Latitude 34 Travel Blog, and the Adventure Travel Editors for Wandering Educators. Through 65 countries on 6 continents they have accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Their goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before they are too senile to remember them all.

Both graduates of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, their true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food, and a good laugh.

Together they run Latitude 34 as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it.

All photos courtesy and copyright Latitude 34

Starting A Business In Asia: What NOT To Do

Singapore

I decided to move to Asia in 2008. At the time I had been working as a futures broker in Chicago’s financial district. It was the dead of January and the tropical screen saver on my desk was not quite cutting it. I needed change. Fast-forward 5 years and I am now living in-between Singapore and Hong Kong, where I have started two companies, a luxury brand for bottled tea as well as my own clothing line. When I first moved to Asia, I did not know a single person nor did I have a clue what I was going to do professionally. Thinking back I wished I had some tips that would have better prepared me for my journey. Some things did not quite work out as planned and others worked out better than I could ever imagine. I am learning everyday but what I can share with you is what NOT to do when staring a business in Asia.

Sell Hard

I am sure you watched the movie Boiler Room, or perhaps Glengarry Glen Ross. When working at the Chicago Board of Trade these were practically our training videos. I was always good at sales; however, I failed miserably for the first 6 months as a Financial Consultant in Asia. What was I doing wrong? Hard selling! Asians are particularly weary of sales people. They are more relationship driven as opposed to price driven; meaning they would rather buy from a friend at a higher price than the guy down the street they do not know at a discount.

I had to change my entire approach to gain new clients and as a result I became a master networker. I began to make contacts with people that could benefit from my services and constantly asked for referrals. I formed relationships with “introducers”, people that could connect me to my target consumer. I learned golf (I am still not a fan) and even purchased some club memberships. In order to be successful in business you have to think like your consumer.

Go Big-Go Fast

This phrase should be changed to ‘Be Strategic’. Asia is indeed a continent but that does not mean you can have a one-size fits all marketing plan for your business. For example, some of the biggest brands have failed in China thinking can tackle the whole of the market by dumping tons of cash into aggressive marketing campaigns. Groupon, Google, Ebay, Mattel, Auntie Ann’s Pretzles and Home Depot, being a few examples. Ebay even said they had planned to corner the China market in 3 months. This to me is like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping it sticks. China has more than 1.351 billion people speaking over 2,000 dialects; it has 22 provinces and is 3.748 million square miles in size. That is huge market and way too diverse to stick into one bucket. Many companies fail to realize that what worked at home may not work in Asia. In Southeast Asia, for example, the Chinese community thinks differently than Chinese people from China…and then it breaks down further, Chinese people from Hong Kong think and behave differently from mainland Chinese and so on. A tailored segmented approach is the best route when it comes to marketing in Asia.

Thinking Yes means Yes

In Asia ‘yes’ often times means ‘no’. They are simply too polite to blow you off. This was one of the major issues I had when starting my business: knowing when to cut the cord and try for another customer, account or relationship. Often times Asian people will say, “Call me later”, “Sounds interesting,” or “Sure lets talk about it sometime”. You have to learn to pick up on the subtle clues as what they are really saying…No.

A separate example of this would be in China. I have a beverage company there as well as a clothing line and in the beginning it was quite difficult to find a factory. Every single person I spoke with said, “Yes, I can meet your requirements, please don’t worry”…Months later only to find that they had no idea how to manufacture my goods. I suggest that if you are manufacturing anything in China, you must go there physically to with meet them and to check out the facility. Email, Skype and phone calls are not the way to do business in Asia. Negotiations must be handled in person. After all your company is a long-term venture so it makes sense that your business relationships are long-term as well.

Lose Face

Face is complicated but lets discuss. I would like to think that ‘face’ in Asia is a measure of publicly reflecting your success or failure. According to Wikipedia, “Face is a sense of worth that comes from knowing one’s status and reflects concern with the congruency between one’s performance or appearance and one’s real worth.” In summary, to ‘have face’ equates a level of social respect but to ‘lose face’ can cause much embarrassment.

During my banking days, I remember my boss ‘calling out’ my colleague on a mistake she made in front of everyone…a prime example of losing face. Never do this, always pull them aside and handle it professionally. Even if you are the president, head janitor, whatever, never let someone lose face in public. You will embarrass them and they will think you are a jerk for all of eternity.

I would like to add that “face” is the impetus for the explosion in the luxury goods sector within Asia. If only Groupon has read this article before entering the China market. Who knows, perhaps they would have fared better selling discounted luxury items. Can you imagine a Chinese person bragging at the country club about the $20 bucks they saved on baby diapers? Probably not, but you can bet that they will be showing off their brand new Cartier watch and Lambo.

Wrong Partner

Relationships or “guanxi” is the center of the Asian business model. It brings credence to the cliché, its not what you know but who you know. However, knowing the right people can result in the success or the failure of your business. Gwen Penner wrote it perfectly in her book, “Its all Chinese to Me: an overview of culture & etiquette in China”

“Guanxi refers to the benefits gained from social connections and usually extends from extended family, school friends, workmates and members of common clubs or organizations. It is custom for Chinese people to cultivate an intricate web of guanxi relationships, which may expand in a huge number of directions, and includes lifelong relationships.”

One company that has truly embraced guanxi over the years is Amway. If you’re not familiar, Amway is an American multi-level marketing company that sells a variety of products. They entered China in 1995 and a few years later almost closed up shop after the government enacted a ban on all direct selling companies. Amway, did not give up they only changed their strategy to network through retail stores in which their products were promoted by an independent sales force. China introduced new direct selling laws in 2005 and Amway was the first to get their license. Today they have reported 180,000 sales representatives, 140 stores and USD $2 billion in annual sales. That’s an impressive comeback all thanks to Guangxi.

Adria Dunn is the Founder and CEO of 108 Tea, a luxury bottled tea soon to be released in the China market, as well as Acchara Clothing. Adria can be found on Facebook or on Twitter @adrialdunn. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Read more at http://under30ceo.com/starting-business-asia/#aJsJsz3AEpI7k5Zk.99
‘WE ALL SPEAK ENGLISH

And other myths about doing business in India

[By Kishore Dash GlobalTrade.com]

Big-Idea-Lead-(new)

When business leaders worried about globalization aren’t following developments in China, conversations usually turn to India. Collectively the two countries account for about one in three people on the planet. Despite India’s size, common misperceptions persist about the business environment. Here are four myths that could derail any market entry strategy:

MYTH 1

One India awaits

People who talk about doing business in India, as if the country were one massive market, already have committed the first blunder. The country is big and the landscape diverse. What works in Mumbai does not always work in Bangalore or Kanpur.

Dietary habits, income levels, consumer exposure and preferences, languages, customs, infrastructure and government policies vary widely. Even Hinduism, a unifying force across India, changes regionally because some gods and goddesses and religious practices and rituals are more popular in some locations than others.

Instead of adopting a “one India” strategy, companies that succeed often target specific regions. Many of India’s 28 states merit the same treatment that companies give to sovereign nations elsewhere. Uttar Pradesh has a population that almost matches Brazil. Maharashtra is nearly the size of Mexico, and West Bengal is larger than Argentina and most European countries.

Unlike the trend toward centralized power in the United States, Indian states have gained increased autonomy in recent decades. In many ways the Indian market is more like the European Union, which shares a single currency among 27 members.

Global companies understand the differences between Germany and Greece. They also need to pay attention to the differences between Gujarat and West Bengal.

MYTH 2

Indians speak English

Indians appreciate at least three holdovers from British rule. One is cricket, another is railways, and the third is English.

The imperial language opens doors for educated Indians across the Western world and within their own country, a subcontinent with 22 languages and dozens of dialects. Every 500 kilometers, the local language changes. This means when Indians from New Delhi do business with their counterparts from Chennai or other domestic markets, conversations occur in English.

UNEASY RIDERS Most middle-class commuters rely on public transit, or ride scooters or motorcycles.

The problem is, most Indians don’t really speak English. Those who are educated speak a brand of the language that locals call “Inglish.” Regional accents can be strong, which may cause some problems for British and American visitors.

The rest of India—about 90 percent of the population—speaks little or no Inglish. The deciding factor is usually education, not income level, which creates challenges for Western marketers trying to target specific demographics. Some middle-class families do not speak Inglish, while some working-class families do.

No matter how poor they are, nearly all Indian parents want their children educated in English. This means the percentage of Inglish speakers will increase as the Indian economy emerges, removing barriers for Western companies.

In the meantime, marketers selling anything at the base or even middle of the economic pyramid will need to consider local language strategies.

MYTH 3

Engineers abound

India graduates more than 500,000 engineers each year, dwarfing the numbers anywhere else in the world except China. Some Western companies see these statistics and drool. They assume they can open their technology centers in India and find cheap professionals ready to lead complex projects. Unfortunately, these companies don’t know about India’s talent paradox.

Although India has a handful of top-tier engineering schools, most of the country’s technical institutes produce graduates who are not market-ready. The problem is compounded when the best homegrown engineers leave India to work in the United States or Europe.

That leaves technology companies scrambling for Indian talent. They can hire local engineers, but when they do they should plan to provide six months to one year of additional training.

MYTH 4

Purchasing-power parity

Another deceptive statistic involves the size of India’s middle class, which is expanding rapidly as the country sustains 7 percent to 8 percent GDP growth. Some estimates put the number of middle-class Indians at about 300 million—about equal to the population of the U.S.

Such a massive market might exist for companies selling sandals or watches in India. But as Mercedes-Benz discovered in the 1990s, opportunities are more limited for companies selling high-end products.

This is because middle-class Indians do not have the same purchasing power as their counterparts in the United States or Europe. An annual income of $20,000 might be enough to lift an Indian family into the middle class—a lower threshold than the West. Indian consumers also have different preferences and values.

So how big is the Indian middle class really? It depends on the industry.

The cellphone market tops 900 million, the second largest in the world behind China. The television market is 150 million and growing fast. Indian families love television and will sacrifice to buy a quality home entertainment system before other high-end products because of the status that comes with the purchase.

Meanwhile, the automobile market might be closer to 15 million. Most middle-class commuters rely instead on public transportation or ride scooters or motorcycles.

Brand, status and quality matter in India. But so does price. Middle-class Indians do not part easily with their money, and Western market pricing levels don’t always work. Companies that succeed find ways to adapt.

Kishore Dash, Ph.D., is an associate professor of global studies at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona.

The Global Economy In 17 Beautiful Maps

The global economic ecosystem is an intricate machine with thousands of moving parts.Luckily, we found Countrylicious, an outstanding project by Romanian software engineer Daniel Chirita.The site has reams of data collected from open sources about our planet’s economy, and Chirita was kind enough to let us publish some. In the case that the data wasn’t already made into a shaded map, we took his information mad made one.Take a look at what makes the global economy tick.

Here’s the top line number, GDP. The major players are somewhat expected.

But when you divide GDP by population, y ou can see individual national productivity come forward, who is punching above their weight.

Take a look at the explosive growth in emerging markets. Post-Gaddafi Libya is just exploding.

Also worth taking a look at is the industrial production growth rate. Tiny Qatar is the winner here.

Inflation Hawks, take note. The U.S. is doing pretty good here.

This map shows world unemployment. Even leaving a recession the U.S. is looking pretty.

Youth Unemployment is a major international issue that is only starting to be addressed.

The percent the state taxes across the globe varies wildly by nation.

Here’s who is selling to the world.

And here’s who’s buying.

The international energy market is another fascinating story.

Another awesome look at the global economy is the mobile penetration in each nation.

Even moreso is the Internet penetration. There’s a whole world out there without the web.

Here’s how much each nation is investing in their children.

And, in a map that is by and large the converse of the previous map, the ones buying a military.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-global-economy-explained-in-17-maps-2013-9?op=1#ixzz2gHOigOy2

Russian entrepreneurs fight off Soviet culture in tech

CALEB GARLING, SFGate.com

Former Russian president Dimitry Medvedev tries out some technology. (Image: Skolkovo)

Former Russian president Dimitry Medvedev tries out some technology. (Image: Skolkovo)

Russia has its foreign policy and human rights differences with the United States. Yet once past the diplomatic dustups, a look inside the Russian economy finds an ever-growing number of driven entrepreneurs capitalizing on the growing markets on the Internet.

Russia has long been strong in math and science, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Russian entrepreneurs will attract capital from American technology investors. This past week members of Skolkovo — a 3-year-old Russian initiative to emulate Silicon Valley’s success near Moscow — toured the Bay Area for the second time to pitch for funding, but also to take feedback from investors on what they believe will make their businesses successful.

Asked about the political differences between the two countries, the Skolkovo team dismissed any potential riff. “That’s not an issue,” says Olo Brukovskaya, co-founder of education startup Choister. “The biggest barrier we meet here, when we come to do business and introduce our projects, is the cultural barrier.”

Igor Bogachev, executive director of Skolkovo’s IT Cluster, notes that Russian investors approach startup ventures very differently than most American investors. He makes the analogy that if a business is a train, investors in America are typically happy to buy a ticket on the train and — while they will certainly chime in on the train’s heading — be content with periodic board meetings.

“In Russia, investors are usually buying the train,” Bogachev says. “For visionaries, this is not good at all.”

Russia has long depended on its natural resources to power its economy, so diversification efforts are much needed. But so is eradicating a business culture reputed to depend on graft and strong-arming.

Moscow wants to be seen as friendly to entrepreneurs, and efforts seem to be, slowly but surely, paying off. Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and IBM have all sunk money into Skolkovo in recent years. There was some worry that President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t be as forward thinking as previous leaders and that Skolkovo could suffer.

“Theoretically I would agree with that,” says Roman Karachinsky, CEO of media app News360. “But I haven’t seen any effects.”

Karachinsky also says that recently it’s become fashionable for people who made a fortune in natural resources to start a venture capital firm. And that’s not necessarily good either.

“They don’t care about the money, really. It’s a play thing. There’s very rarely good people who manage it,” he says. Though this is changing for the better, it’s not happening fast enough for Karachinsky’s tastes. He looks at other countries pulling ahead in the global markets like China, India, Brazil and Chile, and worries Russia is still not doing enough to keep pace.

Drivers make their way outside the Kremlin in Moscow (Image: jubarriar/Flickr)

“There’s a lot of money, but it’s all very dumb,” he says. “It’s ruined many companies that could have been very successful.”

Skolkovo’s Bogachev estimates that around 80 percent of the private funding for tech companies comes out of profits made in oil and gas. “This is why the government decided to invest into Skolkovo project.”

Even still, Viktor Voronkov notes on the Skolkovo community blog that “rumors of corruption, waste and complacence have dogged (Skolkovo) since the announcement of its inception. There have been resignations and arrests, and in April its headquarters was raided by the Russian police as part of an ongoing investigation into the alleged theft of 24 million Roubles ($746,000).”

Choister’s Brukovskaya, who is now based in San Francisco, says one of the most important things is for other Russian entrepreneurs to help break Russian stereotypes. Russians don’t all spend their free time swigging vodka and eating caviar, and not all their money is tied up with corrupt Soviet-era oligarchs.

“That’s why American people think Russia is wild country. Of course there are some people with a bunch of money that don’t know about business or venture capital,” she says, noting the same thing happens in America. She says the more important metric is the rate of change. Skolkovo was only formed in 2010 and makes meaningful waves on the startup stage.

“You have to keep in mind that Russia had no history in business culture and economics for 70 years,” she says, referring to the reign of communism under the Soviet Union. “It’s gotten better and better.”

Brukovskaya notes Russians have a reputation, perhaps a little more well-deserved, in America for being too direct, even cold. “We come to ask for something — and we start with that. We never give compliments. We never waste time (with small talk),” she says. “Americans don’t work like that.” She’s trying to soften up, even taking classes in American business practices and norms.

However, the flip side is that most investors love people who don’t beat around the bush or use marketing-speak about their products. “That’s why it’s so easy for me to talk to them,” Brukovskaya says, cracking a smile. “I know the 15 questions they’ll ask me — and when I pitch them, I catch all of this.”

Karachinsky went to the University of Waterloo and is now in San Francisco with a team of three (the other 28 employees are back in Russia). He speaks without a trace of accent. Discussions without frivolity are in his roots, but they also dovetail with his job. “I prefer the direct approach, but I don’t know if its my Russian background or just being a CEO.”

Much of Skolkovo’s tour is to create a rubber stamp, hoping its name certifies entrepreneurs and their ventures as viable for the world stage. “We need to justify our model of choosing the projects,” says Katia Gaika, deputy director for education and research at Skolkovo’s IT Cluster. “Success here means we’re doing right — our selection process is up to the world standards.”

Yet Silicon Valley has already been through one burst bubble. And high profile IPO flops like Groupon and a long list of well-funded startups with suspect revenue models have some bracing for a second bubble. Investing in Internet companies is still a relatively new field in the grand scheme of things, so perhaps the Silicon Valley way of thinking about investing needs its own disruptive thinking.

Gaika notes that Skolkovo and Russian tech companies are still in the nascent stages and that Skolkovo has government funding for business infrastructure secured through 2020.

“Even if the bubble’s going to be (in the U.S.) and our projects don’t get (American) investment, they’ll still get investment from us,” she says. “We’ll provide the infrastructure if they have to move back home until the bubble is over.”

The Lewis Model Explains Every Culture In The World

A world traveler who speaks ten languages, British linguist Richard Lewis decided he was qualified to plot the world’s cultures on a chart.

He did so while acknowledging the dangers of stereotypes.

“Determining national characteristics is treading a minefield of inaccurate assessment and surprising exception,” Lewis wrote. “There is, however, such a thing as a national norm.”

Many people think he nailed it, as his book “When Cultures Collide,” now in its third edition, has sold more than one million copies since it was first published in 1996 and was called “an authoritative roadmap to navigating the world’s economy,” by the Wall Street Journal.

Lewis plots countries in relation to three categories:

Linear-actives — those who plan, schedule, organize, pursue action chains, do one thing at a time. Germans and Swiss are in this group.

Multi-actives — those lively, loquacious peoples who do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to a time schedule, but according to the relative thrill or importance that each appointment brings with it. Italians, Latin Americans and Arabs are members of this group.

Reactives — those cultures that prioritize courtesy and respect, listening quietly and calmly to their interlocutors and reacting carefully to the other side’s proposals. Chinese, Japanese and Finns are in this group.

He says that this categorization of national norms does not change significantly over time:

The behavior of people of different cultures is not something willy-nilly. There exist clear trends, sequences and traditions. Reactions of Americans, Europeans, and Asians alike can be forecasted, usually justified and in the majority of cases managed. Even in countries where political and economic change is currently rapid or sweeping (Russia, China, Hungary, Poland, Korea, Malaysia, etc.) deeply rooted attitudes and beliefs will resist a sudden transformation of values when pressured by reformists, governments or multinational conglomerates.

Here’s the chart that explains the world:

Some more details on the categories:

The point of all of this analysis is to understand how to interact with people from different cultures, a subject in which Richard Lewis Communications provides coaching and consultation.

“By focusing on the cultural roots of national behavior, both in society and business, we can foresee and calculate with a surprising degree of accuracy how others will react to our plans for them, and we can make certain assumptions as to how they will approach us,” Lewis writes.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-lewis-model-2013-9#ixzz2eCovwFNr

“How can they be so good?”: The strange story of Skype

As Skype turns ten, a look back at how six Europeans changed the world.

From a company powerpoint, here’s an artist’s impression of the moment when Skype’s idea was fostered. (Zennström on the left, next to Friis.)

 

“I don’t care about Skype!” millionaire Jaan Tallinn tells me, taking off his blue sunglasses and finding a seat at a cozy open-air restaurant in the old town of Tallinn, Estonia. “The technology is 10 years old—that’s an eternity when it comes to the Internet Age. Besides, I have more important things going on now.”

Tallinn has five children, and he calls Skype his sixth. So why does he no longer care about his creation?

On August 29, 2003, Skype went live for the first time. By 2012, according to Telegeography, Skype accounted for a whopping 167 billion minutes of cross-border voice and video calling in a year—which itself was a stunning 44 percent growth over 2011. That increase in minutes was “more than twice that achieved by all international carriers in the world, combined.” That is to say, Skype today poses a serious threat to the largest telcos on the planet. It also made Jaan Tallinn and other early Skypers rich.

But something changed along the way. Skype is no longer the upstart that refused to put signs on its offices, that dodged international lawyers, and that kept a kiddie pool in the boardroom. This is the real story of how a global brand truly began, told in more detail than ever before by those who launched it.

In the year 2000…

In 2000, as dot-com fever swept America, an entertainment and news portal called Everyday.com brought together a sextet of European revolutionaries.

It began with two people from the Swedish telecom Tele2—a Swede named Niklas Zennström and a Dane named Janus Friis. Zennström was Tele2 employee no. 23; Friis worked his way up in customer service for a Danish operator.

The Swedish owner of Tele2, Jan Stenbeck, was determined to launch the Everyday portal and launch it quickly. As the Swedes were having trouble, Stefan Öberg, the Marketing Director in Tele2’s Estonian office, proposed finding some Estonians for the job. In May 1999, Tele2 published an ad in a daily newspaper calling for competent programmers and offering the hefty sum of 5,000 Estonian kroons (about $330) a day—more than an average Estonian earned in a month at the time.

The work went to Jaan Tallinn, Ahti Heinla, and Priit Kasesalu—Estonian schoolmates and tech fans. They had been into Fidonet, a computer network which preceded the Internet, since the Soviet era. They started a small company, Bluemoon, which made computer games such as Kosmonaut. (In 1989, Kosmonaut became the first Estonian game to be sold abroad.) The game earned its creators $5,000 dollars, which at the time was a large sum for any Estonian. But by the turn of the century, the three friends were down to their last penny and Bluemoon was facing bankruptcy.

Short of money, they applied for and got the Tele2 job. The PHP programming language needed for the work was new to them, but the team learned it in a weekend and completed their test assignment much faster than Tele2 requested.

The last of the Skype sextet, Toivo Annus, was hired in Tallinn to manage the development of Everyday.com. The site would soon be complete, with Zennström and Friis working in Luxembourg and Amsterdam, and Annus and the Bluemoon trio working from Tallinn.

Tele2 was thrilled with the Estonians, but the Everyday.com portal failed commercially. Zennström and Friis left Tele2 and lived in Amsterdam for a while. The homeless Friis stayed in Zennström’s guest room, and they turned the kitchen into a temporary office.

Together, Zennström and Friis pored over new business ideas. As the US was fascinated at the time with the scandal surrounding Napster, Zennström and Friis planned something similar. But where Napster infuriated the music and movie industries, Zennström and Friis hoped to cooperate with them. They didn’t have the slightest doubt about where their new product should be created—in Tallinn, obviously. Kazaa was born.

Kazaa

Kazaa’s P2P file-sharing program allowed files to be transferred directly from one computer to another without an intermediary server, thus solving one of Napster’s problems. Jaan Tallinn developed the program in a nine-floor, Soviet-style brick building on Sõpruse Puiestee in the Tallinn suburb of Mustamäe. The apartment was actually Jaan Tallinn’s home, and at the time, Tallinn was a work-at-home dad. (He only sold the apartment in 2012 and told me that he contemplated attaching a memorial plaque to the wall stating, “Kazaa was created here.”)

Kazaa, ready for service in September 2000, swiftly became the most downloaded program on the Internet. The service picked up users at the rate of one per second. Heinla, Tallinn, and Kasesalu were sipping fine wine in their headquarters and thinking, “So this is what it feels like to have half of the world’s Internet traffic go through your software.”

But on the business side, Zennström and Friis failed to seal a deal with US film and music companies. Kazaa was sued for enabling piracy. “Stolen” music, films, and pornography were being distributed via the application, and the Kazaa owners soon found themselves hiding from an army of ferocious US lawyers.

Zennström repeatedly dodged court summons. One time, he went to see a play at a Stockholm theater and was approached by a stranger. The individual handed Zennström’s wife a bunch of flowers and held out an envelope containing a summons for Zennström. The Swede made a run for it; the summons failed to be duly delivered. He was similarly pursued in London, this time by a motorcycle, but service again failed.

When Zennström went to Tallinn for visits with his team, he did so by ferry as he was too scared to fly (by now he’s clearly gotten over this, as he owns a private jet and all). And once there, he remained nervous about visitors. “When someone came in through the door and we weren’t certain who it was, Niklas would hide under the table,” an Estonian coworker reminisced.

The Bluemoon boys began encrypting all of their correspondence and their hard drives. E-mails were not stored for longer than six months. No one wanted to know more than they absolutely needed to know. Zennström changed his phone number as often as he changed his socks.

Charges were never pressed against the coders Heinla, Tallinn, and Kasesalu, but they were involved in the Kazaa proceedings as “an important source of information.” A California court requested that the men be questioned and that business secrets concerning Kazaa be confiscated. At first the Estonian government rejected the request, but after a second appeal, the trio was interrogated in the presence of US lawyers.

For the Estonians, the Kazaa proceedings were like playing with fire—a little dangerous but still exciting—and their names began to pop up in the international press.

Afraid of being arrested, Zennström and Friis avoided flying to the US for several years, even though Kazaa had been promptly sold (at least on paper) to Australian businessmen, and its headquarters had been moved to the island nation of Vanuatu. The duo failed to make peace with the US for several years, and their ultimate redemption cost Friis and Zennström big money. The two eventually contributed to a more than $100 million payout for the music and movie industries.

One of the founders, Niklas Zennström, speaking at a conference in 2006.  Alberto D’Ottavi

 

The birth of Skype

While lawyers were still at it with Kazaa, the software’s creators were already searching for a new—and less legally fraught—outlet for their P2P technology. The intellectual property Kazaa developed was safe and sound in Zennström’s and Friis’s company, Joltid, based in the British Virgin Islands. The idea that would eventually become Skype germinated in the summer of 2002.

The team’s Tallinn office was situated behind Stenbock House, then the seat of the Estonian government. On their way to work, the team kept stumbling upon their favorite spot in town, Valli Bar. The pub later attained legendary status—every new employee or visitor to Skype needed to be properly “inaugurated” at the bar. This experience included a shot of Millimallikas, a notoriously abhorrent cocktail consisting of aniseed vodka, tequila, and Tabasco sauce.

Informal training for all Skype employees happened here for a bit. flickr user: siggimus

 

Zennström and Friis planned to create a new service that would allow the sharing of home Wi-Fi. But then Annus and Friis had their “eureka!” moment—they could make voice calls cheap and easy by sharing data peer to peer just as Kazaa did. They even talked about creating Wi-Fi phones, an idea that would later be implemented in Skype. In the spring of 2003, an early alpha was coded and shared for testing with about 20 people.

The name of the project originated from the words “sky” and “peer.” Following the example of Napster and others, the name was shortened to “Skyper.” But because the domain Skyper.com was already taken, the ‘r’ was shaved off. “Skype” it was.

Talking to a computer felt silly at the time—as silly as talking to your hand did when mobile phones first appeared. Feedback on the initial version of Skype was not exactly enthusiastic. The sound was glitchy, for instance. But when testers realized that they could now speak via computer to people on the other side of the world for free, attitudes changes.

Zennström and Friis never wanted to be big-time pirates or a thorn in anyone’s side. However, Kazaa turned out to have done Skype a huge service. The Robin Hoods of the music and film business now pounced on the telecoms that were making hundreds of millions a year by selling long-distance calls.

Dodging international police was also deeply rooted in the new product, too. Right from the beginning, Skype conversations were encrypted and impossible to intercept. This would eventually change, but at the time it made Skype a perfect tool for criminals. When later services were offered for a fee (e.g., Skype-out), the creators soon discovered that Skype became a tool for laundering money from stolen credit cards. The company had a hard time combating this.

Others were getting into the Internet telephony game, though, and Skype’s success was by no means assured. Even Estonian telecom Elion had its Netifon, which seemed better than Skype at first glance. After all, Netifon allowed users to make calls from a computer to a mobile phone. A few years later, however, Elion shut down the service as it was full of bugs and the setup was too complicated for users.

Skype did have a major advantage. Unlike other services, Skype slipped easily through firewalls. The program left no footprints on the Internet, the sound was improved dramatically, and the service worked like a charm. “Right from the start we set out to write a program simple enough to be installed and used by a soccer mom with no knowledge of firewalls, IP addresses, or other technological terms,” said one of the early Skypers, Lauri Tepandi.

In 2003, Skype was listed in the commercial register of Luxembourg. Seven people controlled the company’s shares: Zennström, Friis, the Bluemoon boys, Annus, and Geoffrey Prentice, an American dealmaker who drew up all of Skype’s important transactions.

But they weren’t making money. In the summer of 2003, Skype’s development came to a halt as the company was unable to pay its developers. The question of whether to charge users a monthly fee so soon after launch would remain unresolved for some time. Zennström had unpaid bills, and the Bluemoon boys hatched a plan to name their asset management company “Borealis Kinks”—an anagram of “Niklas is broke.”

On paper, the Skype business plan was not convincing enough for potential investors. As the dot-com bubble burst, the Internet appeared “dead” from an investment perspective. Yet telecoms were still going strong. Potential investors were nervous—not only about losing their money in ventures like Skype but also about having to pay legal costs. Napster was often brought up.

William Draper, an American venture capitalist, was one of the few to say that it was the right time to invest in P2P technology. His “emissary” Howard Hartenbaum was sent to Europe to make a deal with Zennström and Friis. Hartenbaum wanted to invest in the team, whatever they set out to do. It didn’t matter if they had a product or not. They didn’t need to prove anything. They already had Hartenbaum’s and Draper’s unwavering trust with Kazaa.

In the end, Draper, Hartenbaum, and some other early angels soon fuelled Skype with its first millions—and recouped their investment a thousand times over within three years.

Skype went live for the first time on August 29, 2003. The Skype team, consisting of about 20 people, celebrated this in Stockholm by watching Startup.com, a documentary about the bursting of the technology bubble.

On its first day, Skype was downloaded by 10,000 people. Within a couple of months, it already had one million users.

Funding

Suddenly, every venture capitalist began lusting after Skype. Zennström left many of them out in the cold, but $18 million was provided for Skype by a consortium of venture capitalists, including Index Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Mangrove Capital, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Steve Jurvetson, an investor of Estonian descent, was part of the group.

“I remember wondering: how can they be so good?” he told me, speaking about the Estonian core of Skype. “How can such a small group can do so much so quickly, compared to typical development efforts in, for example, Microsoft? I had the impression that maybe coming out of a time of Soviet occupation, when computers were underpowered, you had to know how to really program, effectively, parsimoniously, being very elegant in sculpting the programming code to be tight, effective, and fast. [That’s] not like in Microsoft, which has a very lazy programming environment, where programs are created that have memory leaks and all sorts of problems, that crash all the time and no one really cares—because it’s Microsoft!”

Jurvetson, who had already cashed in on Hotmail, was fascinated by Skype’s talented team. (Nowadays, he’s busy financing anything Elon Musk lays his hands on.) Jurvetson attended Skype’s Supervisory Board meetings in Tallinn and, on one occasion, brought his father Tõnu with him. (Tõnu reminisced on the Radisson hotel’s rooftop terrace about his departure from Estonia 60 years before, when he had escaped the Soviet invasion during World War II.)

After the meetings, Zennström and the Americans blew off steam in nocturnal Tallinn. Late one evening, the board members embarked on a kayaking trip on the Baltic Sea during which Zennström’s kayak was capsized by a wave from a passenger ferry.

In the end, the VC investments were repaid “only” 40 times over, and Jurvetson was right about the talent of the Skype team. From its $8 million, Jurvetson’s firm made $300 million in less than two years.

Co-founder Janus Friis on the big screen at a conference in 2007. Frederik Hermann

 

Startup pirates

Despite the inclination to avoid international regulation, little by little, Zennström and Friis learned to “boogie” with various countries’ legislation. What was prohibited in the US could be entirely legal elsewhere. Everywhere, law enforcement wanted access. In response, Skype kept a low profile; even though Skype had been an international company since 2004, its eventual offices in Estonia, London, and Luxembourg didn’t even have name plates.

The headquarters in Luxembourg was part a multi-story building not easily found by outsiders. It had no sign. A couple of floors up, you’d find an apartment where there was “an accountant working in the living room and another in the bathroom.” Private conference calls were often made in a dark bathroom, since the fan started whirring as soon as the lights were switched on.

In London, where Zennström and Friis were then based, Skype was set up in an office with a glass wall. Behind the glass, at the other end of the corridor, a modeling agency was up and running. As the upper and lower parts of the glass wall were transparent and the middle part blurry, the mostly male employees watched mini-skirted models hurry past, seeing only heads and legs.

Corporate headquarters were officially based in Luxembourg from the beginning. One reason was that the tiny duchy had the lowest VAT rate (15 percent) in the EU, which is why all of Skype’s sales passed through Luxembourg. However, Luxembourg was important to Skype for another reason: the country guaranteed a serene working environment. The duchy protects its companies and does not deliver claims or court papers. And Robert Miller, Skype’s later legal adviser, would periodically go through the company’s mailboxes in London and Luxembourg, removing the angry letters sent by telecom companies and government offices and shredding them without reading their contents.

“Miller is one of the few lawyers who doesn’t hinder business,” said Taavet Hinrikus, a former Skype employee who now works at a startup called Transferwise. “Most lawyers are all about the can’ts and shouldn’ts. Robert found ways we could… As a startup, you’re a pirate anyway. It’s impossible to obey every law! But when your company is the size of Microsoft, you can no longer afford not to.”

However, Zennström claims that there were never any actual legal threats to Skype, except in a few countries like UAE and China. “From the beginning, I was very keen to comply with legislation and regulation, and we managed to keep Skype categorized as an electronic information provider—just like an e-mail provider rather than a telecom provider—for a long time,” he wrote in an e-mail while on summer vacation sailing the Mediterranean. “That’s why, for example, we never bundled Skype In and Skype Out.”

Out of the kiddie pool

Until 2005, Skype operated casually. A network of people, who in many ways were free to come and go as they pleased, worked there as consultants and dealt with things they had never come across before. Ideas were programmed into a product the moment they popped into someone’s mind; some coder had an idea in the morning and by the same evening it might already have 10,000 users.

When the price list was being drafted for making Skype calls to telephone networks (Skype Out), its creators didn’t bother with market research. Instead, two Skype employees devised the list in one night, using nothing but Excel.

After three years of operating, someone had an idea—why not draw up an annual budget?

In Tallinn, Skype occupied one room after another in its “new” office in Mustamäe—a Soviet-era block of flats turned into a house of cybernetics. Toivo Annus, who was in charge of Skype’s global development, had a kiddie pool set up in one of the boardrooms and a got into a fight with the janitor about whether the pool would fall through into the basement when it was filled with two tons of water.

Every week, five to ten 10 employees joined the company. The screening system was simple and very much the product of Toivo Annus. Pass the test assignment? You’re hired! Wage negotiations were often redundant—if you deserved to be in the company, you’d be paid what you needed.

Here’s how casual the corporate culture was: in Silicon Valley, an American named Eileen Burbidge ditched Yahoo to come and work for Skype. She worked for free in London for eight months (she got paid later, though) and said that Skype was “the best time of her life”.

“My first day I learned that I’d have to finalize my contract and terms with Niklas,” Burbidge said. “Neither of us were concerned about it at that time. We were both much more interested in just getting me started and working. It was my fault for not raising this ‘small admin issue’ for months.”

Like Jurvetson, Burbidge said that the Estonian team was able to work at the speed of light. “Having just come from 11 straight years of working in Silicon Valley, I was super impressed and actually amazed that these technical leaders seemed not to have any ego at all, didn’t care about titles, didn’t care about roles or pointing fingers and were all insanely committed to seeing the ‘project which had turned into a company’ succeed,” she said. “They had a sense of responsibility and discipline that I had never witnessed before.”

Used to American small talk, Burbidge quickly realized it would not work in this environment.

“I was used to greeting people with a ‘ping’ or a ‘you there?’ followed by a ‘how are you?,’ ‘having a good day?,’ ‘am I interrupting?,’ or ‘can I ask you a question?’ But for Toivo all of this was superfluous and simply needless cycles. He would just reply with one word: ‘Ask.'”

Skype’s internal IT was just as casual. The location of the company’s servers, who was being paid for them, and how much was only vaguely known to one person—system administrator Edgar Maloverjan, also known as Ets.

If the development team needed something, Ets would go to the store and wave his company credit card around. If a server had to be restarted, Ets would call the company’s business partner. Sometimes they would say: “I can’t—I dunno which server’s yours! Besides, there’s a game on.”

When Ets needed server space, he Googled “data center” and “Luxembourg” and found a small service provider called Datacenter Luxembourg S.A. (Zennström and Friis sometimes joked that they didn’t see why Skype needed servers at all, as everything was supposed to be peer-to-peer.) On one occasion, he even delivered servers from Sweden to Denmark in the boot of his car. It didn’t matter where or how—what mattered was that Skype was working.

But as the company grew, it also acquired more professionalism. It was eventually being developed by people who the Estonians had never heard of.

The service was connected to telephone networks through the work of a Brit who happened to share his name with the pop star Michael Jackson. And Skype’s visuals, trademark, language and look were all created by an ambitious young Danish designer, Malthe Sigurdsson. (He was later nominated as one of London’s five most stylish men. When the Dane first arrived in Tallinn in 2003, however, Annus booked him into one of the city’s worst accommodations—Tähetorni Hotel.)

Skype soon became all grown-up, and it had plenty of suitors lining up to court it. In the summer of 2005, Jaan Tallinn was often in London participating in talks with eBay, discussions that were being held at Morgan Stanley investment bank’s offices. On one occasion someone jokingly said, “Hey, Jaan, are you gonna sell Skype?” Tallinn replied, “Yes, and I’ll be bringing a big suitcase with me to take the money home in.”

They turned out to be the words of a prophet.

Esther Dyson

 

First sale

The news of Skype being sold to eBay broke in September 2005. Skype was sold for $2.6 billion. The Bluemoon boys and Annus each got about $42 million, Friis and Zennström more than 10 times as much. Another 100 people in the Tallinn office and 40 in London also had company options.

Ross Mayfield, an American advisor to the President of Estonia, visited Skype’s Tallinn office that day and had no idea what was going on around him. “I was struck by how the team had their heads down working like a normal workday,” Mayfield said. “In Silicon Valley, everyone would be celebrating and counting their stock options. The core team had a no-nonsense focus on the work showing them the way and a real sense of purpose.”

A couple of days before the news, the Estonian forces gathered at Annus’ place for a briefing. Everyone had another go at calculating their options. “The atmosphere was ambivalent,” remembered Kaido Kärner, a Skype engineer. “On the one hand, you had all this money. On the other, Skype used to be a value in itself. Now it was someone’s property.”

Jurvetson, the company’s investor, did not agree to the sale and said Skype’s value should be allowed to grow a little more. Its founders, primarily Zennström and Friis, were the ones who made the decision to sell.

“We kept getting offers,” Jaan Tallinn said. “The question was when to start taking them seriously. Each new offer was slightly higher than the last.” The fear that Skype might be past its sell-by date sped up the sale. “MSN and Yahoo had fixed their flaws,” Tallinn said. “Google launched Talk the same year and started a rumor that the service enabled you to call phones for free. Calls to phones were and still are practically the only source of income for Skype.

“We saw how the risks kept on increasing; the offer was really good and would probably stop there. Besides, in summer 2005, for the first time, there was a moment when our user base started decreasing, which unsettled us quite a lot. We thought we might have a bug or something.”

“In 2005, we knew that Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, and Google were all getting into our market,” Zennström added. “We had 20 million active users at the start of the year, while they each had over 100 million active users. Hence it was impossible to assess whether we were big enough to continue to be number one or if we would get crushed by one of them. Therefore we initiated strategic discussions with all of them about partnering, but it led to the same result: they wanted to either acquire us or compete. Because there were a lot of interested parties, we managed to get a very good price, so coupled with the high risk that they could all crush us, it led to the decision to sell.”

Clash of cultures

When the deal was done, the Americans sent their manager Brian Sweeney to Tallinn to find out what they bought. He arrived at the Skype office and, to his surprise, everyone was quietly typing away at their computers.

A call came in from the US. “What’s going on there?”

Sweeney replied, “Seems like nothing’s going on…”

But Estonia grew on Sweeney. The office reminded him of the early years of eBay when people were enthusiastic about their work and there was no jibber-jabber or showing off. But the sale—and continued growth—did change Skype over the next few years. The Tallinn employees eventually felt a strong divide growing between them and Skype’s other offices, especially London.

One issue concerned staffing. Estonia had plenty of great engineers, but it had no brand managers. Instead of showing apprentices in Tallinn how to become masters, Skype raised an army of managers in London, while the coders remained back in Tallinn.

“In the end, I spent half of my time pointlessly arguing with these people [in London], trying to make them understand that this camel’s only got one hump,” said engineer Kaido Kärner, who lost his motivation to work as a result of the quarrel. “They’d been working for the company for two weeks and thought they knew how things should be done.”

Zennström said in an e-mail, “We faced both engineering vs. non-engineering and also Estonian vs. Anglo-Saxon culture and communication challenges. It is always easier to have one office and one nationality, but I think our mix, while harder to manage, built a stronger company and culture.”

To create a sense of solidarity, the whole of Skype’s international staff was invited to let their hair down in Estonia. At a fancy costume party at Sagadi Manor, Zennström dressed up as a pirate. At another event, Annus turned up as a blue monkey (inspired by software called Bonzi Buddy), holding a carton of juice and a bottle of Viru Valge vodka.

Then in 2006, the Americans were invited to what became the craziest party in Skype’s history. It took place in Pärnu at the Strand Hotel. The more conservative management from the American eBay now met the liberal Estonian startup Skype en masse. The days were filled with “corporate bullshit bingo,” as some Skypers called it, where the company’s plans for development were outlined. In the evening, however, it was party time. Even the Californians sometimes think back on those nights.

As the bar closed, everyone spontaneously gathered by the pool and jumped in, fully clothed. Zennström was pouring vodka for everyone—first behind the bar, afterwards on top of it. “What happens in Estonia stays in Estonia,” the usually reserved Zennström promised the guests.

Those eBay representatives who went back to their rooms by the time the pool party started turned on their TVs and saw a live broadcast of the party. They were shocked.

The owner of the hotel worked out the damages the next morning and Skype covered them. Skype users would get their own special emoticon to celebrate the party.

“We were young, most of us single, with no kids or anything—and if we knew how to work, we knew how to party too,” one Skyper remembers.

But the parties didn’t fix the broader cultural issues. The straightforward Annus left. The new Skypers loved Microsoft Outlook, which was banned by Annus. As he put it, “If we’re still sending e-mails, why did we even make Skype in the first place?”

In 2007, Jaan Tallinn sent the company’s management and all of the employees a heartfelt letter called “Jaan Tallinn’s million-dollar manifesto” that pointed out in detail all of Skype’s technological and commercial blunders. He also promised to contribute a million dollars of his own money, provided the problems were solved.

“The people who had a start-up background all saw that things were getting out of hand and no longer being fully done,” Tallinn told me. “People were focusing on things that were nice to talk about at meetings instead of what was good for users—and also that Skype kept issuing glitchy plugins that hadn’t been properly developed.”

Skype and eBay never meshed well. In 2011, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion.

Microsoft steps in

For the second time, Zennström and Friis cashed in on selling Skype. That’s because, instead of giving eBay the critical base technology that kept Skype going (the P2P system known as “Global Index”), Zennström’s and Friis’s company Joltid still owned it—they simply licensed it to Skype. The whole situation devolved into threats of litigation until a 2009 settlement gave Zennström and Friis a chunk of Skype ownership, which made them even more money when Microsoft bought the company.

Almost none of the people who were there when Skype started are still with the company. Decisions are no longer made in Tallinn or London but in Redmond. Soon, Skype will probably become Microsoft Skype or Microsoft Talk, the product of a massive multinational rather than a scrappy startup.

Recent revelations from Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker now granted asylum in Russia, have also shone a light on Skype’s new willingness to help law enforcement. Snowden revealed, for instance, that in February 2011 eBay opened up the “spy-proof” Skype to US intelligence agencies. In order to clear up the technological and legal nuances of snooping, a secret project called Chess was conducted in Skype—a scheme only a few people in the company were aware of. That cooperation has apparently extended to Microsoft.

Taking all of this into consideration, it is no wonder many of the employees of the original Skype consider the company’s upcoming tenth birthday its funeral. I call Steve Jurvetson on the other side of the Atlantic. He struggles for half an hour but cannot get Skype to work. I call his mobile. “Did Microsoft mess Skype up?” I ask him. “I wouldn’t be surprised, Microsoft has messed up almost everything,” he replies.

“Being owned by a large company with other business interests across the globe is a negative for Skype. A big multinational, like eBay or Microsoft, needs to accommodate business partners and governments across the globe, which limits Skype’s ability to pursue growth aggressively in ways that threaten the entrenched government or business interests. For example, Skype for Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones has been delayed by pressure from wireless carriers who see their voice revenue at risk.”

Will Skype even keep its Tallinn office? Microsoft has been known to shut local European offices (like those of the Norwegian Fast), but it has also kept and developed some national units (like the Danish Axapta). In 2011, Steve Ballmer said in Tallinn that the company was not just short of engineers in Redmond but elsewhere in the world as well. There’s a group of development centers situated in similar time zones on a strip heading from North to South from Norway to Israel. Some creators of Skype are certain the Tallinn office will be closed; others say Microsoft might start developing other products here too. Much depends on Estonia’s attitude toward foreign engineers—and right now, the country is not too open to them.

From left to right: Heinla, Annus, and Kasesalu (the final member of the Skype Six). Wikimedia Commons

 

The next 10 years

During the lowest point of the recent global recession, a rumor spread in Tallinn that the Estonians from Skype and the people formerly involved in a giant forestry company called Sylvester were the only ones still knee-deep in cash. Skype employees half-jokingly say that Annus, Heinla, Kasesalu, and Tallinn won the jackpot.

Jaan Tallinn doesn’t agree, saying that he had some extra cash as early as 1999 when Tele2 paid him generously for developing the Everyday.com portal. In any event, he says that money was not a goal in itself for any of the four Estonians who helped start Skype. Having become multi-millionaires, they didn’t get cocky or vain. Almost none of them bought an expensive sports car. Instead, the money was a bit of a nuisance, as it needed to be invested wisely.

The changes it brought were most visible in Kasesalu, who has cut off all his hair, shed a great deal of weight, and picked up a driver’s license. The change was so drastic that his friends started asking, “Priit, are you seriously ill?”

“My life has changed quite a bit,” Tallinn says now. “After Peter Thiel, I’m the second richest person in the world investing in the survival of the human race. Time is now much more valuable than money.”

Annus left Skype as soon as the company was sold to eBay in September 2005. Tallinn and Heinla continued for another couple of years before resigning. Kasesalu still plays for the Skype team to this day. Zennström and Friis, of course, have made fortunes.

Today in Tallinn, those working for Skype are not exactly in high spirits. The coffee and furniture are fancier than ever at the office in Mustamäe. But the inner fire and sense of cooperation that Toivo Annus inspired in people are damped. According to one source, the company’s employee surveys confirm that the number planning to quit is growing all the time.

Taavet Hinrikus, whose company Transferwise aims to revolutionize how money is transferred, said it would be a blessing if Skype eliminated its office in Tallinn. In that case, talented Estonians could do things that would be far more useful to the country than the tax revenue of few hundred high earners.

I ask Jaan Tallinn about the odds that the office in Estonia would close within a decade.”

“35 percent,” he said.

Zennström, however, is an optimist. He wrote, “The fact that they (Microsoft) have closed down MSN Messenger tells us that they are committed to Skype, which is one of the strongest brands in their portfolio. I hope you will e-mail me in another 10 years and want to do another story about Skype’s second 10-year history.”

When Manufacturing in China, Face Time Can Be Critical

In this case study, costume company Revolution Dancewear put in the miles to improve its relationship with its Chinese manufacturers.

When Manufacturing in China, Face Time Can Be Critical

Spreading production of its tap and ballet costumes throughout
the year helped Revolution Dancewear’s supplier keep skilled
workers, improving quality.   Image credit: Robin Arm

The Challenge: In early 2011, Revolution Dancewear was quickly expanding its line of ready-to-ship dance costumes but was facing production problems. There were delays and quality issues — including costumes with crooked stitching. Costume-making’s seasonality meant an eight-months-long production window. This caused its manufacturers in China to struggle with sourcing and high worker turnover. “The seasonal nature of our business was really putting stress on our providers and it was starting to impact our business,” says Robb Lippitt, CEO of the Niles, Ill., dance apparel wholesaler.

The Fix: Lippitt determined that Revolution needed to partner more closely with its Chinese manufacturers to prevent production issues, maintain smooth relations and ensure quality-control. He started by building an internal team of product lifecycle experts whose sole duty was to manage relations with the Chinese manufacturers. That team now has three internal staffers and one contractor.

Through talks with its manufacturers, Revolution learned that consolidating production into the fall and winter for the busy spring recital season meant creating long periods of downtime in the summer, when workers would often leave for other work. Revolution addressed this concern by spreading its production cycle over the entire year, helping its manufacturers keep skilled costume makers year-round. It also extended the window for design development from four months to nine, eliminating the need for Revolution’s internal staff of costume designers to rush.

When Manufacturing in China, Face Time Can Be Critical

Revolution Dancewear’s CEO Robb Lippitt learned that managing relationships with its suppliers year-round could improve a mostly seasonal business Image credit: Keith Jones

To improve communications, representatives from Revolution began traveling to China four times a year to meet with manufacturers, tour facilities and deal with any production issues. It now works more closely with its contracted Chinese translator to overcome any language barriers. Lippitt says it also began holding monthly videoconferences to take note of body language. Last year, the company introduced a vendor report card, which provides feedback to its Chinese manufacturers on several different metrics.

Partnering with its Chinese manufacturers has helped Revolution work more efficiently, Lippitt says. The company has avoided an estimated annual 10 percent increase in manufacturing costs partly because the Chinese manufacturers have saved money reducing worker turnover. Closer communications allows Revolution to more quickly implement changes to its manufacturing process. For example, last year the company wanted to change a costume design when it was already in the development phase. The manufacturer quickly sourced the new fabric and changed the design, even suggesting options for recycling the old fabric. Something that would have likely taken at least a month in the past only took the manufacturer a couple weeks. “That wouldn’t have happened if they were less invested in our outcome,” Lippitt says.

The transition to year-round manufacturing has required some adjustments. Revolution now has to keep inventory during the slow summer months, which means spending extra money to store it. But the benefits far outweigh the negatives, Lippitt says, and Revolution has tripled its annual revenue since 2010.

The Takeaway: Partnering with foreign manufacturers can make a company’s own operations more efficient and cost effective.

Read more: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226985#ixzz2Y4KIRw8n

Although today’s post does not technically involve an international situation, it does involve crossing physical and cultural borders. The See’s Candies case offers a fascinating look on how a 91-year old company (IMHO they do have the best tasting chocolate ever) truly understands what it means to master  consumers’ tastes and consumption culture in its target geography. It also demonstrates the care that must be taken when adopting company’s products to a different (foreign) market, even if this market within its own country’s borders.

See’s Candies Looks East

By Anupreeta Das, The Wall Street Journal

Berkshire Hathaway BRKB +1.25% company See’s Candies has stocked their stall in Omaha’s CenturyLink Convention Center with peanut brittle and fudge, expecting to sell hundreds of boxes during Berkshire’s annual meeting.

Last year, See’s sold 10,010 pounds of candy at the meeting. (It’s also the candy that Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger will be chomping as they answer questions at Saturday’s annual meeting.)

But See’s, a 91-year-old West Coast candy company that Berkshire bought in 1972 for $25 million, has bigger ambitions than the sales it will notch up this weekend. See’s expects around $410 million in 2013 sales, up roughly 4% from last year, See’s chief Brad Kinstler said.

The longtime Berkshire executive, who has been CEO of See’s since 2006, shared his plans for the company ahead of the weekend’s events:

For See’s, the East is the Wild West:

See’s has been opening locations east of the Rockies in recent years, but it’s still in the early stages of expansion. In 2013, the company has opened or plans to open several stores in cities such as Ohio, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh. “In these new markets, they don’t have the same shopping habits as in the West… (where) we’re in the fabric of their families. In these new markets, the consumer is not visiting a chocolate shop that often. It’s a behavioral change we’re attempting.”

“It’s a terrific challenge, and not something you accomplish overnight. Our taste is something they’ve not experienced.”

See’s has no immediate plans for a New York store.

Fancy flavors? No thanks:

Chocolate has become a huge gourmet industry over the years, with companies dressing the dark stuff up in fancier and fancier ingredients, such as chili or cilantro or bacon. But Kinstler believes that what makes See’s tick is good “old-fashioned” chocolate that works because it tastes right. “Our product hits the mark with tastebuds. We won’t have bacon in our chocolate… they’re not flavors that people will become attached to. To be successful for 91 years… really have to have a product that connects with a wide demographic. Very difficult, but once you get it, you stick with it through thick and thin.”

See’s most popular products are the 1 lb. box of assorted chocolates and the 1 lb. box of nuts and chews.

On working for Warren Buffett:

“Being owned by Berkshire is a huge advantage in recruiting management level people.”

Kinstler said he talks to Buffett three to four times a year, and the investor has been very supportive of the company’s expansion plans. See’s chocolate lollipops are Buffett’s favorite, and the company keeps its owner well stocked with all varieties of chocolate throughout the year.

How to Avoid Cultural Missteps When Doing Business With Other Countries

How to Avoid Cultural Missteps When Doing Business With Other Countries

Image credit: Shutterstock

As workplaces become more diverse and more companies do business globally, the opportunities for cultural missteps are also increasing. Cultural diversity expert and executive coach Gayle Cotton says today’s many forms of communication have created many ways for missteps to happen. “If people are communicating with different cultures, they very often find out that certain things they may have said or done may not have been received in the way that they intended,” she says.

Not everyone can be versed in every culture, but in her new book, Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Communication (Wiley, 2013), Cotton shares some important guidelines to help facilitate multicultural communication and avoid confusion and conflict.

1. Familiarize yourself with cultural basics.
If you’re going to be doing business with someone from a different country or culture, aquaint yourself with the basics in advance, Cotton recommends. A simple online search for the location or culture with the words “cultural competence” will yield several web sites with information and resources to help you understand cultural norms and cautions. Georgetown University’s National Center for Cultural Competence  also has many resources.

2. Pay attention to your gestures.
In-person or on video conference calls, simple gestures and stances can mean wildly different things in different cultures. For example, sitting casually with a foot resting on the opposite knee is the equivalent of showing one’s foot, which Cotton says is a highly offensive gesture to some people from the Middle East.

While hugging or kissing is a common greeting in some cultures, touching — even the simple act of shaking hands –may be verboten, especially between men and women. Choose a more formal demeanor with good posture, feet on the floor or crossed at the ankle, and hands folded or at your sides if you are unsure of what is acceptable and what’s not.

3. Take cues from clues. 

Whether in person or online, take your cues from the other person’s communication. Cotton says people’s use of chit-chat, even in electronic correspondence, before they start talking about business is a clue that the individual is social and that you shouldn’t jump right into business conversation. If you cut them off and dive into correspondence about work, they are going to feel like they haven’t had the time to interact with you in the way that they need to before business talk starts, Cotton says. That could hinder the relationship.

4. Start reserved.
It’s usually best to keep business interactions toned down and professional until you get a sense of what the other person expects, Cotton says. Avoid slang or informalities, and carry yourself the way you would if you were meeting a dignitary. You can always adjust to a more animated, informal or affectionate manner, but more conservative people may be put off by anything less than a reserved and respectful manner.

DOING BUSINESS ABROAD?

DO YOU KNOW YOUR COI?

 –

COI = CULTURAL ORIENTATION INDICATOR

Below is an excerpt from my own COI assessment report generated by the Cultural Navigator® training tool.  To get remaining sample full 10-page report please email rsigalus@fluentinforegin.com . To try your own assessment please visit Fluent In Foreign Academy™

AMGCOI Report-1_Page_03

What is cross-cultural training and how does it work?

by 

What is cross-cultural training and how does it work?Cross-cultural training (also known as intercultural training) is a multi-faceted approach to increasing the knowledge and skills required to adjust to new culture. Brookfield Global Relocation Services found that 80% of companies who responded to their “2010 Global Relocation Trends Survey” provided international assignees with pre-departure cross-cultural training as a means of decreasing the severity of culture shock and improving the effectiveness of expatriate managers.

Intercultural training and culture shock

Culture shock is partly a result of stress due to uncertainty and anxiety about culturally-appropriate behaviours in a new environment. The authors of the book Cross-Cultural Adaptation: Current Approaches suggest that when we meet an unknown person, we subconsciously try to ease this anxiety by scanning our memory banks to re-examine past behaviours. Once we know what to expect based on this previous experience and we adjust our behaviour accordingly, the uncertainty and anxiety evaporate.

Further extending this theory suggests that it’s possible to experience “anticipatory adjustment” to an unfamiliar culture before arrival. In other words, if we have realistic expectations of life in the new locale and the skills to deal with intercultural interactions — the goals of cross-cultural training — we should be faced with less ambiguity, less stress, and an easier time adjusting.

Unfortunately, studies on the effectiveness of cross-cultural training have produced mixed results, perhaps because there is no consensus on what, exactly, it entails. Content, duration, and delivery methods vary widely:

  • Training can range from a few hours to a week or more.
  • The mode of delivery can be experiential and workshop-based, or lecture-style.
  • Trainees can work alone with interactive computer software, meet one-on-one with a trainer, or sit in a lecture hall with dozens of other participants.
  • Content varies from culture-specific (focusing on life in France, for example), to culture-general (giving expatriates the intercultural communication tools to navigate multiple cultures), to a combination of the two.

It’s this lack of consistency that tends to muddy the waters of any discussion on the value of training.

Worth it? Yes!

Rachel, a 50-year-old Canadian, has accompanied her husband to Ecuador, Malaysia, and now Scotland. She received both culture-specific and culture-general training, which included discussions of how her own cultural perspective could affect her judgments and interactions in the host country. Rachel is certain that this cross-cultural awareness made her life overseas much easier. “I was more prepared,” she says. “Without the insights of cross-cultural training, I would not have the ability to open my heart to other cultures.”

Because the content of Rachel’s training encompassed more than just area studies – delving into broader topics such as intercultural communication – it was highly relevant to her expat lifestyle. A 2011 study found that relevance in training led to accurate expectations, which positively affected the expatriate’s adjustment.

This is not to suggest that Rachel escaped culture shock entirely; she acknowledges experiencing frustration and uncertainty, saying that initially, “the rules were different and I just couldn’t figure them out.” However, she believes her training provided her with the cross-cultural skills to deal with those feelings.

Worth it? Maybe

Charlotte, a 56-year-old American, received intercultural training before her husband’s first assignment in Indonesia. She doesn’t believe her training contributed significantly to her adjustment, calling it “a waste of time.” The only way to feel at ease in a novel culture, she insists, is to immerse oneself in it: “I think people learn best from on-the-job training. It’s when you are right there in the trenches that you can guarantee the information will always be in your memory banks.”

However, Charlotte has recently moved to Nigeria for a new posting, and is experiencing enormous difficulty adjusting to her new home. Although she’s a seasoned expat, with more than fifteen years of Asian experience under her belt, she is struggling with the shock of living in such a completely novel culture.

Researchers Marie-France Waxin and Alexandra Panaccio write that “the more different a culture is from that of the country of origin, the more important and necessary is the use of cross-cultural training programs.” This opinion is one that Charlotte is starting to share: “I’ve given a lot of thought to what cultural training would have provided for this transfer,” she says ruefully. “We would have been better prepared.”

Cross-cultural training teaches the skills and knowledge that may provide anticipatory adjustment to people moving to a new culture. Expat spouses Rachel and Charlotte hold different views as to its effectiveness, but they both agree that inevitably, expats need to take the plunge and immerse themselves in their new lives. Says Rachel, “In the end, we can only prepare ourselves so much — then the actual experience needs to unfold.”

International Business Expansion and Leadership Training Companies   Partner to Prepare Businesses for the Road Abroad

Princeton, NJ (March 6, 2013) Fluent In Foreign Business™ (FIF) and TMC, a Berlitz Company, today announce a partnership to offer business and government entities the Cultural Navigator ™  – yet another potent tool designed to help exporters, manufacturers, franchisors and direct investors to successfully enter foreign markets or expand their existing international operations.

With the help of the TMC’s Cultural Navigator™ and Fluent in Foreign’s Road Abroad™ Toolbox, the process of researching and entering foreign markets, selecting the right partners, working to overcome language and culture gaps is greatly simplified.

“No other organizations’ approach to international expansion is as fundamental as TMC and its parent company Berlitz and Fluent in Foreign learning Academy,” Mr. Ken Belanger, Global Business Leader, TMC Director, Global Leadership Training (GLT), Berlitz North America. “Together, FIF and TMC are unparalleled resources helping companies prepare to enter foreign markets and expand existing international operations in the most efficient and risk controlled manner possible.”

The Cultural Navigator™ provides timely information and insights of a wide range of global business and cultural topics important for businesses of all sizes looking to expand overseas. The Cultural Navigator provides valuable information in support of critical business performance objectives including:

  • The creation of business models in emerging markets
  • Innovation with a market/customer focus
  • Attraction, development, retention, and deployment of global talent
  • Reducing the incidence of assignment failure in international postings
  • Addressing culture based issues that interfere with productivity and job satisfaction
  • Helping to effectively manage multicultural teams
  • Leverage employee mobility and diversity/inclusion as competitive assets

“Having Cultural Navigator™ as part of the Fluent In Foreign Academy/TMC Berlitz platform will provide an extremely effective tool for helping all those seeking to expand their international business skills.  Cultural Navigator provides a superb assessment tool to identify cultural gaps between international participants and a customized learning path to help bridge these gaps. Thus when Cultural Navigator is combined with tools developed by the Fluent In Foreign Business, the effect is unparalleled,” Said Mr. Alexander Gordin, Managing Director of Fluent In Foreign Business and author of the eponymous book.

About Berlitz Corporation – a Benesse Company – has been recognized as the world’s premier provider of language training and cross-cultural services. Headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey with more than 550 locations in over 70 countries and 40 million clients worldwide, today Berlitz is a global leadership training and education company with a comprehensive portfolio offering communications skills development, testing and assessment, global leadership training and customized dynamic solutions for cultural competency through a variety of delivery platforms.

About TMC – a Berlitz Company – is headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey. TMC’s mission is to help companies globally leverage differences and similarities for maximum performance to reduce risk, enhance innovation and effectiveness.  Cultural Navigator and Cultural Orientations Indicator are Trademarks and/or the intellectual property of Training Management Corporation.

About Fluent in Foreign Business– headquartered in the heart of New York City, Fluent In Foreign LLC is a leading advisory, education and information platform designed to help direct investors, franchisors and exporters enter foreign markets, or expand their existing international operations.

With proven tools, such as Fi180 Global Business AtlasFi3™ Country Attractiveness indicesGlobal Conference at Sea™ and Fluent In Foreign Business book, the company enables its clients to navigate such complex issues as bridging the cross-cultural divide, managing political risks, obtaining international financing, FCPA compliance and international business development.

Should You Eat While You Negotiate?

HBR Blog Network

Lakshmi Balachandra  |  January 29, 2013  

Across cultures, dining together is a common part of the process of reaching negotiated agreements. In Russia and Japan, important business dealings are conducted almost exclusively while dining and drinking and in the U.S., many negotiations begin with “Let’s do lunch.” But are business deals actually improved when people discuss important matters over a meal?

To explore this question, I conducted two experiments. The first compared negotiations that took place over a meal in restaurants to negotiations in conference rooms, without any food to eat. In the second, negotiations were conducted with or without a meal in a business conference room. In the experiments, 132 MBA students negotiated a complex joint venture agreement between two companies. In the simulation, a provisional deal is in place, but a variety of terms must still be considered and agreed upon to maximize profits for their companies. The negotiators must determine how to handle each term of the deal. As is typical in many negotiations, in order to maximize their profits, the negotiators must share information and work together with the other side to learn where the most value can be created.

The greatest possible profits were created by the parties who were able to discern the other side’s preferences and then work collectively to discover the profit maximizing outcomes for the joint venture, rather than merely considering their own company’s profits. In the simulation, this can only be accomplished when the negotiators make trade-offs and then compensate each other from the net gains to the joint venture. The maximum value that can be created jointly for both companies is $75 million. Deals can be struck at lower combined values, down to as low as $38 million. To explore how eating together affected negotiation outcomes, I considered the total value created by both companies.

The students who ate together while negotiating — either at a restaurant or over food brought into a business conference room — created significantly increased profits compared to those who negotiated without dining. (Individuals who negotiated in restaurants created 12% greater profits and those who negotiated over food in a conference room created 11% greater profits.) This suggests that eating while deciding important matters offers profitable, measurable benefits through mutually productive discussions.

foodchart2.gif

I designed a third experiment to test if it was in fact the act of eating together and not merely sharing a separate task that led to the better negotiated outcomes. I had 45 MBA students negotiate the same simulation, but instead of negotiating while eating, half of the groups negotiated while completing a jigsaw puzzle that had nothing to do with the negotiation. In this experiment, I found that the negotiators who shared a common task did not create better negotiation outcomes than those who only negotiated the deal.

I expected that both sharing a meal and collaborating on an activity would increase trust between the participants — and perhaps that the cultural history attached to eating together would increase trust more than sharing other activities — but when I surveyed participants in both studies, the trust levels they reported did not increase.

Why else might eating together improve the outcome of negotiations? There may be biological factors at work. When the negotiators in my first two studies ate, they immediately increased their glucose levels. Research has shown that the consumption of glucose enhances complex brain activities, bolstering self-control and regulating prejudice and aggressive behaviors. Other research
has shown that unconscious mimicking behaviors of others leads to increased pro-social behaviors; when individuals eat together they enact the same movements. This unconscious mimicking of each other may induce positive feelings towards both the other party and the matter under discussion.

In future experiments, I will continue to explore the reasons why eating while deciding important matters increases the productivity of discussions. In the meantime, you would be wise to suggest “doing lunch” whenever you meet to negotiate.

Lakshmi Balachandra

LAKSHMI BALACHANDRA

Lakshmi Balachandra is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College and a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She researches how entrepreneurs can successfully negotiate with investors.

‘Smart power’: Army making cultural training a priority

By Michelle Cohan, CNN
updated 8:36 AM EST, Sat January 12, 2013
Sgt. Grady Hyatt of the U.S. Army's Africa Command discusses an action plan with members of the Ghana Army.
Sgt. Grady Hyatt of the U.S. Army’s Africa Command discusses an action plan with members of the Ghana Army.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The United States is at war with ideals as much as or more than foreign armies
  • Troops’ curricula to include demographics, religion, languages, political landscapes
  • Thumbs-up in Egypt, showing soles of feet in Iraq are examples of offensive gestures
  • Commander: Increasing countries’ capabilities could prevent future U.S. deployments

(CNN) — Chemical weapons engulf soldiers carrying 60-pound rucksacks, their mud-filled boots trenching through a river dividing simulated enemy lines.

Troops run in the desert to acclimate to harsh conditions with winter temperatures as low as 8 degrees, summer as high as 120.

The training becomes increasingly realistic in the weeks before deployment, mirroring the topography they may endure, but not necessarily the human terrain — the cultures they’ll be dealing with. And in a foreign land, something as seemingly innocuous as a thumbs-up sign or shaking a woman’s hand can land a soldier in trouble.

While physical conditioning and live-fire exercises certainly help prepare troops for deployment, they’re culturally blind if they don’t understand the people among whom they’ll be fighting. In the 21st century, when the U.S. is at war with ideals as much as — if not more than — foreign armies, this blind side can be as dangerous as your M249 jamming.

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“This makes warfare a lot more complex. So we have to be much more expeditionary. We have to be more intelligence-minded, more people-minded. We have to understand the populations that we’re operating in and among,” said Nick Dowling, a former National Security Council director who runs the culture-training company, IDS International.

The past decade has taught the U.S. Army many lessons. According to Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, the biggest takeaway from Iraq and Afghanistan is the importance of “understanding the prevailing culture and values.”

To address tomorrow’s conflicts, Odierno revealed an initiative in March 2012 to regionally align brigades with the six unified command zones. The plan aims to create brigades better equipped to operate in specific regions by establishing language and cultural proficiency programs in their assigned territory.

Currently, anthropology, language and 10,000 years of heritage are squeezed into troops’ curricula a few weeks before deployment, what Dowling calls “cultural training on steroids.” Between pre-deployment paperwork and drills, they are handed a small pamphlet outlining some history and cultural no-nos to avoid.

Former soldier Joseph Hurst recalled there was sparse cultural training before his 2003 deployment to Iraq.

“They gave us an English/Arabic translation book, told us things not to say and do like give the OK sign, which is seen as an obscene gesture, and that was about it,” he said.

As the Army concludes its mission in Afghanistan, top military leaders are not only looking back but also forward to what the 21st century holds as new threats arise.

The enemy du jour is manifested in ethnicities spanning more than one country, yet adhering to the same ideals, making borders often meaningless. Take al Qaeda in Iraq and Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The Islamist groups may be on different continents, but they subscribe to similar ideals, inciting state-to-state rivalries.

Col. Jeff Broadwater said efforts to craft a more culturally savvy Army is an effort to foster more symbiotic relationships across various regions.

Broadwater is a commander with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, aka “Dagger Brigade,” which is the first force to be regionally aligned. Dagger Brigade will provide U.S. Africa Command with defense guidance and security enhancement beginning March 2013.

“By increasing their security and capabilities, it will prevent potential future threats to their countries as well as the U.S.,” he said, adding that such proactive measures could actually make U.S. deployments unnecessary in the future.

Here’s a look at how U.S. troops are deployed around the world. The numbers, from a September 2012 Defense Department report, do not include military personnel in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, U.S. territories or any unknown or classified locations:

Europe: 74,560

Ex-Soviet Union: 194

East Asia/Pacific: 52,417

North Africa, Near East & South Asia: 4,593

Sub-Saharan Africa: 518

Western Hemisphere: 2,226

The Africa-aligned armored brigade of 4,000 troops based out of Fort Riley, Kansas, will still maintain core combat skills, such as gunnery, live-fire training and medical training so it can respond to any mission globally, but the brigade will have a more tedious training regimen than the one-size-fits-all approach applied to current general forces.

Africa hosts a multitude of customs. More than 2,000 languages (and by some counts, as many as 3,000) are spoken on the continent. Most Africans adhere to some brand of Christianity or Islam, but there are also animist beliefs as well as ethnic and folk mythologies. You can also find a smattering of Hindus and Jews.

To “put a sharper point on the pencil,” as Broadwater explains it, experts and advisers will school soldiers in demographics, religious breakdowns, dominant languages, political landscapes and general cultural understanding.

Watch Army chaplain share thoughts on cultural mistakes in Afghanistan

Their training can include lessons as disparate as proper social interactions and the kinds of weapons systems that a country’s basic security force might be equipped with, said Lt. Col. Joel Buenaflor, who helps plan the regionally aligned forces.

For example, Islam in many countries forbids men from touching a woman who isn’t a relative, and this includes shaking her hand, a common American greeting. Former soldier Hurst also said showing the soles of your feet is disrespectful in Iraq. In Egypt, the thumbs-up sign is considered offensive.

The training will be tailored to the needs and requests of nations hosting U.S. troops, with the aim of “transferring knowledge to our counterparts to bring them to a proficiency level where they can help us in the future,” said Col. Matthew McKenna, commander of the 162nd Infantry Brigade, which will help train Dagger Brigade to become more culturally adept during its time in Africa.

The 162nd currently functions as a combat adviser for foreign security forces, responsible for training all Army personnel deploying for the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Already, several African nations have requested 90 small-scale missions to familiarize their soldiers with weapons and basic rifle marksmanship. They’ve also requested combined military exercises and that the U.S. Army help them enhance live-fire capabilities, medical training and logistics, so Dagger Brigade will focus on those requests, McKenna said.

“Anthropologically, socially, economically, they’ll have to reset what the answers are, but the right questions will already be in their mind.”
Nick Dowling, founder of IDS International

“We also have 27 larger collective exercises which are developed to build the capacity of the regional peacekeeping brigades within Africa,” he said.

But even before deploying, Dagger Brigade is already encountering obstacles. With the Pentagon’s 2013 fiscal budget slicing 80,000 troops over the next five years, the Army is wrestling with the question: Who’s going to pay for this?

“I think in the long term, though, the Army sees this as a more efficient way to train the staff,” Dowling said.

Odierno seems to agree, as he made the regional alignment a top pillar in his Army 2020 objectives aimed at making leaders more adaptive and equipment more modern.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated how cognizance of cultures, ethnicities and religions was essential to understanding the source of conflict, Broadwater said.

Dowling added that the training alone can help a soldier better understand the lay of any land. Even if troops received cultural training specifically for African nations, it would be better to use that unit in the Middle East than troops who weren’t culturally aligned at all, he said.

“Anthropologically, socially, economically, they’ll have to reset what the answers are, but the right questions will already be in their mind,” he said.

Brazil: A User’s Guide

05 NOVEMBER 2012  JUAN PABLO VILLALOBOS, Granta.com

 Juan Pablo Villalobos offers a guide to surviving life in Brazil.

Identity crisis (1). São Paulo and Manaus are as similar as Wales and China. Comparing Rio de Janeiro and Palmas is like comparing a shoe with a rocket. Porto Alegre and Rio Branco like a frog to a cup of coffee. Belo Horizonte and Salvador like an Other-Human hair to a constellation. The sum of these differences is called Brazil.

Tips that can save your self esteem (1). You don’t want to play in that football game on the beach, believe me.

Bureaucratic stuff (1). The Brazilian banking system was created by a Czech writer called Franz Kafka.

Ways of saying Hi (1):

– Hi, all ok?

– All ok and you?

– All ok.

– Then it is ok.

Security controls. If you want to enter to a condominium, relax. Have you ever gone to Pluto with a Green Planet passport?

On chauvinism (1). The best and largest and most beautiful things in the whole Universe are in Rio Grande do Sul.

Tips that can save your life (1). Never voice a single negative opinion about Brazilian music.

The football paradox. According to TV commentators, the Brazilian national team never loses a game (never have and never will), even when it contradicts the result. Do not try to change this idea.

Ways of liking things. Name the cool things ‘legal’, ‘beauty’ or ‘optimum’.

Speaking perfect Brazilian Portuguese. Forget it, you won’t.

Conversations with children:
– Hi uncle! or Hi aunt! (relax, you are not really his or her uncle or aunt)

– Hi little nuts! (never say: Hi nephew! or Hi niece! The actual uncles or aunts are called u-uncle and a-aunt)

Tips that can save you from shame (1). Never ask: ‘How was the run?’ based on footwear.

On chauvinism (2). The best and largest and most beautiful things in the whole Universe are in Minas Gerais.

Ways of saying collective Hi: And there, galley!

Identity crisis (2). If you ask a Brazilian human to take you to dance sambaand drink a caipirinha there is a very big enormous probability that they will accuse you of being a gringo (even if you are Brazilian).

Tips for seducing Brazilian top models. Forget it, you won’t.

Ways of expressing surprise:

– Our Mrs.!

Abbreviated form (commonest):

– Our!

Bureaucratic stuff (2). The Brazilian tax system was created by an Irish writer called Samuel Beckett.

Tips that can save your life (2). If you are about to eat Bahia food and the smiling waitress asks if you want it ‘cold’ or ‘hot’. The answer is: cold.

Ways of saying Hi: (2)

– And there, beauty?

– Beauty and you?

– Little beauty.

– Then it is ok.

Food licentiousness. Yes, you can put sushi, lasagna, kibbeh and rice with beans in the same plate.

Tips that can save you from mental illness. Gisele Bündchen will not marry you, accept it.

Literary issues. If you are foreigner and you want to talk about books you should be really prepared to answer properly this next question: who is your favourite Brazilian writer?

Ways of saying Hi: (3)

– And there, all quiet?

– All quiet and you?

– All quiet too.

– Then it is ok.

Tips that can save you from shame (2). Never think he or she was making a joke about his or her name. No matter the name they told you, it’s the actual name.

Curious ways of perceiving time. If a Brazilian human says that something will not take long, relax: it will.

Religion. The most popular religions in Brazil are Flamengo and Corinthians.

Tips that can save your life (3). You don’t want to stroke that capybara.

On chauvinism (3). The best and largest and most beautiful things in the whole Universe are in Campinas.

Tips that can save your self-esteem (2). Do not try to read Guimarães Rosa in Portuguese.

Ways of saying Hi: (4)

– And there, all right?

– All little right and you?

– All right too.

– Then it is ok.

Tips that can save your life (4). Never call during the nine o’clock soup opera.

Bureaucratic stuff (3). The Brazilian buying and selling system was created by a Romanian writer called Eugène Ionesco.

Tips that can save your life and mental health: relax and enjoy. ■

5 Tips to Maximize Your International Business Travel

Dorie Clark, Contributor, Forbes.com
Spectators watch a Germanwings airplane land a...
Are you maximizing your international business travel? (Image credit: AFP via @daylife)

Just because you’re a frequent flier doesn’t mean you have a global mindset, says Gregory Unruh, co-author (with Angel Cabrera) ofBeing Global: How to Think, Act, and Lead in a Transformed World: “You can have the same Hilton experience in Shanghai as you can in Sao Paolo. It’s very possible to travel internationally without really becoming global.” If you want to get the most out of your international travel  – not just add miles to your Platinum status – here are five strategies to globalize your perspective.

  1. Don’t stay in a chain hotel. “When I have to go on a trip,” says Unruh, “I try to find a hotel that’s not an international chain, but more of a local hotel or bed and breakfast.” It requires some research (you don’t want something too far away from your meetings) and a willingness to give up member points. But you’ll get a more authentic view of the country.
  2. Read up beforehand. It’s tempting to pack your briefcase full of papers for work. Why read up on a country when you’ll barely see anything outside the conference room? But buying a tourbook and reading up on local customs, history, or culture can provide helpful fodder for conversations – and perhaps pique your interest enough to get you out on the town.
  3. Experience local culture. You may be so jetlagged, the last thing you want to do is go out and ‘experience culture’ at 3 a.m. your time. But Unruh says you should make the effort, anyway. “Even if you don’t have much time, there’s always a museum of local history,” he says. “You can find out more about the people who live there, what’s happened, how the town formed. You have to look for those opportunities.”
  4. Start a conversation. Especially if you don’t speak the language, it can be intimidating to approach locals. You may feel embarrassed or frustrated that you can’t communicate well. But try to learn a few words from the guidebook and give it your best shot – it’ll be appreciated. “As much as possible, be an extrovert,” Unruh advises. “Try to talk to the waiter or waitress; start asking questions.”
  5. Try the food. A quick and enjoyable way to learn about a country is to sample the local food. And though some hotel restaurants are excellent, a solid path to authenticity – where safe – is to eat at small, mom-and-pop restaurants. “Ask for the local dish and the local wine,” says Unruh. “They’ll be very proud.” And you’ll have great stories to tell when you return home, recounting that unbelievable Spanish paella or Peking duck.

Developing a global mindset and becoming a top-notch international traveler “requires a little forethought before you get on the plane,” says Unruh. At first, diving headlong into the real culture of a foreign country (as opposed to the five-star hotel version) can be discomfiting. “All the things you take for granted – the way you’re supposed to sneeze or eat your food – those things no longer work. There’s a process of culture shock and adaptation. But if you stick with it long enough, you can see why it makes sense and is logical to them – and why, when they come to our country, our logic might seem weird.”

The process of widening your experience and understanding new cultures can literally reshape your brain, says Unruh: “Once you’ve done that, your mind is more flexible, and you’re able to handle complexity better.” And those are skills we could all use.

How do you maximize your international travel? And what steps are you taking to develop a global mindset?

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcomingReinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation.

Searching for a Happy Medium

Posted on 1 August, 2012, by Valerie Berset-Price

Will your business translate? Exporting tips from the experts…

By Valerie Berset- Price, Professional Passport

Some companies stumble into exporting like fanny-packed sightseers, clueless about language, culture, even their own itinerary.

You can avoid being branded a tourist, says international consultant Valérie Berset-Price. Before co-founding her Portland, Ore., firm, she handled global trade for companies in Brazil, South Africa, Taiwan and her native Switzerland. Today she coaches Nike and Intel executives. She and other experts offer these tips:

Get smart. Do your homework – about the target country and your own business. Study your products, services, finances and personnel. Conduct focus groups. Don’t rush into exporting because everyone else is.

Get on a plane. “You’re not going to find a distributor online, click your mouse and everything’s on autopilot,” said Jeff Geiger, international trade specialist for the Virginia Small Business Development Centers Network. “You have to make visits there. Or you’ve got to pay for your distributor to come to you. Or you need to fly to a trade show.”

Get help. Use resources like SCORE or your local SBDC. “What if your best market is Japan?” said Theodora E. von Hohenstaufen Noll of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “How can a small business in Hampton Roads – that doesn’t speak Japanese, that has a time-zone difference – find an in-country representative? That’s where we come in; we help identify the right market, the best entry strategy and potential distributors or end users.”

Don’t attempt complicated procedures like freight forwarding or banking documents (letters of credit, etc.) yourself.

“Those should be handled by experts,” Berset-Price said. “The time spent memorizing Incoterms (International Commercial terms) and banking tools that most people will never – and should never – handle on their own is a waste of time.”

Get some patience. Successful exporting takes time. For SteelMaster Buildings, whose global projects include an aircraft hangar in Malta and a gold-mining facility in Peru, it took five years. The Virginia Beach company hired an international business manager in 2006.

“Her directive was to grow that side of the business,” said Vice President Rob Poellnitz. “We really had no international distributors at the time. Now we have 50 worldwide.”

Get multilingual. Learn the language, culture, traditions and etiquette. In Switzerland, punctuality matters, Berset-Price said, while the concept of time is more relaxed in Latin America and Africa. Expect differences in humor and colloquialisms.

“My Idaho clients use sports analogies,” she said. “I had to call them on it and say, ‘You know, “the whole nine yards” doesn’t mean anything in France; they don’t play American football and they don’t count in yards.’”

Even one country can vary dramatically between regions – from dialects to electrical outlets.

“American companies don’t value the need for localization,” Berset-Price said. “In America– from Seattle to Virginia– we speak one language, we watch the same television shows, we share the same beliefs, mainly. We have a very homogeneous culture.

“That’s a booby trap for small and midsized companies going international. … They’re used to catering to Americans, so they adopt the same mechanisms [abroad], and those mechanisms don’t work.”

Get involved … every step of the way. Many cultures appreciate – and expect – some micromanagement. “Americans would find this offensive,” Berset-Price said. “Well, in China or Vietnam, it’s absolutely not considered rude; it’s in fact showing respect and caring for the project.”

Get friendly. Americans typically avoid mixing business with pleasure,but many cultures embrace it. Cultivating friendships is important, particularly if you encounter problems. In emerging markets – Brazil, China, India– a solid relationship can grease the wheels faster than the legal system.

“If all we have is just business, then I only have the law, and the law in many countries is inefficient,” Berset-Price said. “The more you go into emerging markets, the more you need that relationship, because the ground is even shakier.”

“Borders Frequented by Trade Seldom Need Soldiers”

Posted on 1 May, 2012 by Valerie Berset- Price, Professional Passport

It is true that when it comes to international business and cultural intelligence, I specialize in pointing out what our nation tends to do wrong. Today will be different, ladies and gentlemen. Today, we will take a ride on the positive side of things because I was fed a lot of hope last week while attending “ACCESS 2012: Africa, Middle East and South East Asia,” a yearly conference organized by the U.S. Commercial Services on business opportunities spotted around the world and hosted this year on the campus of Thunderbird School of Global Management (SGM), a vanguard international management institution. So what made the conference so different this year? Enthusiasm, passion, and the proof, in Thunderbird SGM, that we have great resources and leaders to teach us how to act and behave in a way that engenders true partnership throughout the world. Former Ambassador Charles Ford, now acting director general for the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Services, was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, and his delivery embodied the determination of the Obama administration in doubling our nation’s export within five years. His words reminded us that there is more to trade than money, echoing William Schurz’s powerful words that “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.” Two panelists, Heather Byrnes from the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, and Lincoln Dahl from African Energy, come to mind when analyzing what we do right in terms of international endeavors. Byrnes loves Ghana, and her passion for this western African nation is contagious. She sees lots of business opportunities there, and her illustrated descriptions of the place ignited the audience, making us want to find reasons to travel to and do business in Ghana. As to Dahl — a graduate of Thunderbird SGM and a former commercial officer — Africa is his whole life. While living in Zambia during his foreign service assignment, he realized that most Africans solely relied on generators and that most had trouble maintaining their access to power. This gave him the idea that wind and solar equipment manufacturers should export their products to Africa. He contacted several Western manufacturers, providing them with hot leads and advice on how to do business throughout the continent. He quickly realized that nobody had interest in doing business in sub-Saharan Africa. Companies assumed they would never get paid and that the market Dahl described could not afford their products. Disappointed but not defeated, Dahl decided to import those products to Africa himself, creating in the process his own import company. What is fantastic about Dahl is that he is one of the few U.S. nationals I have ever met who really understands Africa. While on the panel, he told us about the numerous business opportunities that exist in Nigeria and how thinking out of the box with regard to payment and delivery terms made him a millionaire. Dahl is an exception in our country and a role model we must emulate. His time on the continent made him resilient, flexible, and patient while being quick on his feet. He understood many years ago that Africa can deliver if you learn how to adapt to its pace and know how to rely on the power of relationships. Dahl is a generous human being who is determined to make a difference in the region while having found a source of income for him and his local staff. And it is that genuine investment in the region he serves and his love for the African population that resonate with his audience. He is invested in Africa for the right reasons, and he is in it for the long run. Dahl told me afterwards that he does not sell his devices anywhere other than Africa because he knows he might get addicted to the ease of serving other regions, which could distract him from his main cause. Dahl’s disposition toward partnership in business and wanting to make the world a better place is quite typical of a Thunderbird graduate, which I learned while sitting down with Dr. Angél Cabrera, president for a few more hours of Thunderbird SGM at the time of our discussion. Managing with ethics — thus putting personal gain aside, resisting corruption, and the exploitation of the weak — are priorities to Cabrera, who even came up with an oath that Thunderbird’s students recite at graduation. Cabrera, a native of Spain and an impressive polyglot, is a true globalist. As such, he disagrees with Thomas Friedman’s assumption that the world is flat. To him, the world is round, beautiful, and complex; managing amid such complexity requires a global mindset and the ability to lead with cultural intelligence. Listening to Cabrera is inspiring. His soft and subtle Spanish accent renders his talk on internationalization even more real, but what makes him a great global leader is his ability to connect with people and motivate them into action. He is genuine, kind, and engaging. I have ordered the book he and his colleague, Dr. Gregory Unruh, just released a few days ago (Being Global: How to Think, Act, and Lead in a Transformed World), and I am eager to read it. I normally don’t like to be told how to do anything, but I suspect that Cabrera, a man who has been voted one of the most influential global thought leaders of our time, has a few things of importance to share with us as we forge forward into a century that is not always easy to grasp.

Many U.S. Immigrants’ Children Seek American Dream Abroad

Chiara Goia for The New York Times

Reetu Jain, raised in Texas, in Mumbai, India. “We’re surrounded by people who just want to try something new,” she said.

By KIRK SEMPLE

Published: April 16, 2012, The New York Times

Samir N. Kapadia seemed to be on the rise in Washington, moving from an internship on Capitol Hill to jobs at a major foundation and a consulting firm. Yet his days, he felt, had become routine.

By contrast, friends and relatives in India, his native country, were telling him about their lives in that newly surging nation. One was creating an e-commerce business, another a public relations company, still others a magazine, a business incubator and a gossip and events Web site.

“I’d sit there on Facebook and on the phone and hear about them starting all these companies and doing all these dynamic things,” recalled Mr. Kapadia, 25, who was born in India but grew up in the United States. “And I started feeling that my 9-to-5 wasn’t good enough anymore.”

Last year, he quit his job and moved to Mumbai.

In growing numbers, experts say, highly educated children of immigrants to the United States are uprooting themselves and moving to their ancestral countries. They are embracing homelands that their parents once spurned but that are now economic powers.

Some, like Mr. Kapadia, had arrived in the United States as young children, becoming citizens, while others were born in the United States to immigrant parents.

Enterprising Americans have always sought opportunities abroad. But this new wave underscores the evolving nature of global migration, and the challenges to American economic supremacy and competitiveness.

In interviews, many of these Americans said they did not know how long they would live abroad; some said it was possible that they would remain expatriates for many years, if not for the rest of their lives.

Their decisions to leave have, in many cases, troubled their immigrant parents. Yet most said they had been pushed by the dismal hiring climate in the United States or pulled by prospects abroad.

“Markets are opening; people are coming up with ideas every day; there’s so much opportunity to mold and create,” said Mr. Kapadia, now a researcher at Gateway House, a new foreign-policy research organization in Mumbai. “People here are running much faster than the people in Washington.”

For generations, the world’s less-developed countries have suffered so-called brain drain – the flight of many of their best and brightest to the West. That has not stopped, but now a reverse flow has begun, particularly to countries like China and India and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and Russia.

Some scholars and business leaders contend that this emigration does not necessarily bode ill for the United States. They say young entrepreneurs and highly educated professionals sow American knowledge and skills abroad. At the same time, these workers acquire experience overseas and build networks that they can carry back to the United States or elsewhere – a pattern known as “brain circulation.”

But the experts caution that in the global race for talent, the return of these expatriates to the United States and American companies is no longer a sure bet.

“These are the fleet-footed; they’re the ones who in a sense will follow opportunity,” said Demetrios G. Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit group in Washington that studies population movements.

“I know there will be people who will argue all about loyalty, et cetera, et cetera,” he said. “I know when you go to war, loyalty matters. But this is a different kind of war that affects all of us.”

The United States government does not collect data specifically on the emigration of the American-born children of immigrants – or on those who were born abroad but moved to the United States as young children.

But several migration experts said the phenomenon was significant and increasing.

“We’ve gone way beyond anecdotal evidence,” said Edward J. W. Park, director of the Asian Pacific American Studies Program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Mr. Park said this migration was spurred by the efforts of some overseas governments to attract more foreign talent by offering employment, investment, tax and visa incentives.

“So it’s not just the individuals who are making these decisions,” he said. “It’s governments who enact strategic policies to facilitate this.”

Officials in India said they had seen a sharp increase in the arrival of people of Indian descent in recent years – including at least 100,000 in 2010 alone, said Alwyn Didar Singh, a former senior official at the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

Many of these Americans have been able to leverage family networks, language skills and cultural knowledge gleaned from growing up in immigrant households.

Jonathan Assayag, 29, a Brazilian-American born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in South Florida, returned to Brazil last year. A Harvard Business School graduate, he had been working at an Internet company in Silicon Valley and unsuccessfully trying to develop a business.

“I spent five months spending my weekends at Starbucks, trying to figure out a start-up in America,” he recalled.

All the while, Harvard friends urged him to make a change. “They were saying: ‘Jon, what are you doing? Go to Brazil and start a business there!’ “ he said.

Relocating to São Paulo, he became an “entrepreneur in residence” at a venture capital firm. He is starting an online eyewear business. “I speak the language, I get the culture, I understand how people do business,” he said.

Calvin Chin was born in Michigan and used to live in San Francisco, where he worked at technology start-ups and his wife was an interior decorator. Mr. Chin’s mother was from China, as were his paternal grandparents. His wife’s parents were from Taiwan.

They are now in Shanghai, where Mr. Chin has started two companies – an online loan service for students and an incubator for technology start-ups. His wife, Angie Wu, has worked as a columnist and television anchor.

“The energy here is phenomenal,” Mr. Chin said.

The couple have two children, who were born in China.

Reetu Jain, 36, an Indian-American raised in Texas, was inspired to move to India while taking time off from her auditing job to travel abroad. Everywhere she went, she said, she met people returning to their countries of origin and feeling the “creative energy” in the developing world.

She and her husband, Nehal Sanghavi, who had been working as a lawyer in the United States, moved to Mumbai in January 2011. Embracing a long-held passion, she now works as a dance instructor and choreographer and has acted in television commercials and a Bollywood film.

“We’re surrounded by people who just want to try something new,” Ms. Jain said.

For many of these émigrés, the decision to relocate has confounded – and even angered – their immigrant parents.

When Jason Y. Lee, who was born in Taiwan and raised in the United States, told his parents during college that he wanted to visit Hong Kong, his father refused to pay for the plane ticket.

“His mind-set was, ‘I worked so hard to bring you to America and now you want to go back to China?’ “ recalled Mr. Lee, 29.

Since then, Mr. Lee has started an import-export business between the United States and China; studied in Shanghai; worked for investment banks in New York and Singapore; and created an international job-search Web site in India. He works for an investment firm in Singapore. His father’s opposition has softened.

Margareth Tran – whose family followed a path over two generations from China to the United States by way of Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong and France – said her father was displeased by her decision in 2009 to relocate.

“It’s kind of crazy for him that I wanted to move to China,” said Ms. Tran, 26, who was born in France and moved to the United States at age 11. “He wants me to have all the benefits that come from a first-world country.”

But after graduating from Cornell University in 2009 at the height of the recession, she could not find work on Wall Street, a long-held ambition. She moved to Shanghai and found a job at a management consulting firm.

“I had never stepped foot in Asia, so part of the reason was to go back to my roots,” she said.

Ms. Tran said she did not know how long she would remain abroad. She said she was open to various possibilities, including moving to another foreign country, living a life straddling China and the United States or remaining permanently in China.

Her father has reluctantly accepted her approach.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to try to make it in China, and if things work out for me in China, then I can have a really great career,’ “ she said. “He didn’t hold me back.”

Copyright 2012

The New York Times Company

Training for International Travel

ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN TRAINING MAGAZINE.COM | THU, 04/12/2012 – 00:00

By Valérie Berset-Price

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit(Global Firm in 2020: The Next Decade of Change for Organizations and Workers), the next 15 years will be paved with serious challenges for American organizations as they enter the global arena to sustain their growth. Those challenges lie within cultural values that differ from one country to the next, quality standards that are not interpreted equally throughout the world, and the use of different languages to communicate.

While the ideal person a company would send on an international business trip would have an international background and display the necessary traits described in my previous article (“The Global Mindset,”http://trainingmag.com/article/global-mindset), not all companies have access to such expertise. Most U.S. mid-size companies may have employees who have never traveled abroad (only 37% of Americans own a passport) and who have had little exposure to the world. How do we train such employees to be the global ambassadors every company needs?

Setting the stage and psychologically preparing people for what they will see, how people around them may behave, and the type of behaviors they should personally embrace has a deep impact on preserving the efficiency of employees abroad. Consider this scenario: Carol, a young, talented communications professional was tapped to represent her marketing company at an international symposium in Cairo. Her directives seemed simple: Mingle with your international peers and bring back some new and fresh ideas that will be discussed in the forum by presenters from around the world.

Carol was flattered to have been chosen for this international assignment. However, she had no previous international experience and no idea what to expect while in Cairo. She felt out of place the entire week. She could not understand why men—who made up most of the attendees—would avoid her gaze and refuse to shake her hand. Moreover, she felt sick during the entire week, and could not attend many conference presentations. Carol lost confidence and retreated to her hotel room, where she watched American movies while nursing her upset stomach. Her trip cost her company close to $12,000, and no return ever came out of that investment.

While Carol’s story may sound extreme, many American employees can relate to her discomfort. What could her employer have done to make Carol more efficient in this setting? Professional cross-cultural training would have provided Carol with the following knowledge:

  1. Local history and customs: Knowing them has business value—when people are uncomfortable, they are not able to open up and relate to locals. Carol would have learned about Egypt’s cultural mores and would have been prepared for the disparity she witnessed while traveling throughout Cairo, avoiding thus a disorienting culture shock. A good cross-cultural class, in addition to emphasizing business culture, shows images of the city where people will go. A map of the city is displayed so people have a sense of where they will be, how big the city is, how the public transportation functions, and practical but “foreign” practices.
  2. Communication: Arabic is the spoken language of Egypt, followed by French. Armed with a few basic sentences and a mini-phrase book Carol would have shown Egyptians that she genuinely desired to communicate with them. Most cultures will respond positively when they see someone making an effort to communicate with them in their native language.
  3. Gastronomy: Cairo is a cosmopolitan city where many cuisines can be found. The local cuisine, however, is Arabic and not what most Americans stomachs can easily adapt to.
  4.  Greetings: Carol would have learned that in the Muslim world a woman should not extend her hand, look a man in the eyes, or greet him with a warm and engaging smile. All three behaviors could be misinterpreted as sexual advances. Instead, a woman would look down or away in his presence. Having been groomed on what to expect, Carol would have learned to anticipate men’s possible behaviors, as well as other unwelcome behaviors (such as crossing one’s leg to reveal one’s sole) and not feel rejected.
  5. Jetlag preparation: Carol would have learned about the 24 time zones that form the world and how jetlag affects the international traveler. She would have learned to adjust her watch to the host country as she stepped onto the plane, preparing her brain while in-flight to a different eating and sleeping schedule. She would have traveled to Cairo a couple of days ahead of the conference to adjust to her jetlag and also to familiarize herself with her new environment.
  6. Attire: The class would have taught Carol what to pack to attend a business function as a woman in a Muslim country. As such, she should have packed mid-calf-length skirts, long-sleeved blouses/jackets, and a scarf in her purse to drape over her hair when stepping outside of her hotel. In short, nothing fitted and revealing.
  7. Advance networking: Carol would have learned in her class to check with the conference organizers to ask if she could be put in contact with other women who might be traveling alone to attend the conference. Together, they could have visited Cairo to familiarize themselves with the area and its culture.

Training employees on cross-cultural paradigms has become of utmost importance to successful business dealings. Even for people who will never have to travel, the world often is present intruding through videoconferencing. It is, thus, essential to adequately equip your teams with the cross-cultural tools the 21st century requires.

The Global Mindset

Six components of a solid training regimen that highlights the basic needed perspective modifications for international success.

ARTICLE | MON, 03/26/2012 – 00:00

By Valerie Berset-Price

Based on recent articles published in The Economist (The Future of Jobs, September 10, 2011), the professional skills needed for tomorrow are no longer technical. Algorithms soon will replace the need for engineers, mathematicians, and financiers. But what computers will never replace is the ability to facilitate dialog across cultures. Developing a global mindset and leading with cultural intelligence are two phrases that are used more and more often by management teams, and that can be defined as making oneself understood where cultural differences are at play.

Professionals who lived abroad for several years have learned to develop a global mindset the hard way, often experiencing painful failures, being forced to re-evaluate the way they approach foreign markets. While there is merit in learning the hard way, failure can have a steep price tag and a demoralizing effect. Training employees and giving them the tools needed to develop the global mindset needed to succeed prior to engaging in international endeavors is by far the most effective way to conduct international business and retain employees.

To reuse the analogy coined by David Livermore, author of “The Cultural Intelligence Difference,” culture should be experienced as when driving on the left side of the road for the first time: with acute attention, with cell phone and the radio off. While too many American companies tend to conduct international business while on cruise control, leading to major misunderstandings that translate into lost business and career opportunities, investing in developing a global mindset is, without a doubt, the highway to success.

So how should one train to develop a global mindset? Here are a few components of a solid training regimen that highlights the basic needed perspective modifications for international success:

  1. Define your own cultural DNA: Learn what you are made of and what your cultural inclination is as far as time management; team playing vs. individualism; relationship vs. business driven transactions; separation between professional life and personal life; equality vs. hierarchical layers. By being effectively trained on how culture influences behaviors, Karen, a trained HR director at a global company in Santa Clara, CA, is able to motivate her French employees in reaching higher professional accomplishments by presenting them with something aligned with their cultural values: added vacation time rather than just a wage and bonus increase, which would be more appealing to most Americans.
  2. Recognize that speaking English fluently may not mean non-Americans embrace and respect American cultural values. Don’t assume that people understand what you mean and understand your context for professional behavior. Take how language shapes culture, for example, in the degree of irony and sarcasm and the type of metaphors Americans use. Training allows people who have never had access to learning a foreign language or the opportunity to live abroad to develop the capacity to see their own speech patterns through the eyes of a non-native English speaker. Prior to training, James constantly used sports analogies in speaking to international colleagues. James would say to Ingrid from Karlsbad, Austria, that he expected her to “go the full nine yards on this project.” But Ingrid counts in the metric system and, thus, does not know what a yard is; she is also unaware of American football rules. She never understood that her boss expected her to engage fully in that project and treated it as a regular one, giving it a less-than-high priority for too long. Taking a class that highlighted cross-cultural communication pitfalls and how sports analogies can get in the way of clear comprehension between people helped James realize he immediately should remove sports analogies from his speech.
  3. Expect the difference and learn how to compromise: Jennifer felt highly offended when interviewing Goce for a job opening in Macedonia. He kept interrupting her and even finishing her sentences for her. She assumed Goce was sexist toward a female manager and decided to not hire him. Had she received adequate cross-cultural training, she would have had the capacity to step away from her irritation and realize that Goce’s speech pattern is typical of males and females in Mediterranean countries and should not be interpreted as disrespectful of her. She would have been able to see him as the ideal candidate to develop that region, positioning her company for success.
  4. Think on global terms: An international team does not always operate on Los Angeles time. It takes turns in experiencing the pain of working within the 24 time zones we have throughout the world by moving the noon conference call from one location to the next. Noon in Bangalore one week, noon in Buenos Aires one week, etc. Training gives you the tactical tools to be productive and welcome globally, and avoid leaving the impression that you put Americans’ needs first. It helps you create plans and programs that are culturally aware and relevant, including with basic things such as when to host conference calls.
  5. Treat people’s cultural values with respect: It is regarded as naïve and unseasoned by foreigners, who take deep pride in the antiquity of their cultures and what they have given civilization, to have their perspective disregarded. In fact, in today’s global village, their point of view is as important as what has been empirically proven in a company laboratory or approved by an American Ph.D. holder running the company. Training provides the awareness that many cultures have preferences for solutions or remedies that are based on different beliefs and experiences That awareness make foreigners feel valued and respected as whole contributors to the company instead of employees who are solely technically competent or, even worse, affordable labor.
  6. Learn your history: Some countries have a troubled past—genocide, violence against women, disappearance of people, labor camps, personal or family histories marked by wars, economic collapse, and political extremism. Had the marketing team of the GAP been trained on leading with cultural intelligence, they would have realized that 1969 was not a year to link to a Chinese marketing campaign that plastered Shanghai with billboards. They would have been made aware that any marketing efforts start with some thorough fact checking and a campaign that translates appropriately from one culture to another.

The biggest challenge domestic companies encounter with regard to leading their operation with cultural intelligence is that few managers are innately aware of the components and subtleties of cross-cultural communication. Thus, it is only by being proactive and exposing employees and executives alike to cultural intelligence training that the internationalization of companies will take place.

In my next article posting April 12, I will talk about how a global mindset prepares you for your first international business trip.

A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens our security

By:  Valérie Berset-Price, Director and Founder of “Professional Passport®: Work Anywhere With Confidence,” a corporate training program that teaches how to lead international business with cultural intelligence while developing a global mindset.

white paper published by the National Education Association in 2004 states “A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry.”

Eight years later, the Board of Alumni of a prestigious university is asking me for my thoughts on how to improve the international education and offerings of their institution. It’s a good question, but it should come from elementary teachers, not college alumni.   To internationalize our college students and teach them the ropes to successfully engage and compete in the global marketplace, there are some basic requirements that should have been taught throughout our students’ mandatory education, such as:

–                  World geography

–                  At least one foreign language taught to near proficiency

–                  Awareness of cross-cultural differences and similarities.

Ideally, starting in middle-school, students would have spent time studying abroad, experiencing first hand the subtleties brought by cross-cultural differences and the magical advantage of being able to express oneself in a foreign language. Equipped with such knowledge and experience, we could then teach college students how to analyze current world trends with fresh eyes. Collaboratively, they could bring new perspectives to the international equation and work on adapting our management styles to make it efficient when operating abroad. They could contribute to the localization of our brands. Unfortunately, as of today, many college students do not have that solid international base.

So where do we start? We need an international workforce. We need masses of multilingual, multicultural professionals. We have a handful. Those are graduates from magnet, charter and private international schools. Additionally, a few of those globally prepared students come from devoted families of emigrants who kept the tradition of speaking their native language and maintaining their cultural values at home while becoming exemplary U.S. citizens.

It’s sad to say, but international education under all forms is optional in our country: a true luxury instead of the commodity it should be. You might, however, read this and wonder why developing those traits at an early age might be as important as I present them to be. After all, what we want is to sell our products or buy some from a foreign country; we don’t need to become best friends, and most people speak English today throughout the world anyway. Well, if that’s how you feel, it’s time to shift your paradigms and learn about cultural dimensions and how they directly impact our success abroad.

You see, in the categorization of culture the United States is catalogued as “transactionalist,” while the vast majority of the world is considered “relationist.” This means that in the United States, people are trained to focus on the transaction instead of the relationship between parties. To most North American business people, the most important component of international business is solvency. Can they pay? Yes? Then, let’s do it! Seen through an eye of a Brazilian or a Turk, solvency is just one component of the equation and not the most important one.

When working with my clients, I often feel their irritation with regard to the slowness of the transaction and the endless cups of tea that are required to move forward. They often consider those requests empty and irrational. It defies their logic, and they have no patience for it. Those same clients often have no formal international upbringing beyond international banking knowledge or International Commercial Terms. They are in international business by default and seldom have a good sense of world history and geography. They don’t speak a foreign language and have never lived abroad.  As a result, they are seldom successful.

Internationalization is an art that is slowly taught, like Tai Chi. It penetrates every cell of our beings. It is an art that must begin in kindergarten and diligently cultivated throughout our lives.  Let’s get started!

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