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Globetrotters take note: Cutting international deals is never business as usual

Anne Cappel, European-American Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. Photo | Scott Beseler
Anne Cappel, European-American Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. Photo | Scott Beseler

While globalization has opened up countless doors for Ohio businesses, it can represent a Pandora's box to those uninitiated in local social and business customs. In other words, just when you think you've taken a step forward, you might have just stepped in it.

Anne Cappel, executive director of the European-American Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati, makes it her business to help you stay out of harm's way. And she has some advice: Do your due diligence.

The EACC the first of its kind in the U.S. -- helps three kinds of entities: companies headquartered in Europe with a presence here, area companies that want to do business in Europe, and service providers (such as banks and attorneys) who have multinational expertise. Through seminars, networking events and related activities, Cappel's group can help you do homework that will pay off before you take off.

And her advice certainly can apply to places beyond Europe.

Network locally first, Cappel says. Speak with someone who's done business in your target country already. Ask what they know about best practices for introductions and appointments. "Find out how and why things work" as they do, she says.

And don't assume that because you've been a tourist somewhere, you know what's appropriate for business. If you underestimate the impact culture has on business, you'll likely commit a gaffe. Do some research.

The Ohio Department of Development reports there are 600 foreign-based corporations from 28 countries operating in this state, with more than 1,000 facilities employing between 180,000 to 200,000 here. You'll be able to find someone near you who can give first-hand tips. And look for special-interest groups like the EACC to find someone for cross-cultural advice. Some may be more oriented for social, rather than business, activities, but they're still great places to start. There's the Japan-America Society of Central Ohio (Columbus), Cleveland Society of Poles, and the Miami Valley International Trade Association (Kings Mills), just to name a few.

Many countries have embassies and consulates in each state. Personnel who work in those sites "can tell you how B2B works in their country, they can talk about competitive levels, tax structures, barriers to entry, and so on," Cappel says.

Also, take advantage of the Ohio Department of Development and U.S. Commercial Service resources. Cappel strongly recommends these for nuts-and-bolts details about entry into foreign markets. The ODOD Global Markets Division has personnel familiar with doing business in Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Chile, Brazil, Israel, South Africa, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and India. And you don't have to go to Washington to meet with a federal trade rep: the U.S. Commercial Service has personnel in all Ohio's major cities.

"If you start with the wrong base, nothing is solid," Cappel says.

Etiquette expert Ann Marie Sabath, author of numerous books including "Business Etiquette: Asia & The Pacific Rim" offers some from-the-trenches wisdom. For instance, when traveling to China it's a good idea to observe the following bits of wisdom:

- Don't interpret a "we'll see" as an affirmative answer.
- Don't serve your Chinese host or guest cheese. This food is not common in China, so it may not be compatible with their diet.
- Don't act as though you belong to the "Clean Plate Club." Instead, always leave something on your plate to show that you have been satisfied with that course.
- Don't use red ink when writing.
- Don't forget to present gifts to your business contacts.

"Be open and respectful," advises Mary Sue Findley, senior vice president of human resources at dunnhumbyUSA, a joint venture of The Kroger Company, based in Cincinnati, and dunnhumby, a research firm headquartered in London, England.

"Stop and listen before you jump in," Findley says.

Besides Ohio and London, Findley's company has "hubs" of personnel in India, Montreal, Toronto and Italy. But the company coordinates everyone by maintaining a consistent look and feel in each location. Branding is consistent at each branch, Findley says. So are performance management tools. But local flavor is acknowledged, too, she says.

The new hybrid of going "glocal," she says, means remembering regardless of location, "Everybody wants to feel respected and everybody wants to be treated fairly."

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