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18-12-2015 08:00

Minding your Ps & Qs: the importance of understanding culture in international business.

Think that we're only experts in mezzanine flooring design, construction and installation? Find out why we need to be just as competent in international culture!

Minding your Ps & Qs: the importance of understanding culture in international business.

What do you do when your Japanese boss falls asleep in the middle of an important board meeting?

What's the polite response when your Korean customer challenges you to a drinking contest?


Is it important to know the answers to these questions? As I've learned from years of working in the mezzanine floor industry, the answer is "yes" if you plan to take your business abroad and begin to trade internationally.


A few years ago, I remember explaining to my frustrated Hungarian colleagues that just because they had a minuted action from a meeting with a Chinese customer that didn't mean that the item had been agreed. Chinese customers will (and often do) change their minds frequently and expect flexibility from their business partners. I recall explaining to my Chinese customer that the best way to motivate a Hungarian team was to tell them that they were doing a great job, not telling them that they were bad all the time. In Tokyo I had several conversations with American firms where I explained that in Japanese business meetings the word "yes" does not mean the deal is agreed. It means simply that the Japanese have listened and acknowledged what is on offer.


After four years of living and working abroad I've learned one thing... that the respect of local culture and values is absolutely key to the success of your business. British companies often have the advantage of being able to sell themselves abroad on a brand image of quality, history, great design and innovation; all the things that people associate with making Britain "Great". But we ignore local culture at our peril. There have been some well-documented examples of British businesses' failed excursions into foreign markets because they had ignored the practices of the local market.


Why is this important? Because we live in a global market. By 2028 the average "man" in the world will be a 34 year old middle class Indian. China will have topped global GDP for a decade. Indonesia will be the World's fourth largest economy. At Mezzanine International Group we recognise that our customers sell in a global market. That's why we are adapting our culture to reflect the changing needs of our customers. Of course we still pride ourselves on our British heritage, but we haven't lost sight of our need to be aware of, and respectful of cultural values and how this translates into local business practice. That's one of the many benefits of building an international office with teams of people, who can advise on how best to conduct business in say Oman, Ethiopia or Azjbekistan, all of these represent countries where we have worked. And who have linguistic ability as for example, native German, Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese speakers (and some Japanese and Hungarian linguistic ability if you include me!). So if you have an opportunity in Bonn, Beijing, Sao Paolo or Barcelona we have the capability to design, project manage and construct your mezzanine platform with the support of a native language speaker.


So what do you do when your Japanese boss falls asleep in the middle of an important board meeting? You ignore it and carry on - even through the snoring!


Chris Page, International Business Development Lead, CMILT

Tel: +44 (0) 1732 849900


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