When doing business in a foreign country and a foreign culture, particularly a non-Western culture,
assume nothing and take nothing for granted. Turn every stone. Ask every question. Dig into every
detail. Because cultures really are different, and those differences can have a major impact on the
business environment and management challenges you will face in another country.
Common exporting mistakes made by companies include:
1. In the first flush of enthusiasm, the company spreads itself too thin, attempting to enter several
different markets, rather than focusing on one and establishing a base of expertise and strength
from which further efforts might be undertaken.
2. The company regarded exporting as a safety net, turning to it only when the domestic market
experienced a downturn and abandoning it when domestic business recovered. It did not develop
a long-term strategy or presence.
3. The company treated its foreign partners, agents, and distributors with less consideration than it
treated its partners and associates at home.
4. The company refused to modify its products to respond to regulations or cultural preferences in
its target markets.
5. The company attempted to operate exclusively in English and did not bother to provide itself with
capabilities in the language of the target market, nor did it seek to produce documents in that
6. The firm attempted to do everything by itself instead of engaging specialists such as freight
forwarders and Customs brokers to handle the technical details of exporting.
7. The company did not gather all the necessary background information about the target market. It
failed to devise a meaningful marketing plan before attempting to export.
International Business Dress
“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” - Mark Twain
Business Dress can vary from country to country. What works in one culture is another culture’s
poor taste. The whole point of business dress is not to distract potential clients with wild attire. It
would not be wise to dress the same in Japan as you’d dress in Italy, where style and quality are very
important, whereas in Japan people are more reserved and conservative. In Italy you may go to a
business meeting in a trendy, colourful shirt and wear linen trousers, but in Japan always wear your
most formal dark suit.
Even mistakes in your accessories can be highly detrimental to a prospective sale. For example,
there’s the story of the Texan and the Italian in Argentina. A large Argentine business was nearing
the end of a contract-evaluation process. The Texan and Italian CEOs both had bids in on the
contract; both wanted the job. When the final negotiations approached, the president of the
Argentine company asked to meet the short-list bidders before making his decision. The president of
the Texas company arrived for his meeting in Buenos Aires wearing an expensive light-gray suit. His
jewellery included a chunky gold bracelet, a designer watch, a heavy gold ring from his alma mater,
a massive silver belt buckle and a set of snakeskin boots. When the Italian arrived, he wore a dark,
well-fitted suit, a subtle tie, and no obvious jewellery. Although the U.S. company actually had a
broader line of products, the Argentine awarded the contract to the Italian firm. After it was over,
the Argentine president of the company offered some insight into his decision:
“The U.S. company’s products may have been nominally better than the Italians’, but I needed to
trust the company I was going to work with. The ostentatious show of jewellery and the loud clothes
on the American indicated to me that he was in business to amass personal wealth and had the poor
judgment to show it.”
South Americans generally opt for more conservative clothing. Bright colours and flashy fashions are
not suitable, nor are eye-catching accessories (lapel pins, etc.).
Obviously, rules of correct attire vary from country to country. What is in good taste in Houston may
be totally wrong in Hong Kong.
Article: Communication Mistakes
Wallace Immen, Globe and Mail
Siddarth Apaya has spoken English all of his life and, he says, "I thought my English skills were very
But Mr. Apaya got a rude awakening when he moved to Canada from India in 2004 and began to apply
for jobs. "I discovered I was wrong. I would make a simple statement and people would say: 'What's
that? Can you repeat it?' "
Last year, while working on an MBA at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of
Business, Mr. Apaya applied for three different summer internships in marketing.
Despite several years of experience as a brand manager for Nestlé SA in Mumbai, he was not called back
to any for a second round of interviews. "I realized the way I said things was holding me back. If I was
going to succeed in a corporate career in North America, I had to do something to be better
understood," he says.
That's a truth not only for foreign-born professionals but for many Canadian-born English speakers, says
Bonnie Gross, a speech pathologist and president of Toronto-based training firm SpeechScience
Language issues can be a huge stumbling block in developing or advancing a career, Ms. Gross says.
"No matter how bright and knowledgeable you are, if you are aiming for management or leadership, you
need the ability to get your message across and have it understood immediately, or you are going to
miss out on opportunities."
Why does it matter that people have different ways of expressing themselves?
"In everyday life it doesn't but, in the business world, where you have to convey information precisely, if
what you say is confusing or sounds too laid back, people will get the impression that you lack expertise
and enthusiasm," Ms. Gross says.
It can lock people out of careers or at least severely limit their potential.
No matter how good your credentials and technical skills are, getting a job always comes down to how
you come across in an interview, adds Andy Shi, Toronto-based vice-president of the Chinese
Professionals Association of Canada.
Because of this, his organization estimates that just 10 per cent of immigrating Chinese professionals
land a job in their field of expertise in their first year in Canada.
A large proportion of those are people who have worked on improving language skills to make
themselves better understood, he says.
Moreover, those whose accent holds them back find they often have to accept a less-well-paying job
just to survive. That, in turn, leaves them so little time to upgrade their skills that "eventually, they give
up the hunt for something in their profession," Mr. Shi says.
The range of language issues is as wide as the range of languages spoken.
Pronunciation issues are the most common because of the way consonants and combinations of letters
are pronounced in people's home countries, Ms. Gross says.
For instance, in Indian or Chinese dialects, there is no sound similar to a V and so speakers tend to use W
instead. "The problem in Canada is you create a completely different meaning; for instance, vine
becomes wine," she explains.
The letter R is pronounced many different ways around the world, rolled on the tongue in Spanish or
sounding more like L in Chinese, she adds.
And the combination "th" is not a sound used in most other languages. Not only is it difficult to learn to
pronounce, the fact you have to stick your tongue out to make the sound is considered rude in many
countries, Ms. Gross notes.
It's not just pronunciation but also the emphasis, or lack of it, placed on words that can cause confusion,
Ms. Gross says.
For example, people who come from India will have learned to put equal stress on all syllables and
words in a sentence, which is a feature of the way English is spoken in India. But to a Canadian ear, this
sounds flat and can be confusing, because here putting stress on some syllables gives clues to emphasis
and meaning, Ms. Gross says.
Pace is important as well, she says. Spanish-speaking people, for instance, tend to learn to talk at a very
rapid rate. When they speak in English, what they say can come out faster than many Canadians can
Conversely, native-born Canadians who grew up in rural areas may talk at a tempo that is so slow or
speak their words so softly that listeners can become distracted, Ms. Gross says.
While the most obvious temptation for those born abroad might be to make every effort to eliminate an
accent, there is actually a difference of opinion on how far immigrants should go to "sound Canadian."
Mr. Shi considers an accent a liability that should be eradicated as quickly as possible. It's a very practical
issue, he says. "The reality is people with a better accent will get better treatment. Anything you can do
to make it easier to be understood will help you fit in and be part of the team."
Ms. Gross, however, believes that an accent should be toned down but "it's important that you don't try
to get rid of an accent completely.
"I'm very clear on that because an accent tells people your heritage. Not only is that something to be
proud of, it can indicate you are multilingual and have experience beyond Canada."
But it does pay for people to work on ways to improve their speaking skills, with the help of a coach, a
course or even on their own. Courses run by Mr. Shi's organization for Chinese immigrants who want to
sound "more Canadian" always have a waiting list.
Speech coaching, Ms. Gross says, should aim to adjust speech patterns and pronunciation so that there
is no struggle on either the part of a speaker or a listener to communicate a message clearly.
To overcome language issues, Ms. Gross recommends repetitive practice in enunciating words and
exercises to retrain tongue movements. She says it takes a full three weeks of daily repetition of practice
sentences using an audio CD or video to get people into a habit, and a minimum of another three
months of daily drills before changes stick as a part of everyday speech patterns. There are also
breathing exercises that can help make a voice more dynamic.
Listening to and trying to emulate others who speak English well can help, but you must be systematic
about it and tune your ear to subtleties of emphasis and pitch.
Recognizing the importance of verbal comprehension in getting ahead, the Ivey business school is
turning an English-skills coaching program, which began as a pilot last year, into a regular feature of its
MBA program, starting this fall, says Lynn Sveinbjornson, manager of the career management
department at the London, Ont.-based school
"We want to make them as marketable as possible. The goal is to have all our graduates land a job in
their specialty within three months."
Each student in the MBA program receives an analysis of their speaking patterns and coaching as part of
their tuition, although they are free to opt out if they choose. Of the 15 students who took the
assessment in the pilot last year, 13 took the coaching. And four of those had been born and raised in
Canada. Ms. Sveinbjornson says. "They had more than adequate vocabularies, but they needed to work
on technical skills to come across more clearly and effectively in a business setting."
Mr. Apaya was one of them, saying he jumped at the chance to improve his English skills. He was
diagnosed as having the flat way of speaking with no emphasis on words that is typical of English spoken
"For me, it took practice, practice, practice, to make sure I put stress in the right places. It did not come
immediately, but it now feels natural to me."
He graduated in the spring and applied for three jobs. In the latest round of interviews, "I felt more
relaxed and wasn't holding back for fear that I wouldn't be understood." As a result, he says, "I could tell
I struck a chord" with all of the interviewers.
Indeed, he did. He received callbacks for a second round interviews for all three jobs and accepted an
offer to become an assistant marketing manager for General Mills Canada Corp. in Toronto.
Now he says, "I feel more confident and I can see people pay more attention to me."
Without that confidence that you can fit in, you will always hold back, he says. "If you don't get around
that fear of saying something wrong, you will never get the attention that you deserve."
Overcoming troubles with words
An accent or regional speech pattern can be a trademark -- but it can also be a career limiter, says
speech pathologist Bonnie Gross, president of SpeechScience International Inc.
Here are some of the ways that speakers from areas where much of Canada's new skilled immigrant
talent hails face difficulties, and ways to overcome them:
Words in Chinese are formed mainly in the back of the mouth and there is little movement of the
tongue or the air in the mouth. That's almost the complete opposite of the way words are spoken in
English, in which many are pronounced by movements of the tip of the tongue and air is pushed
outward, Ms. Gross says. It can make Chinese speakers sound tense and hesitant unless they practice
loosening up the front of their tongue and exhaling when they speak English. She recommends word
exercises that emphasize tongue movement and breathing.
Languages spoken on the Indian subcontinent use the same tone for all words, making statements
sound flat to English speakers. Ms. Gross has people from this region practice saying sentences and
putting emphasis on key words until the pattern becomes natural.
It is also difficult for people from India to pronounce words that contain the combination "th" or that
start with the letter R. Repeating a sentence like 'With or without the ruler" about 50 times in a row
slowly each day for several weeks will help make the pronunciations flow more naturally, Ms. Gross
Spanish speed control
People from Spanish-speaking countries have learned to talk so quickly that others used to the slower
pace of English can miss what they are saying. Ms. Gross says that can be helped by having people
practice reading text at a specific rate, which helps them remember they have to slow down when
Those who come from rural regions of Canada may speak more slowly than people in the cities. And
those from the Atlantic Provinces have a tendency to drawl their vowels. Ms. Gross typically coaches
Canadians to sharpen their phrasing when speaking, and put stronger emphasis on words.
Three attributes will help you avoid the mistakes that come from assuming too much: tolerance,
diligence and simplicity. You must have the tolerance to educate yourself about the foreign business
environment, the diligence to investigate that environment completely, and the simplicity of
communication to prevent misunderstandings and problems.
Profit from the experience of others. Customers, suppliers, and even competitors could be willing
to share their experiences with you. Network with those who have been where you are going,
even those in unrelated businesses. If you can find someone who has picked a partner, made an
investment, hired an employee or done any of the other things you will be doing overseas, take
advantage of that expertise.
Start slowly. A good start is more important than a quick start. Trade before you invest. Recruit a
representative before opening an office. If you can invest small before you invest big, do it.
Commit the resources. It takes time, money, and effort to prepare your business to succeed in a
foreign market. You will have to travel, hire new people, manage those people and rely on new
Be wary of the gatekeeper. It is important not only to get information but to get quality
information. That can be difficult if you rely exclusively on one information source. Different
perspectives improve your opportunity for success. Each perspective serves as a reality check for
Establish goals, procedures and business practices. Set detailed and realistic goals and define
business policies and procedures. Should problems arise in the future, you will have something to
fall back on to explain your position.
Lab Assignment - Accepted International Business Practices
Learn more about what is and what is not acceptable in a country of interest. Use websites such
as, Executive Planet and International Business Etiquette and Manners to investigate
acceptable business practices in the country you selected. With your partner, use the questions
below as a guide to prepare a slideshow presentation of your research:
1. What is appropriate business entertaining?
2. When should appointments be made and how should they be kept?
3. What are the rules for gift giving?
4. How should business people be addressed?
5. How should business people conduct themselves in public?
6. What are the guidelines for business dress?
7. What are appropriate subjects for conversation?