Being bilingual is not synonymous with being a good international manager of overseas operations, cautioned Gordon Hale, manager of strategic business development for Atlanta-based Home Depot.
Mr. Hale drew on his experiences in the mid-1990s as a manager for consumer product conglomerate Kimberly-Clark’s fledging Peruvian operations, during a presentation at the ‘It’s All About Global People Skills’ 2001 conference, held June 7 at the Swissôtel in Buckhead.
The mistake Kimberly-Clark and other multinational companies make, Hale said, is the assumption that a U.S. business model will work in an international setting with the right amount of determination and transparency on the part of the manager.
The truth of the matter, he countered, is that good managers must be able to recognize what parts of the U.S. model will work in the new setting, and what parts must be left behind in favor of more effective local alternatives.
Mr. Hale also counseled companies with a global presence to tailor their marketing and production operations to the local market. For example, he said, Kimberly-Clark’s feminine care manager in Peru used new technology and lower grade inputs to create a cheaper product to sell to a customers with lower purchasing power; the sector eventually became one of Kimberly-Clark’s most profitable markets in Peru.
Purchasing and operations functions, he added, require more vigilance abroad than in the U.S. The temptations of bribery and a tendency to slacken safety regulations in overseas production can be overcome by a well-developed and pervasive corporate culture of honesty and expectation, he maintained.
Finally, Mr. Hale cautioned companies not to marginalize the achievements and experience of overseas managers who have returned to the U.S. because, he pointed out, if one company does not find a use for their skills, another surely will.
The Global People Skills workshop also featured presentations on business culture norms and differences from Brenda Bellon of Prudential Relocation; Pat Linn, manager of international call center operations for UPS; Patti Wood, a former professor and now president of Communcation Dynamics and Phil Parker, president of goingEZenterprises, among others.