On Selecting the Right People for International Assignment
For several years, Valérie Antoinette’s client (a U.S. company) was solicited by a French company that wanted to distribute the U.S. company’s products in Europe. The U.S. company only responded to the requests when the American economy went soft in 2009. At that point, they decided to contact the French company. As often happens in Europe, the French company suggested a face-to-face meeting in Paris. The U.S. company’s CEO decided to send Richard, his most successful salesman, to Paris.
Richard went to Paris, met with representatives of the French company and came back to the United States puzzled. He could not tell the CEO if the meeting went well or not. To him, the meeting was odd. First, nobody spoke English well enough to have a productive business conversation. Second, the French seemed more interested in showing Richard around and engaging him in pleasantries than in conducting business. After receiving Richard’s impressions, the U.S. company began emailing the French company asking what the next step should be. The response was slow to come and was non-committal. Frustrated, the CEO called Valérie and asked her advice. After years of soliciting, why were the French now playing hard to get? Valérie suggested a dinner meeting with Richard the next time he came to town. Indeed, in France much is done around the dining table, and people’s behavior and attitude at the table can often influence how the relationship develops.
It took only a few minutes into the meeting for Valérie to learn that Richard was a reformed alcoholic and Born Again Christian. As such, he turned down the glass of wine Valérie offered him and told her all about his troubled past. Richard’s language was peppered with biblical references that, to French people (a nation mainly of agnostics), falls flat. Additionally, Richard had few table manners. He inhaled his food and could not stop talking shop while eating. He disclosed to Valérie how much he earned per year and recited a technical pamphlet to her without noticing her body language, which clearly showed he was not engaging her.
Valérie called the CEO and explained to him that the reason the relationship with the French company had not progressed was most likely because of the particular employee (Richard) the company had chosen to send to France. What made Richard a success in the Bible Belt was making him a liability for developing business in France. To the French, wine and food are serious items worth talking about. Discussing private matters such as having a problem with alcohol or professional compensation represents the utmost in poor taste.
Valérie recommended replacing Richard with someone who spoke French and was familiar with French cultural expectations. Valérie quickly found Steven, a young man who had spent his senior year of high school in southern France, as well as his last year of college in Paris. Steven was thrilled by the prospect of using his language skills and cultural knowledge of France on the job. While the CEO was at first doubtful that someone without an engineering background could learn and sell the product line, it actually took only a few months for Steven to successfully represent the U.S. company’s interests in France. Because the French company had subsidiaries in Africa, it also started distributing the American product line in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, growing market share and generously increasing revenue for the U.S. company in the first year.
Is your company experiencing similar problems? If so, please give us a call at 503-710-1234. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you.