Lost in translation? International Management
Despite globalization, each country and region has its own business systems and culture. From one country to another there can be dramatic differences in how people view authority, how much personal responsibility they take for their companies’ fortunes, and how organisations are structured. Finance and accounting methods vary widely. HR practices are by no means homogeneous around the globe. So executives working in global business need to be made aware of these regional differences and develop the ability to function effectively within them and transition smoothly between them.
Put a bunch of Brazilians in a room with a bunch of Japanese to negotiate a banking merger, for example, and a lack of knowledge of each other’s respective business cultures could be a recipe for disaster. Such executives must be thoroughly briefed, and preferably exposed to, the way their counterparts do business and make decisions before they enter the boardroom or restaurant. Which nationality prefers to defer big decisions to an authority figure, for example, and which prefers to decide them as a committee? Which members of the opposite team should be focused on most? Just the most senior, or all of them equally? How flat or vertical are their organisational hierarchies?
‘Culture’ means much more than just how to exchange business cards, how much to tip a waiter and whether waving is considered rude. It goes to the heart of how businesses are run within their local economic and political context. How seriously do they take business ethics and corporate social responsibility? What growth strategies do they tend to employ? What are their favourite financial management tactics? What information do they use when making decisions?
A long standing centre for preparing managers for the international stage is the Department of Business, Management and Finance at the University of Sussex, England. It has an extensive research base in the business contexts of East Asia, Emerging Economies, the Americas and Europe on which it draws in its MSc International Management. The 1 year full time / 2 years part time MSc covers many of the topics discussed above and allows students to conduct their own research project in an industry and region of their choice. It aims to develop international managers who can comfortably and confidently move from country to country and deal effectively with counterparts from around the world. As such it suits mid-career managers who are being thrust onto the international stage as representatives of their organisations.