The world isn't as flat as we'd like to think. The technological advances and falling telecommunications costs that have made it possible for companies to employ workers around the world haven't canceled out cultural differences that often stymie global business relationships.
HP, which first began doing business in China in the mid-1980s, tries to minimize those differences through a kind of cultural exchange program for its executives. As described in a MercuryNews.com story, HP sends execs and their families to Beijing for three weeks, with the idea they'll return with a greater understanding of the country's culture and its business challenges and opportunities.
HP pays travel costs, leases apartments and hires drivers for the Americans, surely a considerable expense. Yet because of the huge market opportunity, says Tom Hogan, SVP of HP Software, "if this doesn't deliver a massive return on investment, I'd be shocked."
Instead of just an endless round of business meetings crammed into a compressed schedule, the execs get an opportunity to spend more personal time with the company's regional leaders and its big clients. Rafiq Dossani, a research scholar at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Center, says folks sometimes downplay the value of these kinds of connections, which can be significant. He says:
You establish a level of trust and understanding. These are big, complex countries. It takes time to get to know them.
HP may establish similar programs in other countries, according to the article.
It's possible that Chinese companies may end up wooing the HP executives, especially if they speak Chinese. As I wrote last week, the locals are recruiting folks with management experience and language skills.