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Our World’s Update – Monday, March 30th, 2020

We are monitoring 22 countries, 25 daily international information sources and six business sectors to keep up with what is going on in this ever-changing environment. Based on decades of international business experience, we believe it is critical to remember two famous British sayings:

“Keep Calm and Carry On”

“Keep Calm and Breathe Deeply”

A month ago, I gave a talk to a local California business group on what life was like in a locked down China. I sited the quarantine at home for over 40 days of our Beijing based managing director and his family. His 8-year-old daughter was kept inside for these 40+ days and was going to her international school online.

This event has changed how Chinese view working from home, as they did not see this as viable before. The result of millions going to offices, is a huge number of high-rise office buildings in big cities. However, now remote work is looking good. My daughter in Cincinnati has been trying to get her company to let her work from home for years. As of today, she has been told it is mandatory to work from home through April.

By the way, our Beijing managing director’s daughter will be back at school with her friends in April. Meanwhile, my 9-year-old granddaughter in Cincinnati is just beginning her own online education from her home.

Never have we seen a disruption like the one caused by Coronavirus in our history. As of this today, “OpenTable bookings at restaurants worldwide are down by over 80% from a month ago. Retail footfall is down 50-80%, depending on the country”, Financial Times, March 22, 2020. Other franchises where customers gather like gyms are 60-100% shut down. Burger King, Dairy Queen, KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks closed over 7,500 restaurants in China last month. Today. 90% of these restaurants are back open.

Our U.S. restaurant clients have closed almost all their units worldwide – expect for China and Korea soon as well. Our clients are almost all going to remote working, clearing out their large offices around the U.S. They have also put into place a no ‘over water’ travel policy for the next three months. We are lucky that our company has been virtual for years. Not just the six of us in the U.S. working remotely, but also the 30+ members of our team on the ground around the world.

One of the groups we are working with to become the Italy licensee for one of our U.S. restaurant brand clients, owns and operates almost 100 restaurants in Northern Italy. They are 100% shutdown with hundreds of employees impacted.

As a Diamond Medallion frequent flyer with 2.5 million miles on Delta, it was interesting to read that Delta Air Lines will emerge as a “smaller” carrier, following the Coronavirus crisis, warns chief financial officer Paul Jacobson, as the airline prepares to wind down the majority of its schedule by April. “We’re going to be smaller coming out of this,” he told employees during an internal webinar last week.

Rod Young, global chairman of Cartridge World and chairman of Sydney-based DC Strategy Group, said “the wild card in looking forward for the Asia Pacific region is the Coronavirus pandemic and this is written in the expectation that the response by China and the rest of the world will see the community and the economy recover some normality after a significant impact on global growth and consumer habits.”

Our company’s associate for Southeast Asia, Sean Ngo, CEO and co-founder of VF Franchise Consulting, Ho Chi Minh City, says “people in Asia took the Coronavirus issue much more seriously earlier than in the West, because of their SARs experience in 2003 and the region is expected to gradually recover in the next – three to six months. Countries in Southeast Asia closed all international flights, while only allowing for domestic travel. The main concern in countries like Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines is about the virus sneaking back into these countries from international visitors.”

An AmCham China webinar from Beijing late last week had the top China-based executives of four international companies explaining how they handled the coronavirus shutdown starting in late February. They said their order of priorities were: (1) their people; (2) their internal business; (3) their suppliers; and (4) their relationships with government regulators. Wisdom for us all in these times.

This immense disruption has slowed down new business development around the world. But it is also causing companies to evaluate their businesses, in order to fine tune operations and systems and better prepare for a brighter and stronger future.

Contact me directly at bedwards@edwardsglobal.com to learn how to protect and grow your brand in the current business climate.


The Place of Culture in a Flat World

In April 2005, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman published the iconic book on globalization, “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century”.

The title eludes to the perceptual shift required for countries, companies, and individuals in order to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Per Wikipedia, “Friedman himself is a strong advocate of these changes, calling himself a ‘free-trader’ and a ‘compassionate flatist’, and he criticizes societies that resist these changes. In his opinion, this flattening is a product of a convergence of personal computers with fiber-optic micro cable with the rise of work flow software.”

Many readers, including this author, initially interpreted this as saying that the world is increasingly the same, diversity is going away. A re-reading of Mr. Friedman’s book, and subsequent writings, shows this is not exactly correct. He is proposing that the business world is adopting the same standards worldwide in order to compete with companies in other countries. A strong case can be made for this postulation.

Along comes culture. Dictionary.com defines culture as: “The quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.; development or improvement of the mind by education or training; and the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.”

Businessculture.org says, “Culture illustrates the accepted norms and values and traditional behaviour of a group . . . ‘the way we do things around here.’ The culture of each country has its own beliefs, values and activities. In other words, culture can be defined as an evolving set of collective beliefs, values and attitudes.”

In my experience working in 68 countries over the past 42 years, culture is alive and prospering. In order to do business in other countries, you must be aware of the local culture and how it impacts business to be successful. Flatness is not as important as the culture with which you are dealing. In other words, you must be aware of the diversity in doing business that the local culture represents to be successful in today’s global business environment.

Robert Shaw, a highly experienced and successful global franchise executive based in Orange County, California, has studied the knowledge of local culture as a way to win in business. Mr. Shaw defines three major cultural types that you have to take into account to win in global business:

  • Linear – Aggressive, time is money, task focused, individualistic, the “John Wayne” approach – North America, Australia and Northern Europe
  • Multi-Active – Relationship comes FIRST and BEFORE business, top heavy hierarchy, only meet with decision-makers – Mediterranean, Latin America, Middle East and India
  • Reactive – Relationships first, quiet nodding, listeners, group decisions – Asia (except India.) Nodding simply means they may understand what you are saying. Not that they are agreeing with you.

The aggressive ‘let’s get the deal done and go home’ that US business people often follow leaves no time to develop the relationships that most cultures value and require in order to get business done.

And here are a few cultural “no-no’s” to remember that Mr. Shaw and I have encountered over the years:

  • White flowers as a gift in Japan – white is the color for funerals
  • Showing the bottom of your shoes in the Middle East – dirtiest thing you can do
  • Making the sign for ‘okay’ in Brazil
  • Referring to Taiwan as a country in China
  • Talking politics – sports and local culture are better topics
  • Folding business cards – cards are expressions of who someone is and what they have accomplished

Terri Morrison, in her classic book, “Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands”, shares a few basic but critical cultural differences in doing business in key countries. In regards to meetings:

  • In Brazil, lack of punctuality is a fact of life; be flexible about your counterpart’s (lack of) punctuality
  • In China, punctuality for all appointments is important
  • In India, Indians appreciate punctuality, but do not always practice it themselves!

The bottom line? While business processes may be flattening, cultures are not. To succeed in global business you have to add the cultural factor to your approach to people and companies in other cultures. Ignore the ‘non-flat’ local way of doing business because you think similar business processes are all that counts in a country and you will fail.

Cultures are what make the world an increasingly interesting place!


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