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local google exec’s biggest challenge

Tuesday 9 December, 2008

I caught this little tidbit in the career path column of the Chicago Tribune by Ann Therese Palmer Google exec crafts quite a story

What interested me most was this quote:

“Q: What’s the most challenging assignment you’ve had?

A: I moved to London to set up Google’s Europe, Middle East and Africa industry sales strategy. I was in charge of a business plan covering more than 30 countries with different languages and cultures. The biggest challenge was not trying to replicate my U.S. experience. At first, I overcompensated being respectful of local culture.

But I learned it’s OK to be an American in Europe. You just need to acknowledge what you bring that’s unique. American practices are welcomed, as long as you’re locally relevant.”

What I find interesting is that this pretty highly positioned executive with a hugely successful company noted that his biggest challenge was an international one.  1st of all, hats off to him for not being an American business imperialist, as many are, by acknowledging the importancce of working in different languages & cultures.  Kudos for compensating in being respectful of different cultures.  Many US business people are proverbial bulls in the china shop in approaching foreign businesses, without doing any research about the local business culture, language, history, politics, economics, etc. all of which frame the international business context.  They just make their proposal without consideration how it fits locally & wonder why it doesn’t fly.

It’s a constant management battle to balance global vs. local interests, which often conflict with 1 another.  Exercising centralized control in situations which require local decision-making is always tough.

Many people love Americans in Europe-when I spent 7 months in Poland, I met many who wanted to meet/work with me simply because I was visiting less-visited parts of Poland & many had never met a real American before.

It’s also notable that what’s unique, i.e. competitive advantage, might or might not transfer to different places, i.e. be locally relevant.

It’s finally interesting to note that he was stationed in London, another English-speaking metropolis, which has its own advantages & limitiations.  London is unquestionably an international financial mecca, but I believe it still suffers from the same malady that many American cities do, that English-speaking residents have little proclivity to learn foreign languages because of the widespread use of English.  I think London’s foreign flair comes from its past links with former British commonwealth countries like India & Hong Kong which enabled many foreign nationals to emigrate to the UK.  English-speakers world-wide are spoiled while the rest of the world speak to us in our language rather than us addressing them in theirs.

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