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are there advantages to minority-owned firms going global?

Thursday 12 August, 2010

Naturally, as a dedicated globalist, my answer is “yes,” as I encourage any/all firms to consider going global. I attended this forum GLOBALIZATION: Access to the Global Economy sponsored by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) which promoted its views, (which seem to concur, not surprisingly) at this forum.  They sponsored another event in March earlier this year which contained similar information (china, mexico, philippines, us doc @ mbda seminar), so I won’t duplicate that, rather just summarize what’s new.

A panel discussion featured 4 speakers who have experience/have helped minority-owned firms expand internationally.

Derek Wong of Ensis, a food exporter/importer & distributor, suggested that an open global mindset without blinders & a positive attitude are required to tackle international markets.  They’re not 1 size fits all, so adaptability is needed too.  Partners raise & solve control & resources issues.  Marketing & sales have to be adjusted to local business conditions.  You need to pay attention to politics,  trade agreements, & disputes-he gave an example of being able to decrease his costs 20% by leveraging a dispute between Colombia & Venezuela.

Kitty Pon of Pactrans has strong relations with the Chinese government, so she hosted the MBDA firms that visited China last year.  She is now working on bringing Chinese investors to the U.S., & creating joint ventures by bringing buyers & suppliers together.

Vicky Linko of Funk & Linko encouraged attendees to think out-of-the-box when evaluating the +’s & -‘s of going global.  While U.S. firms are mistrustful of doing business with foreigners, we need to work together more closely.  Foreign partners know how things work, whom to contact, & where to go to resolve local issues.  You can’t worry about others stealing ideas because we all need to be innovative.  Vicky is impatient, but recognizes the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily think the same way.

Jeff Fang of Cienet reemphasized that being a minority-owned firm is not underprivileged, rather to the contrary, a competitive advantage.  He’s from Taiwan, so he’d never been to China, but has built a successful firm there despite many unknowns.  He found & hired a Chinese person who grew up & was educated in the U.S. but had spent 6 years working in China who had integrated himself so well that he was trusted implicitly by the locals.  Part of the firm’s success has been by being persistent in maintaining their own western-oriented corporate culture & practices, i.e. transparency, no short cuts, etc.

Q&A:

  • whether or not to pursue developed markets depends specifically on the product.  Funk & Linko has shipped to many places, so it depends on the market, need, & opportunity.  There are fewer benefits to being a minority-owned business when pursuing markets in developed countries-you’re just another American firm to them.
  • the US Dept of Commerce does not do due diligence on foreign manufacturers unless they somehow can contribute to supporting US exports.
  • leverage Chicago’s global resources by taking advantage of all its cultural diversity:  chambers of commerce, foreign consulates trade offices, the ITAGC, events, etc.
  • there are many chances to take advantage of reciprocal opportunities by engaging foreign governments re:  regulations, i.e., Colombia was helpful with certifications & timelines.

my $.02-minority firms do have some advantages expanding internationally by leveraging domestic resources, but they still require research, analysis, planning, & development as much as any/all other firms.  It’s great that the government supports these kinds of initiatives, but shouldn’t be relied upon to be the sole source for assistance in these areas.

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