Expanding globally is not an easy task.
Expanding globally is not an easy task. That's why you need to have the desire to do it, says Juan Romero, president and CEO of architecture firm api(+). “Getting to work internationally has to be an aspiration,” he says.
First and foremost, executives need to know where they want to work and why, Romero says. He knew from the beginning that he wanted to work overseas to protect his company from a downturn stateside. He was so ready to be a global company that he made it part of the name — api(+) stands for Architecture Plus International. Around 25% of the Tampa-based firm's business is outside the U.S., with a portfolio including work in China, Japan, New Zealand, England, Venezuela and Canada.
“You have to frankly enjoy it because the time difference is enough to drive you crazy,” Romero says. He's had his fair share of conference calls at 3 a.m. Dealing with language barriers can be a whole different issue that also requires a lot of patience, he says.
Another big challenge can be collections. You should be careful on establishing the terms of payment and what happens if currency is devalued.
Technical and contractual language can also become a problem — even in a country where English is a primary language. Dig through that up front, Romero advises.
A good place to start is by partnering with an American company doing work overseas, Romero says. Understanding how to conduct international business legally can be tricky, so partnering with a firm that already knows the ins and outs is the best way to lower your risk.
No matter where you are working, understanding culture should be your top priority, Romero says. Romero references the book “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands” to learn how to conduct business in different cultures. For example, executives in some countries prefer to have a social moment to build trust before diving into business. When working in Mexico, meetings start late and extend into a couple-hour lunch, Romero says. On the other hand, “If you are a minute late in Japan, you are in trouble,” he says. But that's why Romero likes it.
“It's what makes it interesting,” he says.
— Traci McMillan Beach