Culture as a Business Driver
Just as every country has its own culture, every company has its own culture. In the case of multinational companies, both national and corporate culture can impact everything from business strategy to workplace relationships. And the best way to learn how to make the transition from one cultural setting to another is simple, according to Ariel Bosio: you must experience it.
A founder and former president of ATCC, Bosio has worked for 11 years for Occidental Petroleum in the US. He first joined Oxy in 2006 in his native Argentina, after working for seven years for Repsol-YPF. Despite Repsol and Oxy both being multinationals he has learned that there is a big difference between working for such companies at the local level and in their home countries.
“Each company has its own culture” he says, “but that culture is deeply influenced by local conditions” and an understanding of the differences that can be found around the world is essential if one wants to succeed in companies that move their people around a lot.
“The business environment drives business goals,” he remarks. “For example, Argentina’s volatile economy and politics challenge companies to manage short term and liquidity while reducing focus on long-term growth. The US’s highly competitive, stable economy challenges companies to focus on growth”.
“Country culture drives relationships and business practices”, he adds. “Understanding the country’s culture is key to knowing how people understand business, do business and collaborate. In Argentina, people might have deep relationships with co-workers, customers and suppliers. In the US, people are warm and polite at work, but everybody understands that it’s just business.”
The difference is not surprising given that in Argentina business relationships are often rooted in long-standing social relations, whereas in the US people tend to move between jobs and geographic locations far more frequently. “A country’s politic and economic history also give you hints on what to expect in business with regard to the role of the government, and relations among companies, unions and other social groups.”
“Building a company culture requires driving local results and achieving global results, which are the link across local operations”, he states. “In the case of Oxy and Repsol, they had very innovative and extensive programs to achieve a seamless people integration around the world. One critical piece in those programs is cultural immersion”
“Job scope and location, without exposure to international business or work, might limit your capabilities to drive results by effectively managing other cultures, having a beyond-the-boundaries vision and incorporating best practices,” he emphasizes. People based in Argentina or the US working in the local market might have issues dealing with international business. “It might be hard for them to get more than a partial vision of how business is done in the rest of the world and really internationalize themselves,” he states.
His international business travels in Repsol-YPF and the transfer to the US, home to Oxy’s headquarters, gave him insight into how companies view their business on a global basis. He was particularly impressed by what he calls “the orientation to the bottom line” in USA.
“In order to get the best out of an international career experience, it is critical to prepare yourself”, he points out. No matter which way one makes that first big cultural transition – be it from a country like Argentina to the US or vise versa – success depends on the same factors, beginning with learning the local language. Understanding the difference in business drivers and conditions is obviously important, but almost as important as learning about the local culture and “good manners” for doing business in that culture. “People appreciate it if you show you know about the history, current events and other aspects of their country and culture. Always, it is good to have in mind that, at the end of the day, you are a kind of ambassador of your country.” he says.
Finally, no matter how open-minded one is when making a cultural transition, there will be frustrations and misunderstandings. The key, Bosio says, is to not let yourself be overcome by those complications and try to learn from them given that they are part of the process of becoming fully integrated and immersed.
By Dan Krishock