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Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Belize, Part 1

Belize is one of the most unique countries in Central America straying from the cultural norms of her neighbors. Belize, actually has British pirate (arrgh) and African (slaves brought to develop the timber-cutting industry) foundations. It is the youngest independent nation in Central America, achieving its independence from Great Britain in 1964, and abandoning the colonial name British Honduras in favor of its current name: Belize. English, not Spanish, is the official language of Belize, and while there is no official religion, the national prayer has Christian references. Another unique characteristic of Belize is that it is one of the most peaceful countries in Central America. Though its relationship with Guatemala has been strained, it has not suffered a single coup, major uprising, or guerilla war, which have plagued much of Latin America. “The British of Central America” is really an accurate description, given the political system and membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Belize is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with the Queen (of England) as the monarch and chief of state, represented by the governor general, a native of Belize and the prime minister the head of government. Once political parties gain power, they tend to be relatively cooperative with outside business people and investors. The primary industries for business in Belize include tourism, agriculture, forestry, and recently, banking.

Isolated behind a barrier reef, Belize has been ignored, for the most part, by outside forces allowing unique cultures to develop. Caribbean influence is predominant among the business class and along the coast. Creoles formed the backbone for Belizean urban society for decades. However, while the coast and urban areas are very much Caribbean influenced, towards the interior, a majority of inhabitants are Spanish speaking Mexican and Guatemalan. Society itself is male dominated, and women still play traditional roles, though the situation is changing. Women can inherit businesses, but women are infrequently seen in executive roles, and are especially rare in government. However as business grows and women attend university this is changing.

Belize is not necessarily a collectivist society, nor is it an individualist one either, it is rather in between the two paradigms. Social roles maybe strict, however class distinctions are more fluid and hierarchy does not have the same importance as in Belize’s neighbors. Outsiders can be easily and quickly involved in the group, when there is a reason for them to be. So though there may be some cultural stigmas towards women, these are changing, and since hierarchy is not as important, there is more access to all sectors and levels of business. Relationships are also highly important in this society; rules may be respected, but the priority is in honoring social responsibility toward one another.

Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Honduras

Before the popular GAP owned clothing store came along, the original “Banana Republic” was in reference to Honduras. Bananas, coffee, and wood are the main exports of Honduras. Located on the east side of Central America, the name Honduras was derived from the Spanish word la hondura, referring to the deep water off the country’s Caribbean coast.

The Roman Catholic Church, with about 97% of the population, influences Honduran society by providing structure through Catholic precepts and various holidays. Family, like in other Central American countries, is also highly important here and can be the deciding factor in individual decision making. There is an inherent trust in people because of the network between families, extended families, and friends. In addition to the influence of family and friends, Honduran society is a highly subjective society that bases its decisions on its own feelings, precepts of the Catholic Church, and Mayan cultural heritage. Hondurans, in general are more flexible and willing to see new options and ways of doing things—don’t be afraid to present new perspectives and ideas. Honduras is an open society that readily accepts change.

Honduran society is generally a more egalitarian society, in comparison with other regions of Central America, due, in part, to its relatively homogenous society. The homogenized mestizo society developed without institutionalized slavery, providing the foundations of pluralism in society. Many Hondurans, however, want to seek their prosperity and security elsewhere. There is a inscription above the jail in Trujillo stating, “La ley is duro, pero es la ley,” meaning more or less that the law is the law and that there is no changing it and really no escape from it. The upper classes may believe differently, but in this sense Honduran society is somewhat resigned to their situation, and play their part in respecting the hierarchy of it all.

Honduras is considered to be the pariah state due to its dependence on the U.S. and decreasing power within the region. Since 1990, Honduras has tried to reduce its dependence on the U.S. by encouraging investments from other nations with tax advantages and cheap labor. Honduras has many resident foreigners from Asian and Arab countries who have come to take care of tax advantages. These groups, however, do not have much political influence, mainly due to their lack of cohesion. When choosing foreign representatives for your company, choose someone local and check out their credentials. Make sure to build up confianza and simpatico and a personal relationship; one is less likely to betray a friend than a detached business professional. Harmonious interpersonal skills can compensate for lack of expertise. When purchasing, price may be the major deciding factor, but customer service is the next factor, remember they are buying your personality with the product.

Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Nicaragua

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America (not including Mexico) and has been considered as a possible site for a sea level canal that would complement Panama’s. Though predominantly an agrarian culture (60% of Nicaragua’s exports), increases in the tourism industry has influenced foreign direct investment in Nicaragua by about 79% from 2007 to 2009. Although Nicaragua shares many of the cultural norms and values of most of Central America, it still has a distinctive culture.

Nicaraguan culture is divided between a more traditional Hispanic formal culture and a new revolutionary egalitarian and informal culture. Like most of Central America, the Roman Catholic Church also holds the majority of supporters here and minimal political influence, giving society structure and hierarchy. However, many of the ruling conservative elite actually subscribe to a form of Neo-Pentecostal Protestantism, which provides justification for the wealth of the ruling elite as evidence of their faith and poverty the lack thereof. The role of religion in justifying wealth and poverty also contributes to the traditional formal culture. This formal culture is often at odds with the newly emerging egalitarian society. Despite the fact that individuals of different classes are treated differently, which one can argue is true of any country, the universal application of the law tends to be a sensitive topic, implying that Nicaraguans are not satisfied with their current state and strive for equality. Unlike many Central American countries, conspicuous display of wealth or distaste and avoidance of manual labor, seen as a sign of privilege, can generate strong negativity, another sign of the struggle for an egalitarian culture. One of the ways that this revolutionary egalitarian culture has begun to take root is in gender roles, there is a higher percentage of women enrolled in school than in most of Central America.

Just because a new egalitarian society is starting to emerge does not imply that Nicaraguans are not a proud people. They are proud of their heritage, their beliefs, and their position within society. When greeting Nicaraguans, handshakes are the accepted norm,and kissing is a common greeting once you have an established relationship. Most of the ruling business elite speak English, but Garifuna is spoken by the coastal African population. In terms of communication, Nicaraguans are less concerned with loss of face and also less inclined to sugarcoat bad news or avoid confrontation. It has been said that Nicaraguans can be direct and blunt in their communication style, but will filter how much or little of their true sentiments to express depending on the rank and status of those present. Despite various mechanisms to “save face,” silence is generally uncommon but used for formal situations or when avoiding confrontation is necessary. Remember, when communicating, remain logical, formal, respectful, and diplomatic…but don’t be a robot! Be warm, open, and personable too!

Though known for Flor de Cana rum, tobacco and beef, Nicaragua’s other industries—tourism, banking, mining, fisheries, and general commerce—are expanding. Nicaraguans tend to look to the future and are inspired by the possibilities that change can bring. Nicaraguans, though typically risk averse, have been known to make fast decisions and swiftly seize opportunities when they are presented with one. The process for decision making mimics the pace of Nicaraguan culture, which is more relaxed, and while punctuality is expected, you may find yourself waiting. Note that time is more monochromatic in the capital city of Mangua. As with many Central American countries, personal relationships with the right people are very important. Known as enchufado in Nicaragua, this is an important business intermediary in your Nicaraguan ventures. You will find that the traditional Hispanic hierarchy exists in the rigidly layered workplace. However, in less traditional, liberal organizations and businesses, there is a strong egalitarian spirit throughout the entire organization.

Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Panama – Part 2

Panama is the bridge between the Americas, home of the famous canal connecting two Oceans, and the wealthiest country in Central America. Due to the United States’ involvement in the construction of the Panama Canal, Panamanians are very familiar with U.S. culture. However, attitudes towards U.S. influence and involvement are mixed. The country is ruled by a small military right wing elite, which is receptive to U.S. interests, perhaps adding to the tension between the two countries.

It is highly important to establish personalismo—personal relationships and to become part of the Panamanian family (the basis of Panamanian society). Panama shares many of the general business practices outlined in earlier articles concerning the region, such as expected punctuality from foreigners and strong work ethic. Status is important here as in many parts of Central America, and even those with a Bachelors degree are acknowledged with the title licensiado.

When making appointments, initial scheduling should be done far in advance, through direct contact (not intermediaries), and confirmation at least a week before your arrival. Though formal business attire is appreciated, weather in Panama usually dictates a more casual (and comfortable) attire. The lack of jackets and ties are acceptable (and expected), though those in high positions don suits or camisillas—an open necked shirt typically worn untucked. Women typically wear skirts and blouses, or dresses. Women should avoid revealing clothing including shorts, and wearing pants in some rural areas of Panama may draw some attention. Greetings resemble greetings of other Central American countries, with the handshake being the primary gesture of welcome or greeting, and kissing between women is done when they are familiar with each other.

Some negotiations are held at the office, while others are held over lunch at a restaurant (business dinners are rare). Lunch usually takes place around noon, and is an affair that lasts about an hour and a half. Though Panamanian women are still rare in business, their presence is growing. Foreign businesswomen may include their spouses in the invites to business dinners. Wait to be seated, as the host usually sits at one end and the honored guest at the other. Men are expected to stand when women enter or leave the room. And while many business conversations begin with small talk about family, hobbies, or sports (avoid talking about the Canal, race problems or politics), sometimes the host, especially if pressed for time, may dive right into shop talk.

Gift giving in Panama is not expected, but meals of thanks are acceptable. Gifts are appropriate if invited into a Panamanian home or in the rural areas. Gifts should be from the your home country or state, perhaps a local craft or an illustrated book. The latest electronic gadget or expensive liquors, chocolate, wines, and Scotch are appropriate and appreciated.

Respect for others and knowledge, even a precursory knowledge of culture and society of different countries will put you in a more favorable position to do international business.

Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Panama – Part 1

“The U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement will support American jobs, expand markets, and enhance U.S. competitiveness by eliminating tariffs and other barriers to U.S. exports and expanding trade between our two countries.” – Panama Trade Promotion Agreement

With a growth rate of 6.2 percent in 2010 and a similar annual forecast until 2015, Panama is one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. The U.S. Trade Agreement can result in the liberalization of trade in goods and services where U.S. firms will have better access to Panama’s services sector. With an increased interest and support from the U.S. government for increased trade relations with Panama, Panama may be the next market to break into.

Like many countries in Central America, Catholicism is the dominant religion (80% of the population) and gives society structure, emphasizing reverence and respect for hierarchy—seniority, the elderly, and status. Just because respect for hierarchy is important in this Central American society does not mean that there is no respect for those of lower classes or the youth, in fact Panamanians believe in the inherent worth of every individual and therefore avoid public criticism. Panamanians like to maintain an image of harmony, so while people are not publicly criticized, it does not imply that they are never criticized (out of hearing of others). Though traditional Panamanian society dictates a high respect for the elite, young Panamanians are less sympathetic to many of the privileges awarded to the elite. While Panamanians are followers of strong leaders, the Panamanian youth are not as compliant with the extent of elite privileges.

There is a large disparity between the wealthy and poor, and while different races and groups exist, there are rigid class distinctions. Los Rabiblancos (whitetails)—the white urban Panamanian elite—hold most of the country’s wealth and are most likely the same people who run the business sector of Panama. Though Spanish is the official language of Panama, the familiarity with U.S. customs has led to the spread of the English language throughout most of the region and certainly anyone you plan on doing business with.

While Panamanians are open to all sorts of information, they tend to be very subjective and somewhat politicized; for example, if a Panamanian has anti-(U.S.) American views, he or she may reject any information from the United States. Panamanians rely on their gut instincts, and unless educated abroad, will rarely let objective facts stand in the way of their true intentions and desires. Younger Panamanians tend to be more objective. The family is just as important here in Panama as in many other countries in Central America and is the single most important social unit. Decisions are made with the family in mind in this collectivist culture, so when negotiating or pitching ideas, keep in mind that your Panamanian business associates are looking to benefit their family and extended family/families. The family (and extended family) provides stability and protection against a sometimes hostile and more often unpredictable world. These personal relationships, built on mutual trust, are maintained at all costs.

Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business In & With Guatemala

The Mayans of Mexico also inhabited what is now known as Guatemala, labeling it the “Land of Tree;” in fact Guatemala was the first country to have uncovered the ancient ruins of the Mayan astrological calendar computation. So according to the Mayan calendar, we need to make 2012 count! Like Mexico and many countries in this region, Guatemala also adheres to many of the cultural norms outlined in previous articles concerning communication, business practices, hierarchy, meeting etiquette, etc. However, as many countries share similarities, they also differ significantly establishing them as unique cultures.

Like Mexico, the precepts of the Catholic Church give structure to life and have little influence in the government. However, unlike Mexico, Catholicism is not the official religion; over the years, the Church lost popularity amongst the wealthy. The Catholic Church and the family, like Mexico give Guatemalans a sense of structure and consistency throughout Guatemala’s troubled history of revolutions and military coups. Wealth and family give the individual status and security for the future. The general outlook of Guatemalans tends to be fatalistic, accepting their prescribed role in society, though hoping for better futures. Hierarchy here plays a part in the structure of society and tends to be rigid in some respects, such as women’s roles (only women may be charged with adultery) and lax in others, such as interactions between high ranking business executives or government officials and foreign sales people.

Perhaps it is because Catholicism, and consequently precepts of rigid hierarchy, have fallen out of favor with the wealthy (i.e. those in power, executives of companies, high ranking government officials) that reaching high ranking officials is easier than in Mexico, i.e. there are not as many hoops to jump through in Guatemala to see the boss. These executives, however, perhaps because of their rank are not afraid to say what they feel and tend to be open and speak bluntly. Other nuances of Guatemalan business culture is the fact that since Guatemala is a small market, one bad word or opinion of you, or your company, can go a long way, unfortunately. Well, good thing you are reading this…now you have a heads up! When it comes to results or process, the inclination is towards progress. The process itself may take a particularly long time, so as to ease those who are opposed to change into the new situation or processes. Similar to Asian countries, Guatemala is a collectivist country (thinking in terms of the group or family) and Guatemalans are opposed to change for the heck of it; in fact you will find many Asian owned manufacturing companies in Guatemala. When selling to Guatemalans, price may be the single most important factor in the purchasing decision.

Some other unique characteristics of Guatemala:

  • Business is not discussed in a home or around family
  • Loud voices are not met kindly
  • Military clothing is illegal
  • Mexican food is still typically spicier than Guatemalan food

Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business In & With Mexico

Chilies, corn, chocolate, and culture…Mexico has it all.  Mexico city is built upon the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and is one of the largest cities of the world. Mexico itself has the 11th largest economy in the world and shares the second largest border in the world with the United States. John Rice, President & CEO of General Electric Growth and Operations, cites that one of the most compelling reasons to do business in Mexico is the “opportunity and quality of the people” and the fact that you “can find just about anything here.”

While many of Central America’s customs and cultural traditions mentioned in previous articles are also shared in Mexico, including responsibility to the group, traditional gender roles, communication patterns, business practices (meetings, negotiations, etc.), Mexico itself has a unique culture apart from these shared characteristics.

A primary figure featured throughout Mexico is the Virgen de Guadalupe, who is a symbol of unity between the Aztec and Spanish cultures. She also serves as a symbol for Mexican nationality. The Catholic Church has a strong presence in Mexican society (90% of the population) and also serves to reinforce social hierarchy. One’s role in the social structure, and the presence of responsibility to extended members of family (which, as a business associate, you are attempting to become part of) give a sense of stability to life. Because hierarchy and reputation go hand in hand, it is also important as a high-ranking business professional not to cause humiliation by publicly criticizing; remember to try and preserve relationships.

Not only is Mexico one of the United State’s largest exporters, but Mexico also has the largest upper middle class of all Latin American countries. John Farrell, Country Director of Google, notes that Mexico has a “young population” which will result in a large workforce in the future.

Other nuances of Mexican culture include:

  • The “thumbs up” hand gesture generally means approval.
  • The “thumbs down” hand gesture is seen as obscene and vulgar.
  • Though taxi drivers are not generally tipped; tips for drinks and food in Mexican restaurants is about 15%, perhaps more in tourist cities.
  • When making appointments in Mexico, make them approximately two weeks prior to your arrival, via e-mail or phone, then confirm a week before your arrival.
  • Genuine cantinas in Mexico are visited by men, a woman’s presence is considered scandalous.
  • Do not drink the tap water, except where officially noted; this applies to ice as well.
  • Lunch is the main meal of the day and can be an extended affair; business lunches are popular.
  • Business meals are not typically the time to make business decisions.
  • The most common toast in Mexico is ¡salud! to health and prosperity.

¡Salud! to your business plans in Mexico!

Selected, Previously Published, Articles of Special Note

Included in the original vision and mission when we launched last May was offering advanced technologies and databases to the trade community at large (free of charge) with the idea of expanding the understanding and innovation within the field.  Unfortunately, since “free” still requires considerable financial and technological resources to launch and maintain, this aspect of the original vision and mission have yet to be fulfilled.  The expansive database repositories and advanced technologies still represent retained CenTradeX Assets that still possess tremendous intrinsic value.  In 2012, I will attempt to better represent and promote these resources.  To those interested in learning more, I suggest the following:

Along those lines, we published a series of articles that represent the story behind WorldTradeDaily and the development of the innovative CenTradeX applications, acquired and now marketing by PIERS /UBM Global.

One of the most interesting series of articles that I developed over the last several months was an in-depth review and analysis of the Trade Intelligence providers that work with the U.S. Customs Data.  I focused on what I named the five “top tier TI providers” as as well as a cursory review of the dozen or so other “second tier” ones as well.  I dedicated the better part of a week on each, the first part of each week’s series is linked below.
Various Trade Data Sources and Value propositions offered by their products and services. Since the most likely prospects out there to purchase retained CenTradeX assets and contract my service are those who are in the business, particularly those who utilize U.S Customs data, I have dedicated many articles to them, their products and their particular strengths and weaknesses.  In fact 6 full weeks (4 articles each week) were dedicated to the players.  This is optional, but potentially valuable reading (for quick review) to understand the nuances of the value proposition that U.S. Customs data provides.

Selected Articles on Trade Intelligence & Business Applications

As we near the close of 2011, I thought it apt to publish and review and recap of some of the articles that focus on particular interest areas requested by readers in the past.  One of the frequent topics is on the nature of the often referred to but usually misunderstood term, “trade intelligence”.

Another important area is how trade statistics are utilized within business to make a real difference; i.e. application.  What can you do useful and important with trade data?

First, on the nature of Trade Intelligence and understanding Trade data.  Trade Statistics present a great “big picture” but impersonal view of trade activity.  Company data sources give profiles of the “traders”, but U.S. customs data can provide a container by container, day by day in-depth “pixilated” high resolution portrait of trade, trade patterns, trade partners and many specifics of the supply chain.  Therefore, IMHO, it is the most valuable resource available in the data arsenal, especially when connected with the other types and kinds of data. Articles of interest may include:

On the various business applications for Trade Data I present links to a few of the ones I found interesting.

The exciting (and valuable) thing is to use the various types and kinds of data available to create “three dimensional” (if you will) portraits of trade.  Once you can craft such a story, the treasures of understanding and prosperity that such understanding may yield, become more evident.

Mexico and Central America, Part 5: Meetings and Negotiations

There are two different types of business meetings in Mexico and Central America: a meeting between peers and a meeting between unequals. Both have different goals and are conducted differently.

Between Peers: With the high status of participants having been established, meaning that all the formalities of going through lower channels of subordinate communications, these business associates can communicate openly sharing ideas. These meetings act as forums for sharing ideas and making decisions, and everyone is expected to contribute to the general decision making process (as the need for group consensus dictates). Discussions may be loud and vibrant with everyone talking at once with all comfortable with their position to pay attention to formalities. In these meetings questions are common and interruptions expected. Imagine this as different heads of households coming together to, say, make a decision about a city ordinance that affects your neighborhood. Each is comfortable and secure in their position as head of house and sees each participant as his peer, and feels like (s)he can speak freely.

As opposed to meetings…

Between Non-Peers (or Unequals): Meetings between subordinates (of all different levels) are typically more formal as it is the beginning of relationships that hopefully culminates in the dialogues mentioned above. These meetings are usually called by the decision-makers to gather information, clarify goals, and/or formulate action plans. There is no real sharing of ideas or efforts at problem solving. This first meeting is to really size up the other company. Your goal should be to establish compatibility and mutual respect (simpatico), be warm and dignified, and make a good impression. Similar to parents sending their children to play with other children on the street, collect basic information and get a general idea of compatibility and intentions, in other words lay the groundwork for heads of house to meet.

Once in the position to present proposals come well prepared. Your presentations should be carefully planned, logically organized, and beautifully presented with interesting visual aides (charts, graphs, and handouts)—remember how important it is to look successful, make yourself a force to be reckoned with! Bargaining is an expected way of negotiating, as ingrained in society and present in small shops and markets. Bargaining is an instrument to building trust so be reasonable, don’t divulge information easily, and don’t overcompensate (you don’t want to appear easy!). Bargaining is a tool used across the world as a way to build a relationship where both sides seem to appear to win. It’s a game and you are expected to play! Like contracts in China, contracts in Central America are seen as legal formalities, which can be altered if there is a need. Families and their extended networks help each other out, they take care of each other, you are marrying into the Central American family and the business!

Mexico and Central America, Part 4: Tempo, El Jefe, and Notarios

While it is expected that new business associates will arrive at the appointed time, “la gringa” or “Norteamericano,” meetings typically won’t begin until everyone arrives, or at least the decision makers. Though this is not the standard for social gatherings, where it is acceptable to be late up to an hour. (Arriving sooner at these social events may interrupt the host’s own prep time.) Time is organized around what has to get done for the day, and it is usual that workers will stay past the typical workday to get projects done. Since decisions are made with the group (family) and relationships (obligations to friends) in mind, the clock takes a backseat. It is this same approach to projects and deadlines that put relationships over the rules of the clock. It matters how things are accomplished just as much as the final result. Central American cultures are more risk averse than risk taking, and would rather it “measure twice, cut once,” hence the tedious decision making process. The decision process is a subjective one, deriving from gut instinct to personal beliefs, and relationships.

Subordinates’ attention to detail and the perfection of form, which elongates the completion of projects and meeting of deadlines, is exacerbated by the creative use of resources and the navigation through bureaucratic hoops. Hierarchy dictates, subordinates are to follow decisions of their superiors and provide detailed information. Bosses or “los jefes” are expected to disseminate information, provide guidance, and make decisions. As the father, the head of household is the primary decision maker and the children are the subordinates; the Central American business organization operates in a similar manner as a household. The rigid hierarchy also dictates that proper protocol must be followed if you are to speak with the senior business associate, provided that you are deemed important enough. So first begin with becoming acquainted with the children (subordinates) then proceed to addressing the second in command (the wife or woman of the house) and then proceed to pursue a meeting with “el jefe” (head of the house).

Due to the penchant of Central Americans distaste of saying “no” to requests, in order to prove their ability (and preserve their pride), it is best to have a trusted contact on the ground before departing for home. Notarios are responsible administrators who serve as local intermediaries; they act as liaisons between you and the people you are meeting with. If we want to talk about it in terms of the family, consider this a mutual friend, who acts as an intermediary with you and the family and is willing to give you an honest opinion (with both interests at heart).

Mexico and Central America, Part 3: Favors, Relationships, and Status

Mexico and Central America are both relationship and status driven societies. It’s really about who you are and who know and how they “take care” of you. The wait staff may serve a table that arrived after you because they know the diners, or because they are aware of the diners’ statuses. Additionally, if you are one of three business proposals and the Central American company has a personal relationship with an associate of another company, well, which company do you think will be chosen?

It is important to network as much as possible and lay some groundwork before attempting to conduct business with Central American companies. By building these relationships, you build confianza (trust, special treatment or personal favors) and simpatico (establishing compatibility). Realize that people in Central America like to do business with those they trust and are essentially on good personal terms especially family. Many of us do not hesitate when family asks for favors and we do anything in our power to help out family.  Centro Americans are similar, knowing that their families would take care of them and they would take care of their family (or extended kin). The long and short of it, build relationships and network, pay it forward (treat them like family and stress compatibility), and present yourself as the friend (i.e. extended family) who they know will grant a favor should they ask.

So establish relationships with company associates before proposing business deals… if they will have you. Along with paternalism in Central American society is the importance of reputation. Not only do you need to be wary of the hierarchical structure and what you say, but you have to present yourself as someone worth caring about. Central Americans want to conduct business with important people, with top people at your company, therefore putting your best foot (or sets of feet) forward for important business deals is extremely important. In Central America, wealth and power are synonymous and shown through an ostentatious display of wealth with luxury items and status symbols. They dine at fine establishments, wear luxury brands, drive expensive cars, physically displaying their success. As a potential business associate of these Central American companies, it is also important for you to portray yourself as an equal, by staying in fancy hotels, dining at fine establishments, dressing well, pretty much going the whole nine yards. By living somewhat extravagantly you imply that you are successful, like how in medieval times skinny was considered ugly and heavier was beautiful as it meant rich and bountiful, i.e. successful. Put your full title and all the advanced degrees on your business cards, act the part, dress the part.

The dress for business occasions is typically formal. The fashionable look to Europe. Men dress in stylish (dark) suits, white shirts, interesting and sophisticated ties, polished shoes, stylish accessories (watches, cufflinks, ties, etc.). Women dress fashionably and accessorized.

Mexico and Central America, Part 2: Introductions and Communications

As with most cultures, in Centro-American culture it is best to be introduced through a third party like a friend of the family. Being well-connected is an admiral trait in Central America. Women are introduced first, then men, usually according to seniority and importance. Unlike Asian cultures, which stress the importance of business cards with introductions and greetings, it’s more casual in Central America where a soft hand shake or kissing (air kisses please!) will suffice. Business cards may be exchanged, but they are used mainly as a resume device indicating your rank in the company, so be sure to put your full title and any advance degrees you hold, because they care. Oh, and Spanish on one side of the card, please and thanks.

Just because there is less hype about business cards in Central America than Asia does not mean that the culture is informal. On the contrary, titles and hierarchy create a formal culture. Hierarchy dictates who is spoken to first, as well as communication styles. Due to respect for hierarchy and dependence on others in making decisions, watching what you say is highly advisable. Though there is a desire for smooth interpersonal working relationships, silence is uncommon in communications. There is more a of a penchant for multiple conversations simultaneously and frequent interruptions.  Think of a huge family party with lots of conversations, laughter and raised voices. Many businesses in Central America want to prove that they are capable of conducting business and will rarely shoot down a reasonable request, even if they lack the means to accomplish it.

In the United States there are certain norms, or rules, when it comes to space between people.  Personal space, which is typically indicated as a bubble around your person… well that’s going to be popped real fast in Central America. People in Central America tend to stand closer to others and the whole (air) kissing thing is not a typical greeting in the U.S. but it is part of the culture. Once again, think of this like a family gathering or greeting, where the mother usually offers a hug to any of her children’s friends or acquaintances (well, my mother does at least). It is not necessarily an invasion of personal space just a gesture of welcome. Similarly winking and whistling is not necessarily a “come hither” gesture, but more of a reaction to what you may be saying, so don’t take it personal. And while eye contact indicates paying attention, ladies beware of machismo, and limit eye contact as it may encourage further advances. Central Americans are usually more “touchy” than us here in the U.S., but we are so used to being detached when it comes to business that we can come across as distant and rational, maybe even cold, so try to change it up a bit and be a little more personable and warm…remember you want to be part of their family, accepted into their society, gain their trust.

Mexico and Central America, Part 1: Family Culture and Traditional Roles

When considering how one would want to ingratiate oneself into Mexican and Central American cultures, collectively hereafter referred to as Central American, I find that it is similar to how one would try to be a part of another family, in fact a lot of cultural norms are similar to the family structures, mi amigo.

Individuals in Central American societies operate as part of a larger machine or group. While there are select individuals who have the power to make decisions, these choices are made with the whole of the group in mind. Going back to the family analogy of Central America, the father or “padre” of the family (society)makes decisions based on what he thinks will be the best solution for the entire family. There is an affinity in Central American societies for group affiliations; meaning, in order to be “accepted” into society as a whole, one must identify with a group, business, association, etc. While individuals exert some independence from society, like that family, individuals will always look to their families or groups for stability. Hierarchy in groups is also reflected in society as a whole, where deference is given to bosses and subordinates, consequently fall in line.

Many Centro American societies, especially Mexican societies, are very paternalistic, which is often reflected in their political systems. Paternalistic societies indicate that the man is the head of the household and therefore has an obligation to the family to care and maintain it. Basically these societies will look after their own families and friends. Keep in mind while dealing with Centro American societies, there is a strong commitment to caring for their family (read: business organizations).

Since it has been established that many Centro American societies are paternalistic, this implies that there are distinct gender roles in these societies. A woman’s expected role is to care and nurture the family. There are very few women who serve positions other than administrative work in the business sector. Women who are looking to do business in this part of the world, be aware of the machismo! Comments that are made in these countries made be thought of as “come ons” to those of us in the United States, but should not be taken personally. Generally they should be ignored, and it is best not to encourage these advances. Additionally, women have to work harder to maintain the respect of her Central American male colleagues, treading a fine line of not being too aggressive and not too soft where authority can be questioned.

World Trade Center Spotlight: Warsaw, Poland

Someday I will visit all the major cities of Europe including Warsaw. Warsaw is the capital and the largest city of Poland.  Poland is the only European Union country that maintained positive GDP growth through the 2008-2009 downturn.  It’s GDP is $721.3 billion and by sector: services 63.5%, industry 33%, and agriculture 3.4%.  The industries include machine building, iron and steel, coal mining, chemicals, shipbuilding, food processing, glass , beverages and textiles.

It is an alpha global city and major international tourist stop as well as an important economic hub for Central and Eastern Europe.  It is also known as the “Phoenix ” city because it has to rebuild over and over after many wars. This is a beautiful city with buildings that represent every European style and historical period. It’s business community is growing constantly.  Warsaw was ranked as the 7th greatest emerging market.  Some of the largest international companies there are: Coca-Cola, General Motors, Nestle and Procter & Gamble.  There is a large service sector which employs 70% of the workforce.  Hundreds of Poland’s largest banks and many major foreign banks are present in the city of Warsaw.

WTC Warsaw is a member of the Trade Point Federation.


Mission: ” The WTC Warsaw supports the efforts of the city of Warsaw, to be recognized as one of Europe’s most improtant capitals for business and commerce.  The WTC Warsaw is not competing with other business organizations but it assists, cooperates and compliments them by offering a different set of services and possibilities not available elsewhere.”

Background: A member fs the WTC Association since 1990.

Leadership:  dr. Jolanta Tourel, President. dr. Andrzej Arendarski, Chairman.

Exports (Poland): $162.3 billion (2010 est.)  machinery and transport equipment (37.8%), intermediate manufactured goods (23.7%), miscellaneous manufactured goods (17.1%) and food and live animals (7.6%). Exports go to: Germany (26.9%), France (7.1%), UK (6.4%), Italy (6.3%), Czech Republic (6.2%), Netherlands (4.3%) and Russia (4.1%)

Contact Information:

World Trade Center Warsaw
Polish Chamber of Commerce Building
4 Trebacka St.  Suite 417
00-074 Warsaw, Poland
tel: 48.22.6567711

 Warsaw, Poland



Guest Blog: Online Advertising and How to Use it Wisely

Advertising online takes a few forms. The most common are:

  • Pay Per Click (PPC)
  • Banner ads
  • Email Marketing
  • Social Media Advertising

Pay Per Click (PPC) is the most popular form of online advertising. Using a complex algorithm called “contextual advertising,” whereby ads are selected and served by ad servers based on the search results displayed to the user. The largest PPC service is Google AdWords. Yahoo! and Bing (Microsoft) offer similar services.

Simply put, when you set up a PPC campaign you decide on the keywords you want to sponsor and you tell Google (or Yahoo! or Bing) how much you are willing to pay every time somebody clicks to your website. And you can also set a daily budget that restricts the number of clicks you get every day to your maximum budget. The problem is that this can get quite expensive and yield little in return. A strategy has to be developed that targets your audience while being as economical as possible. That means understanding in depth how the system works and how to control your exposure for maximum ROI.

In the case of Google AdWords Google’s philosophy is to provide web users with the best search results. This means that they want to display the most appropriate ads corresponding to each search, even if the best results do not pay them the highest pay-per-click fee. AdWords must therefore be written with keywords that correspond to the keywords on the page they point to. To best accomplish this it is best to create a “landing page” rich with the targeted keyword for each AdWord. But beware that Google hates spam. The landing page keywords must be relevant to the rest of your website!

Google recently released a version of AdWords specifically for SMEs looking for overseas clients. Called Google AdWords for Global Advertisers, the service allows you to find out what your AdWords cost in any country in the world and how much click traffic those keywords get. And, in addition, Google translates your AdWords with a human translator so that you reach the best possible targets! Look at this video that explains it all.

Banner ads, those small, sometimes annoying, graphics you see on websites and sometimes even opening up as a short Flash movie, are the oldest advertising format on the web. Similar to buying an ad in a print publication, buying a banner ad on a Website means paying a set fee for having your ad appear for a set period of time. The trick to effective banner advertising is to identify websites and blogs that are specific to your product or service. Often these ads are quite inexpensive and can be quite effective.

World Trade Center Spotlight: Chicago-Illinois

I hate to admit that I have yet to go to Chicago.  I have no excuse.  Since I moved to Tennessee 20 years ago, I have been close enough to visit for a weekend.  I want to go and experience this fabulous city….maybe in 2012.

Chicago is the third largest city in the U.S. and a major hub for industry, telecommunications and infrastructure. It has the 4th largest Gross Domestic Product among world metropolitan areas.  It is also listed as one of the world’s top ten Global Financial Centers with the second largest central business district in the US.  In a  ranking that includes: value of capital markets, diversity of human capital, international information resources, international cultural resources, and political influence, Chicago ranks as 6th in the world.  It is a major world convention destination with the largest convention center in the U.S. and the third largest in the world.

The 2010 total gross state product for Illinois was $630 billion which is fifth in the nation.  The 2010 per capita income was $41,411.  The state of Illinois is home to 66 Fortune 1000 companies such as Boeing, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Sears, and United.

World Trade Center Chicago-Illinois secured the Chicago Option from the  WTCA on October 10, 2010 (10-10-10).  It is headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois with 10 satellite offices located around the state.


Mission/Statement of Purpose:  “Your Trusted partner in World Trade”  A not for profit organization providing vital international trade services to WTCIL members. “…a global trade center committed to expanding international trade between Illinois business and work markets.  Tailored for manufacturers, exporters, suppliers, and import export business opportunity seekers, World Trade Center Chicago-Illinois serves as the lead facilitator and strategic catalyse of international activity within the state.”

Services: International Networking events, Educational and Training programs, Business Services, Virtual Trade Advisor database, and Virtual Trade Office.

Exports:  Illinois’s export shipments of merchandise totaled $50.1 billion in 2010. Exports include machinery (the largest export category at $12.5 billion), computers and electronic products ($5.5 billion), processed foods ($2.6 billion), electrical equipment, chemical products ($6.5 billion), publishing, fabricated metal products, transportation equipment ($5.3 billion), petroleum and coal.

Illinois’s largest market is Canada ($15 billion) and they have a mutually beneficial trade relationship.  There is almost $100 million dollars worth of merchandise exchanged daily. Illinois imports crude petroleum and natural gas from Canada. Next largest markets for Illinois are Mexico ($4.3 billion), China ($3.2 billion), Australia ($2.4 billion) and Germany ($2.2 billion


12/9-11/11: International investors Conference

5/14-15/12: Silk Road Conference

Contact Information:

World Trade Center Chicago-Illinois
1700 E. Golf Rd, 7th Floor
Schaumburg, IL 60173

Chicago and Its Financial District


Using Online Communications with Your Customers and Partners

Not so long ago (speaking as an older person), making overseas phone calls and even sending faxes overseas was an expensive and time-consuming proposition. In the early 1990s, the average international trade company spent a large amount of money paying for phone calls and faxes (at the time the cheapest way of communicating overseas). Some offices even still had telex machines (remember them?). At the time, trying to send a fax or make a phone call to some countries in Eastern Europe or Asia would often require hours! Then the internet arrived on our desktop computers. All of a sudden email was the nearly-free communications mode of choice. The world opened up. Smaller companies could do business internationally. The world had changed!

These days everybody is wired 24/7. Even your cell phone can be your communications hub. So how should international trade companies use these tools?

  1. Next to visiting your overseas partners in person, speaking on the phone and seeing the person on the other end at the same time is the next best thing. Services such as Skype are free for calls to other members of the same network. You can spend one minute or several hours talking to your partners anywhere in the world. And you can conference in other people to the conversation.
  2. Let’s say you need to have a meeting, but your meeting partners are in Shanghai and London. You can use Skype. But more sophisticated systems are services like Webex or GoToMeeting. With these services you can share documents, PowerPoint presentations and other media, as well as share your computer screen with the others in the group. A more limited, but similar service is available for free from FreeSecreenSharing, where other meeting attendees can share your desktop while you hold your meeting.
  3. If you just have to say a few words to a colleague in Singapore there are several free instant messaging services you can use. One is built into Skype, but you can also look at Windows Live  (formerly MSM), Google Talk and many more. And, unlike sending text messages from your mobile phone, messages using their services are free.
  4. Suppose you have to share technical specifications, spreadsheets, Bills of Lading, etc  with your partners. Google Docs allows you to upload almost any kind of document and share them with whomever you wish!
  5. You are not always sitting in your office when you want your email. The solution is converting your email accounts to the “cloud.” Google Apps allows you to set up Google’s Gmail service as your company’s email system. That way, no matter where you are or what kind of communications device you have, you can access your business email as well as associated, accounts and other services.

Holds, Penalties, and Communication: ISF with Noah Munoz Part III

“You need to know who your cargo is being shipped with, an exceptional freight forwarder, for they are responsible for communicating with Customs.” –Noah Munoz

While the FDA monitors the quality of food and drug products entering the U.S., Customs sees imports first from a security standpoint, then as commerce. In order to monitor what comes into the U.S., Customs has implemented ISF, known as 10+2. ISF is an electronic notification sent to Customs, before ships leave foreign ports, notifying them of a shipment destined for U.S. ports. Published late in 2008, the law began implementation at the beginning of 2009, allowing importers time to get used to paperwork involved before the law came into full effect in 2010. There are pretty steep fines ($5,000/penalty), for not dotting your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s.” Noah Munoz, of Platinum Cargo Logistics, has presented on the new regulation and comments on where we are today.

Munoz noted that while the $5,000 per violation scare tactic worked to get importers and companies to start filing paperwork, there are still mistakes being made. So in 2009 you filed your ISFs and you got an e-mail or a notification with a subject line saying that “Your ISF was accepted.” Ok, great, done deal, right? So why are you still running into problems now? Well, see past the subject line or the first paragraph of your “acceptance letter” (during the phase in period of 2009) and  there were a few details you may have missed as in corrections. While in 2009 Customs acknowledged your attempt at implementing the regulation…well now it’s crunch time and the consequences are real, not just mere e-mails or notifications, but $5,000 per penalty real.

While Customs has yet to collect penalties, according to Munoz, they seem to be taking a leaf out of FDA’s book, and have started conducting exams. These non-intrusive exams, use a gamma ray imaging system, VACIS, to examine cargo through radiographic images. Munoz noted that “exams have increased on a whole by 4% in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles”. It appears that a lot of these exams occur with smaller shipments in consolidated containers where “it only takes one” non properly filed ISF for the whole container to be detained and incur the fee shared by all. Platinum clients need not worry, Munoz affirms: “We [at Platinum Cargo Logistics]  have taken the initiative to ensure that our clients have been in full compliance.” Unlike the FDA, Customs actually looks at an importer’s history and is now examining those who do not correctly file ISFs. Customs, more transparent than the FDA, is pretty clear about their intentions and corrections concerning ISFs. Munoz summarizes it like this: “If it’s not perfect, there’s no ISF on file, if it’s not on file, expect a hold.”

At the end of the day, we, the consumers, pay the fees not the importers or the companies. Prices are on the rise, so why are we taxing ourselves?

The FDA- A Game With No Clear Rules: Interview with Noah Munoz Part II

Let’s play a game. Ok, so you are a company making your way in the game of globalization, where you navigate through rising fuel costs, demands for sustainability, government bureaucracy, etc. Your freight is moving in the water, heading towards its destination, you’re doing alright. But, wait! Your last roll dictates that you have an increase in demand for the same product due at the same time as your ocean freight. You have two options, pay the cost of air transport or lose the client to whom you are selling. You decide to pay for the air transport. So things are running smoothly, and as you progress along the board, you land on a space that requires you pull a card from the dubious “Government Bureaucracy” deck of cards…yay! You pulled your card to find out that all your imports are put on hold by the FDA! You are asked to roll one more time to determine how long your products will be placed on hold…oh, awesome, a full twelve days. Twelve days on hold, for what reasons, you have yet to find out.

You don’t have to buy this game to find out what happens next. It’s probably already in play except the FDA actually charges a $224/hour re-inspection of your imported cargo without really providing clear reasons. The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed by President Obama in January 2011 began imposing re-inspection fees October 1st of this year. “It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it.” Since it is an obvious goal of the FDA, why are they assessing these fees? When I asked Noah Munoz to comment on this, he was just as lost as I was, but did say that, “The FDA is a type of agency that does not have the manpower that Customs Border Patrol has, but the way they have been conducting their line of business has been kind of backwards.” When asked to give an example, Munoz explained that FDA inspections officers are specifically for ocean or air, two separate divisions examining the same type of cargo. Munoz shared an experience where two imports of the same product were on hold—one ocean and another air—and samples from the ocean were taken first, though the air cargo arrived first. They ended up taking two samples of the same product from the same company and importer at different times, without the officers comparing notes.

Room for improvement? Well, according to Noah, “Don’t take it on a case by case basis” referring to the FDA ‘s practice of not looking at the importer’s record or history, which would indicate if there were any compliance issues or problems with said importer in the past. Since they currently do not provide reasons or feedback why cargo is on hold, nor does there seem to be clear levels of priority between hot cargo and other cargo, some transparency would also be appreciated.

From Here to There: Logistics Series Interview with Noah Munoz Part I

“Down to the pen you write with, the mug you drink out of, the shoes you wear, you tend to forget where it originates from or where it was shipped off to, just to get into your hands…that’s logistics.” –Noah M. Munoz

How many things that we buy are actually produced locally? Most likely not much, but that’s the beautiful thing about trade, we can specialize in industries, and essentially share our talent and products with the world, and vice versa. Take your morning cup of coffee, the mug is probably from China, the coffee from South America, sugar from Thailand, creamer, if you take it, hopefully from the continental U.S.  Your morning cup of coffee was probably made with 75% of the world’s products…the only way it gets from where it was actually produced into your hands is through logistics.

With increasing globalization, we get products from far off places, brought to us magically by transport logistics companies and their semi trucks that we rush to get past while a freight train passes below. Utilizing all modes of transport from air, to railroads, to trucks, and ocean freights, goods are literally moving in all directions, all around us everyday. Transportation logistics companies handle the nitty gritty of  product transport. You may have started a small business, and larger commercialized carriers like FedEx and UPS took care of you…ah the good old days. But now you’re growing, and that’s great, right? But now you have “outgrown” these companies and have to deal with government regulations and agencies, bureaucracies, and the loveable red tape. These newly emerging companies are the first to get fined because they have been spoiled with FedEx’s simplified practices.

Noah Munoz, West Coast International Operations Manager, of Platinum Cargo Logistics was gracious enough to speak with me about some recent developments of the transportation logistics industry, including the FDA’s Food and Safety Modernization Act and Customs Border Protections ISF, or 10+2. Noah hails from the Empire State (of Mind), New York, graduating from NYU with a degree in international business. He began his career in the automotive sector at Ford Motors Company, working closely with the design center contracting suppliers of car parts to create prototypes shown in car shows. While working for Ford Motors, he became International Imports and Export Compliance Manager in 2007. When he moved to California, he became more involved in logistics, overseeing ocean and air divisions and managing industry compliance, as an International Operations Manager, before obtaining his current position at Platinum Cargo Logistics.

Platinum Cargo Logistics, was founded out of the desire to do thing differently and better with customized service solutions: “Intelligent Solutions, Powerful Results.”  Dedicated to “Efficiency, Knowledge, and Solutions [… ] with Every Shipment,” Munoz joined Platinum as the West Coast International Operations Manager.  In this position, Munoz supports Platinum’s West Coast offices dispersed along the coast  (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle) and the office in Denver.

Veterans Day, 11.11.11. Background, Facts & Figures, Tribute Video & Poster Gallery

From Wiki: Veterans Day is an annual United States holiday honoring military veterans. It is a federal holiday that is observed on November 11. It is also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world and falls on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.)

The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armstice Day for November 11, 1919.  In 1953, an Emporia, Kansas man named Stephan Riod the owner of a shoe repair shop, had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Riod had been actively involved with the American War Dads during World War II. He began a campaign to turn Armistice Day into “All” Veterans Day.

Veterans Day Tribute Video, created by a patriotic high schooler a couple of years ago.

From U.S. Census: Facts for Features: Veterans Day 2011: Nov. 11:

  • 21.8 million: The number of military veterans in the United States in 2010. 
  • 1.6 million: The number of female veterans in 2010.
  • 2.4 million: The number of black veterans in 2010.
  • 9 million: The number of veterans 65 and older in 2010.
  • 7.6 million: The number of Vietnam-era veterans in 2010.
  • 3: Number of states with 1 million or more veterans in 2010. These states were California (2 million), Florida (1.6 million) and Texas (1.6 million).
  • 26%: Percent of veterans 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree in 2010.
  • 92% :Percent of veterans 25 and older with a high school diploma or higher in 2010. 
  • 9.6 million: Number of veterans 18 to 64 in the labor force in 2010.
  • 3.4 million: Number of veterans with a service-connected disability rating.
  • 9%: Percentage of all U.S. nonfarm firms that are majority owned by veterans.
  • 75%: Percentage of veteran owners of respondent firms who were 55 or older in 2007.
  • $35,367: Annual median income of veterans, in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars, compared with $25,605 for the population as a whole.
An interesting page, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, that presents (for download and viewing enjoyment) official National Veterans day posters from 1978 to 2011.   Veterans Day Poster Gallery.

Use of Social Media by Companies Involved in the International Trade Industry

Everybody is talking about Social Media these days. Are you tweeting? How many Facebook friend and fans do you have (yes there is a BIG difference between fans and friends)?  Do my LinkedIn contacts know where I am and what I am doing?

First of all, what IS Social Media? Loosely defined, it is a way of anybody being able to communicate and build online communities easily and at no (or little) cost. It takes the form of large communities such as Facebook, user-built knowledge resources such as Wikipedia, multimedia collections such as YouTube, or blogs, which are self-published publications such as ..well…World Trade Daily!

The big question, however, for the international B2B (business-to-business) community is, “Why should I bother? I have enough to do keeping my business going. I really don’t care to see pictures of my clients’ dogs on vacation.” The main reasons for using Social Media in your business are to effectively and inexpensively get out the message about your company and enhance communication with your clients.

Facebook:  Most of the 750 million Facebook users use it to upload pictures of their pets, friends, parties and latest vacations. But there is a growing business community taking form on Facebook.  It is in its infancy, but it is better to get onboard now! To get started as a business on Facebook look at instructions. The best content to send on Facebook is news about trade shows you attend, new products from you or companies you represent, customer service and news about your industry niche. If your message includes a link to your website, you should create a separate Facebook landing page on your server so that you can identify the traffic as coming from Facebook.

Twitter: Twitter is an effective medium for communicating short messages. The content you “tweet” can be similar to the content you send on Facebook, but shortened to not more than 140 characters, and with links to a shortened URL that you can get at services such as One important feature of Twitter:  “retweeting” is a very effective viral tool. If somebody you are following posts a Tweet that you find particularly interesting or relevant to your business activities, make sure you retweet it to your followers. That way the person who originally posted it knows you appreciate their messages and increases the chance that they will retweet your messages to their followers.

LinkedIn: Unlike Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is a B2B social network. That is, everything you post on it should be related to your business and your career. When you set up a profile on LinkedIn make sure you tell a good story about your business and yourself. Millions of people and companies depend on LinkedIn when doing due diligence for business partners and employees.  And if you are a business owner or executive, set up a profile for your business. Make sure an email address on your profile is from your company’s domain name. Then set up a detailed description of your company  and start building “connections.” You can post news about your company and more detailed resources about your business. Also LinkedIn has a very important feature called “Answers.” Here you can post specific technical questions about your business area and you will get helpful and substantive responses from other professionals on LinkedIn. The great thing about Answers is that it both informs and give you the opportunity to establish you and your business as “thought leaders.”

Other social media sites:

  • Quora is similar to LinkedIn answers. There is an ongoing discussion about international trade subjects. This is another opportunity to be informed and establish your online reputation.
  • YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and several other similar sites are great places to post videos and photos of your expertise, products or services. Make sure you have some compelling messages!
  • is a social media site especially for international trade. Here you can set up a profile for your company and add content, such as articles, videos or PowerPoint presentations that you may have.

Howard Cochran, International Business Professor, Belmont University

Belmont University was the very first CenTradeX customer- February 2004… after over three years of software development and the contributions of several handfuls of brilliant contributors. Among the most notable is Howard Cochran, Professor of International Business at Belmont University. He is a dedicated teacher, superior academician, compassionate humanitarian, china expert and a fellow data-phile.

One of the main perks about working in the international trade profession is the people you get to know. As I recounted upon numerous times… it’s people that are the are the real intelligence behind trade intelligence… not just technology. So here’s a bit about one.

Howard Cochran, Professor Belmont University, Nashville, TN

Dr. Howard H. Cochran, Jr.
Professor of Economics and Management
Belmont University, International Business

D.A. – Middle Tennessee State University
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Administrative Leadership
M.A. – Wayne State University, Economics
B.B.A. – Walsh College, Finance

Selected Honors & Awards:
Chaney Distinguished Professor Award Nominee (2009)

Presentation Excellence Award for Does China Underreport International Merchandise Trade Statistics?, Academic Business World International Conference (2009)

Best Paper Award, Academic Business World International Conference (2008)

Chaney Distinguished Professor Award Nominee (2008)


Dr. Howard H. Cochran, Jr., Professor of Economics and Management, teaches both undergraduate and graduate economics and international business courses in Belmont University’s College of Business Administration. He earned his B.B.A. in Finance from Walsh College, M.A. in Economics from Wayne State University, and Doctor of Arts in Economics from Middle Tennessee State University. He has also completed post-graduate study in administrative leadership at Harvard University.

He has taught courses in macroeconomics, microeconomics and international business. Being a veteran of international studies, Dr. Cochran has also lead several Belmont student study-travel trips to China. His teaching, research, and consulting interests are in the areas of economic education, managerial economics, and international trade.

Dr. Cochran is an advisor for firms seeking to source and sell products in that country. His most recent research relating to China includes articles with working titles including E-Music Growth in China – Obstacles and Opportunities for Foreign Firms, Toward Developing an International Index of Music Piracy, Use Chinese Merchandise Trade Data with Caution, Assessing the Impact of Trade with China on U.S. Manufacturing Industries, and Asian Manufacturing Trade Dominance. His extensive travels have taken him throughout North America, Western and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Far East, and the Indian Sub-Continent. While in Bangladesh he was able to spend time with Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

His research has been presented at national and international professional conferences and published in academic journals including: International Advances in Economic Research, Atlantic Economic Journal, Journal for Economics Educators, Journal of Economics and Finance and has an article accepted for 2008 publication in the Journal of Business, Industry, and Economics.

Dr. Cochran has served the economics profession, Belmont University, his community and his church in a variety of endeavors. He has been honored by Delta Phi Omega for his guidance and mentoring of students. He is a director of the Nashville Rescue Mission and a member of the Tennessee Export Council, an appointment made by the United States Secretary of Commerce.

On Korea, Part 3: Meetings, Negotiations, Dinner & Alcohol

Utilize your network! Relationships are important in Korean society, they are the basis from which everything else is built, including business. The ability to accomplish your business goals is proportionate to who you know, and additionally their status and contacts. Korean companies are often members of larger conglomerates, and high ranking officers are usually involved with government agencies…waiting is all part of the game—there may be quite a few people you need to meet with in order for your proposals to go anywhere. The lone wolf that meets you for your business meting may serve as gatekeepers, but this person may be the one who sells your proposal to the rest of his company.  He or she are your first obstacle to success in South Korea, so present to him or her as if they were the last person you would present to.

Meetings: Most meetings, like China and Japan, are formalities with an exchange of information, so be prepared to provide copious amounts of it. Sending materials ahead of you so that your Korean colleagues can review it could be something to consider. It goes without stating to come well organized and prepared; during the meeting avoid disagreement and present a united front. These Irish of Asia are prepared to express emotions, and barter with you…en garde!

Negotiations: Korean negotiations are more emotionally charged than most other countries in Asia, and some in the West. They may be aggressive, direct and quicker to express anger or frustration…how are you going to react to all of this? Keep your cool (Save your face!). Usually if they have a good feeling about you, price (if fair) is not really an issue…let them buy your personality first, business is easier that way. Contracts are similar to the Chinese memorandums: flexibility is key. When your meeting starts to divert to social chit chat, your meeting is probably over…however if they are curious about a particular facet of your proposal…pursue it! Bow at the beginning and end of a meeting…and prepare to get to know everyone after hours.

After Hours: Dinner has become the main meal of the day, and business dinners invitations are customary. DO NOT DENY! It is important to establish these informal relations as it builds on your personal character, which is not really separate from you business persona. Koreans have similar dining etiquette as the Chinese and Japanese, concerning seating arrangements, how much food to put on your plate, the use and placement of chopsticks, etc, however “elbow support” is used when passing food or drink. Mutual trust and compatibility are the basis for good business relationships in Korea; in order to asses your true personality, alcohol is used. Among alcohol’s many powers, one of its main powers, unfortunately, is allowing people to speak their mind, regardless of situation. Know your limits, what may be said after a two, or three, or four, or five (are we starting to slur our words yet?) drinks can be taken seriously the following morning.

On Korea, Part 2: Introductions, Communication, Face & Flexibility

Introductions: No touchy! As with most Asian cultures, Korea is also a non-touching culture, so wait to be introduced to Korean colleagues. Business cards are typically exchanged, with similar practices of presentation as mentioned in previous countries (in the native language, use of both hands in presentation, accompanied by a slight bow, etc.), concluding with the Korean handshake, with what is known as “elbow support.” The Korean handshake is similar to China’s in its limp grasping of the other’s hand, but only using one hand (instead of two). “Elbow support” is when your right hand is extended, your left hand grasps your lower (extended) right arm. Caught ya! Be honest, you just tried to do it! The gesture has come to mean extra sincerity; it is a Korean gesture of hospitality and welcome; gifts, drinks, documents, and meals are given and received in the same manner. Women, do not expect Korean men to offer their hand first, you have to take the initiative; conversely Korean women may prefer not to shake a Westerner’s, particularly a man’s, hand. As you leave for the next leg of your journey throughout South Korea, a small farewell bow is expected to every individual present, though some younger staffers may wave.

Communication: Many older Koreans do not speak English, and since age is revered here, those people are probably the big players, but some young people may, since it is widely taught in schools. A translator may suit your purposes better, if you want to play it safe. A note of caution, Korea and Japan have some bitter relations, due to their history of invasion, so refrain from using your Japanese here, unless you represent a Japanese company.

Face, Silence, and Flexibility: Like China, context is important in South Korea, but allows for confrontational speech. Let’s be clear, direct, but not blunt…we are still trying to save (your) face here! While Koreans may say what they feel (remember, “Irish of Asia”), they are still mindful of preserving face and avoid being disrespectful (oh, Confucius!).  Koreans are also practitioners of silence, which they see as a proactive form of communication. Silence may be due to confusion, or lack of full understanding, or may be utilized to practice evaluate you and try to figure out what you are thinking  or feeling, a mind-reading process (all about saving face). As Westerners we tend to prefer noise, of some sort, even background noise, instead of silence. Suppress your urges and be silent! You don’t want to give more information than you are willing because you were looking to fill the void. The use of visual aids—pictures, graphs, numbers, charts—can be used to avoid confusion. When you are ready to sign “contracts” with Koreans, they are similar to China where these “contracts” are really “memorandums” where they outline how business partners intend to work together, in ever changing situations. This is a relationship: good business partners take care of each other.

On Korea, Part 1: Confucius, Individualism, Relationships & Trust

The U.S. and South Korea have enjoyed a long security alliance, and the revised free trade agreement will be the most commercially significant agreement in more than 16 years. South Korea will likely become a major U.S. trading partner…so laying some groundwork right now, would probably be a good idea.

South Korea has been conquered time and time again through different Asian countries, they have been considered the “Irish of Asia” sharing similar histories and becoming the defensive and feisty ones of Asia, you have to wonder if there’s any red hair there. Considered to be more individualistic and emotional than their Asian counterparts, Koreans do share cultural similarities with their Japanese and Chinese invaders.

Confucius Influence: Similar to both Japan and China, they have a long respect for Confucian teachings, especially those concerning hierarchy, seniority, modesty and honor. They show respect for seniority and rank through humility and preserving face, so watch what you say! Like Japan and China, they have similar protocols for showing respect that are determine from where you sit to who starts introductions.

Individualism: Though there is a stronger presence of Christianity in South Korea, those who are Buddhists follow the Mahayana tradition. This tradition of Buddhism stresses the strength of the individual in achieving nirvana, or the end of suffering. Koreans, like many Mahayana Buddhist countries believe that the universe is beyond their understanding, and that many things are determined on greater forces, such as fate and ancestors, but that the individual has the power to achieve nirvana.

Their Korean individualism is often at odds with their group oriented culture rooted in obligations to families or groups (workers or those involved in the family business). There is a strong feeling of interdependency of among members of a group or business, the group dynamic is therefore important; harmony is preserved by saving face, avoiding saying “no” directly. While Koreans may gather information from below, and decisions may be made with consensus, nuances of individualism still play a part in the process. For example, meetings are also usually conducted with an individual, or a few people, instead of with a group, so the person that meets you in the lobby, he may hold the keys to your success in the emerald city.

Relationships & Trust: Western individualism is recognized, but the self is down played in the big picture. Relationships are really what matter, the heart of Korean society, the grease that moves the wheels. These relationships usually determine future action. With good relations comes good kibbun (kai-bon) or good feeling, which involves trust and intuitive logic. Similar to how Chinese tend to do business with those they trust, it is similar in Korea, they prefer good energy between the two companies and peoples before conducting business. However, build a network: if your only point of contact is out of favor or somehow demoted, your business prospects are looking rather grim. Network, network, network: the right people can determine success or failure.

On Hong Kong: The Little Asian Tiger- Fully Grown & Unique

Hong Kong, known as one of the Four Asian Tigers, maintained high growth rates and rapid industrialization between the early 1960s and 1990s and has developed into an advanced economy. Operating under the People’s Republic of China as a special administrative region, Hong Kong is one of the most bustling regions of China. Once a consolation prize to the British during the Opium Wars, Hong Kong was officially returned to China in 1997. The British used Hong Kong as a place to earn money and Hong Kong has become the financial capital of Asia.

Hong Kong Chinese are very fast-paced and look to the future, but still hold onto their Chinese cultural ways, including Confucian beliefs, concepts of acknowledging hierarchy, and guanxi (gwuan-she). Business meeting decorum, Chinese banquets, punctuality, and business card exchanges are all similar to practices on the mainland. However, Hong Kong has developed a personality all its own.

Whereas mainland Chinese speak Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese reigns supreme here. English is the lingua franca so don’t worry about having to memorize the six tones of Cantonese, your English will most likely be your mode of communication as many businesspeople speak English. In fact, with the language barrier no longer existing, you may find yourself more comfortable here than most of Asia, as this culture is highly westernized, resembling cities of Europe or the United States. Many people here are western educated and employ modern western modes of thinking more often that intuitive or associative modes of thought. There is little use of, or time for, silence as this city is fast-paced, where people speak very fast and very loudly, in both English and Cantonese. Since Hong Kong has special administrative privileges, there is also a free flow of information, as opposed to censored China.

You will also find that women play a larger role in business in Hong Kong, as opposed to China, where they adopt many western customs and habits. Hong Kong Chinese tend to Anglicize their names, and married women tend to adopt their husbands names (taking the form taitai-“Mrs.”). Hong Kong is also a huge shopping society and are avid followers of high-fashion, so while the signs may be in Chinese, you may feel like you’re in an another fashion capital in Europe. This is such a consumer culture that China allows visitors to enter Hong Kong (to spend money) in order to boost the Hong Kong economy.

When giving gifts in Hong Kong, your gifts tend to be more valuable and Western luxury-types, imported liquors, name brand items, etc. During the Chinese New Year red envelopes are filled with cash (crisp new bills, no even amount or number of bills) as a traditional gift, hong bao (hong-bow). Business people give these to associates who provided assistance during the previous year (but no one government related!) or to employees by employers.

Now that you know a little bit about Hong Kong, perhaps you will find your Golden Egg.