CULTURAL CROSSOVERS : Kiwis Abroad

Ask Michael Stedman, managing director of Natural History New Zealand (NHNZ), about dealing with one of the 160 countries his company works with and he stresses patience – at least six times. It’s not because he’s an impatient man.
Shaun Conroy, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s (NZTE) regional director for North East Asia, also cautions that three-year period from initial contact to deal is not uncommon in Japan. You might be thinking this is just an Asian trend. You’d be wrong.
One of the main points Christian Dahmen, consultant for executives and decision makers, stresses when dealing with Germany, is: “slow down”. You may think negotiations have ground to halt, but ticking away in the background will be an army of evaluators vetting you to see if it is worth bringing your case to the attention of key decision makers. Rung by rung, you’ll make it up the hierarchy – in year or two.
A sobering and expensive thought, especially for culture whose idea of business is modelled on ’80s Wall Street movies that advocate getting in fast and closing the deal, tempered with Kiwi attitude of “she’ll be right” and rampant tall poppy syndrome. It makes for quite the cocktail, one that has been sampled by international markets and found to be sweet and palatable, but lacking kick.
Two years ago NZTE commissioned The Nielsen Company to research perceptions of New Zealand business culture and values in India, South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and Australia. The overriding perception is that New Zealand is “high in human values, but low in business acumen”. According to many, we lack the proverbial killer instinct, the “hunger to be part of an international business community”.
It’s not that international businesses don’t want to do business with us, far from it. New Zealand’s top five overall trade partners (merchandise) are Australia, the US, Japan, China and Singapore. In 2008 New Zealand’s dealings with its top 20 trade partners brought in total of $91,414.28 million.
The Nielsen report discovered that New Zealand’s human values are respected and admired. These include: “An openness and directness that makes dealing with New Zealand businesses straightforward and agreeable; refreshing honesty which engenders rapid trust and resourcefulness, creativeness and flexibility – all perceived to be due to New Zealand’s geographic isolation, space and limited resources.”
Despite these positive perceptions, New Zealand is still seen to be lacking in global business values, those key attributes that surmount cultural differences. The Nielsen report lists these failings as: “low pro-activity and reluctance to follow up phone calls and/or contacts; lack of preparation and research into country’s culture and specific market characteristics – eg, ‘what can we sell’ approach, rather than asking ‘what does the market want?’; an overly-relaxed attitude towards business: ‘Give it go’ and ‘she’ll be right’ are unwelcome and unsuccessful attitudes in global business; being unwilling to partner or collaborate to help business go further; transactional approach to business and an unwillingness to establish and maintain relationships. While this issue is particularly strong in China and Japan, all five markets highlighted this as shortcoming of New Zealand businesses.”
Although these are only perceptions and there are obviously Kiwi businesses that are hugely successful on an international arena, in competitive global marketplace you don’t want to be seen as provincial player, well meaning, yet essentially ineffective. To get an audience with decision maker, people need to take your country seriously. Here’s how to forge lasting relationships in four of New Zealand’s top 10 trading regions.

Australia (No. 1)

Friendly sports rivalry aside, Australia and New Zealand are strong trading partners, with trade between the two making up 23.9 percent of New Zealand’s total international dealings.
Tim Green, NZTE regional director, Australia and the Pacific, says that as with other English-speaking countries, the biggest issue New Zealand businesses have when entering the market is that they imagine it is going to be easy – the same as business in New Zealand.
“More than any other factor that’s what leads to New Zealand companies becoming unstuck or taking longer to gain traction, burning more cash than they need to.”
He also cautions that there is no single Australian market, with regulations, licensing, accreditation requirements and consumer tastes varying quite distinctly from state to state. Even getting bank account with bank of the same name as one in New Zealand can be challenge.
Some considerations to take into account that are often underestimated include the climate and geographical distance. Managing one’s supply chain takes on whole new meaning when product can literally arrive melted, and the huge distances between centres load costs onto the supply chain.
On the positive side, Green explains: “Some of the assumptions we make are missed opportunities. Australia is wealthier country, and consumers have more cash to spend. Don’t assume the price point is the same.”
Deloitte surveyed successful New Zealand SMEs in the Australian marketplace (which included Charlie’s Trading Company, Molemap and Kea Campers) and found they shared number of key success predictors. These were summarised into the ‘five Cs’: clarity, commitment, capability, connections and cash.
As Green expands: “Clarity is going into the new market and asking, have you clear sense of your strategy and what you’re looking to achieve there? Have you taken the time to develop plan that is suited for Australia?
“Commitment – let’s not do this half heartedly. If we’re going to take on the market, recognise it’s going to take some time and tenacity, give it big chunk of senior management time. With capability ask yourself, have I got robust enough business back in New Zealand that can handle taking that initial step?
“Another big difference between New Zealand and Australia is that Australia is very well networked business society and lot of business is done within fairly closed business networks like old school or sporting networks. Crack those local connections, or invest time in recruiting Aussies who bring connections with them.”
Cash is, as always, key, with Green reminding companies to be prepared to take some time to get to the point where you are generating cash. Without solid research and planned approach, company could simply run out of money.

China (No. 3)

“I remember sitting in China and watching five documentaries in row and all the film makers were watching me watch them. The first question I was asked was which I liked best. My answer? It’s little like asking me which of my children I like best. Were they interested in which one I liked, or how I would deal with the question? What were they actually asking me?”
Michael Stedman’s NHNZ is the largest producer of documentaries for the west in China, and has had base there for nine years, giving the company unprecedented access into the area. Over that time, he has learnt, as he puts it: “the power of the metaphor. lot of it is intuitive and you know when you are being tested.” The ‘favourite documentary’ question is just one example gleaned over decades of experience that Stedman could share, but for him, patience is the key trait to have when working in China.
“I’ve watched English companies in particular have very tough times in China,” he says. “They come with colonial imprint, and want to work to their schedules and time frames. It’s bit like being in great river – you can go across or down, but you’d be pretty hard pressed to go against the current.
“In China things take time. You may go four to five times before the deal is done. You have to be able to adapt to the situation and understand stuff like face. This is true for Japan as well – getting ‘no’ is almost impossible. Yo

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