Andy Anderson has worked in Asia for more than 2 decades, and this past Monday night was able to share some of his experiences and insights with MIM students as part of the ongoing Age of the Pacific lecture series. Mr. Anderson, himself a graduate of PSU, has held a variety of positions at Cascade Corporation, a Portland-based company that manufactures forklift attachments. He admits that he had no training for dealing with cross-cultural business situations when he first began working with Asian companies in the 1980s, and most of his talk on Monday was centered around lessons that he had learned the hard way from interacting with business partners in Japan, China, and Korea.
Some of the lessons had to do with learning to understand differences in communication styles across cultures. In several stories that Mr. Anderson shared, he talked about certain business deals that he tried to negotiate with his counterparts overseas. These were deals that he had thought were on track and that he had high hopes for, but in the end, the deal never worked out. Even in situations where a contract had been signed, he waited for the orders to start coming in, but nothing ever happened. It wasn’t until much later sometimes that he realized that his counterparts had not felt the same enthusiasm for the deal or had disagreed on certain points, but had just not been willing to express those feelings directly. In hindsight, there were likely signals that the business partners may have been sending to indicate their lack of interest in these deals, but the signals were so subtle that it was not easy to pick up on them until later, Anderson said. To this point, he emphasized the importance of understanding that there are differences in cultural communication styles, and that although it may not be possible to accurately interpret the indirect messages of every culture you come in contact with, at least having an awareness that there are cultural differences that need to be considered is a good step toward preparing for these culturally asynchronous situations.
Another theme that Anderson touched on was that of creating trusting relationships with international business partners. More than one case that Anderson shared dealt with mergers or acquisitions between his company and another company overseas. With these mergers and acquisitions came the inevitable change in management and organizational structure, and many employees who felt nervous about whether they would keep their job. In these cases Anderson said it was particularly important to understand that the local employees in other countries simply wanted to know that they could trust their new American managers, and from Anderson’s position, if he could earn their trust, operations would run much more smoothly for all involved.
Mr. Anderson ended his talk with an interesting revelation, that his degree from PSU was not in anything related to business, but was in fact in history, an encouraging fact for those of us hoping to launch a successful business career after transitioning from a liberal arts background.
Josh is a full-time student in the Master of International Management program. After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in Japanese, he taught English in Tokyo for 3 years, before moving to China and teaching at a university in the city of Zhengzhou. Inspired by his experiences in Japan and China, he was drawn to the MIM program because of its regional focus on Asia, as well as for Portland State University’s reputation as a leader in the field of sustainable business. He is studying Chinese in the MIM program, but tries to keep up his Japanese whenever he can.