Patience: Virtue valuation

After spending nearly four years in Latin America as an independent hospitality professional, I’ve had my share of “bang your head against the wall” moments that may seem similar to other experiences shared by fellow industry colleagues; however, as I am in the process of repatriating myself and settling in to a new role within my organization, I have found that the “standard” frustrations felt in any hospitality transaction just don’t translate to some of those that happen outside the United States.

Having just completed a Global Executive MBA that literally took me all over the world, the cultural divide I witnessed across borders (even among multinational/global corporations) was impressive and was one of the key takeaways from beyond the classroom/academic underpinnings of the 14-month intensive program.

Combined with my experiences living in Argentina, this led me to a few questions to ask of the potential employers as I was interviewing for jobs that related to global development:

  • What is your international growth strategy? 
  • How do you intend on implementing such robust plans? 
  • Do you have resources you are prepared to commit to this expansion?
  • Have you conducted business abroad?
  • What do you (really) know about the foreign landscapes in these markets?

One of the academic premises on which my “formal” post-graduate education was based had to do with “the cost of foreignness” for corporations intent on launching business units in countries beyond their borders (a.k.a. comfort zones). The driving force behind this fundamentally obvious conclusion is that despite all the preparation, local intelligence gathering and relationship building that can be done prior to installing a team on the ground in a new market, the level of commitment required to obtain success is significant — both in human and invested capital.

I’ve worked with U.S.-based real estate firms with billions of dollars worth of international development experience in China, India and Europe — all of which had, at one time, expressed interest in “getting into Brazil” (being the most common), among other countries in Latin America. The largest hurdle many of these firms faced was how to tackle the on-the-ground question — business in Latin America is not conducted how it is in New York City, London, Tokyo or Shanghai.

The cultural differences between traditional business practices that have survived generations can be perceived as overtly challenging, irrational, illogical and, above all, “old” — I have been witness to clients growing increasingly intolerant of customs and norms that don’t seem to “make sense” to what would ordinarily be considered “the right way” to execute a transaction.

As I settle in to my new role leading the charge for Gansevoort Hotel Group’s Latin America expansion efforts, our collective experience living and working abroad will certainly be tested as we dip our toes in the land of tomorrow, and putting the appropriate value on patience, tolerance and acceptance will be instrumental in our ability to successfully enter markets that have historically been challenging for “traditional” U.S.-based businesses interested in asserting their power and sophistication. These words ring true for any group with aspirations of growing beyond the borders of the United States — it is imperative to have a sense of how cultural borders, varying business practices and traditional customs can and will influence a firm’s ability to succeed.