ASAP introduced a thought-provoking session at the March 2016 Global Alliance Summit that allowed attendees to “spin the globe” and finger regions of interest for cultural exploration. Designed to help alliance managers glimpse the importance of understanding cultural nuances, “Alliances Around the World: Cultural Roundtables” provided insights and tips on doing your homework before stepping into a partnering venture that’s sometimes halfway around the globe.
Deftly moderated by Philip Sack, CSAP, president of ASAP’s Asia Collaborative Business Community, the two-hour session that took place at “Partnering Everywhere: Expert Leadership for the Ecosystem,” held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland, was co-presented by three knowledgeable alliance managers: China was covered by Andrew Yeomans, CSAP, director of alliance management, biopharma business, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany; India was covered by Subhojit Roye, CSAP of Tradeshift; Latin America was covered by Guarino Gentil Jr., CA-AM of Serono, a healthcare division of Merck.
The next issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine will feature the first of several articles written about the roundtables—a virtual collective deep dive led by Yeomans and his Chinese partner, Jin Wu, who works for Serono (a healthcare division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany) in China. The article takes readers into the nuances, taboos, and norms of doing business in China, via a roundtable discussion, with the roundtables for India and Latin America following in a subsequent issue.
“What’s needed for success, in general, has to do with people and relationships,” summarized Sack when introducing the session. After describing the need for partnering with cultural sensitivity in our fast-merging world, he provided a very basic list applicable to anyone doing business in any country:
- Be an active listener
- Communicate well—be a good speaker
- Be patient
Attendees then selected a region, and eventually rotated throughout the room engaging in regional exchanges led by the remaining two co-presenters. The animated discussions included multiple questions and answers from the co-presenters and participants on topics ranging from traditional values, social networks, and product approval processes to contracts, copyright, inflation, and state-by-state legal variances.
The co-presenters emphasized the value of developing appropriate soft skills, such as understanding what is important in a particular culture: holidays, seniority, punctuality—or in some cultures a laid-back approach to time.
In China, for example, knowing how to socially negotiate the system of guanxi (the concept of drawing on connections in personal or business relations) is critical for access to Chinese markets. The guanxi business network is a web that interlinks thousands of social and business connections.
In India, it’s key to understand the lines of delineation and codes of conduct: a partner can become a competitor; a prospective acquisition target can end up assuming your company. In Latin America, effective communication requires easing into relationships with chitchat on personal issues because direct communication can be viewed as impolite.
Becoming attuned to legal, political, and structural differences in a country, region, or district is also advantageous. For example, taxes in Latin America can be very complicated. Several layers of tax fees exist, and Brazil can be especially complicated with different VAT taxes, each with its own rules. The taxes may vary product-to-product and state-to-state, explained Gentil.
In India, where software development has matured considerably, doing business in village areas requires sensitivity and insight into the caste system. “The caste of an individual could play an important part in success. It’s best to have the local country representative guide you,” advised Roye. “This needs to be done with extreme sensitivity as India is a democracy, and equality of opportunity is important.”
In China, it’s especially important to pay careful attention to the contract. One needs to consider the spirit as well as the letter of the contract and differing approaches to interpretation, said Yeomans. A lot of partnering is done with the Chinese government, and your goals for doing business need to be seen as adding value, "a kind of Robin Hood philosophy where the company is distributing for the human good, for humankind,” he added. “They would see that approach as an added value concept.” Negotiating the nuances of China “requires a huge amount of depth and understanding, and the key is to harness [the skills necessary for entering] the Chinese market.”