|Building a Global Company - Our Story|
Catherine Mercer Bing and John W. Bing
Because businesses are increasingly global and are now demanding that their vendors - including consultants and other service vendors - supply their services wherever the client is located, establishing a global presence is a necessity for many service organizations. Mergers and acquisitions are two of the most common ways to create a global organization, but joint ventures, "green fields" (or building something from the ground up) and strategic alliances are other ways a company can achieve a global presence.
ITAP International, which assists global companies and organizations by showing how their multicultural potential can be fully achieved, now offers a growing global presence. In this article and the series to follow, we describe the market pressures to "go global", the choices we made to foster our own expansion, and some of the lessons we learned along the way. We also intend to offer insights from our international colleagues and their cultural perspectives on our globalization experience.
In future articles, we also will offer lessons we have learned from and/or taught to our global clients as they increasingly work across borders.
In this first article, we'll explore ITAP's expansion process from the US perspective. Because establishing a global business requires working with people from other cultures who usually possess different perspectives, we'll ask our partners in Toronto and London to add to their perspectives in future articles. We hope that by bringing you these multiple perspectives we will encourage those of you interested in becoming a part of the global business to take the first step.
And, because we are a firm that advises large companies on how to develop their competitive advantage using global teams and leveraging cross-cultural differences, we had a special challenge in developing our own business to use the best practices that we advocate to our clients. We found this experience to actually be an advantage in our own globalization process and we will share more about these best practices in future articles.
Our Approach - ITAP Background
We began ITAP International in Princeton in 1986 as consultants and trainers to global companies. Our first client was Johnson & Johnson, that most global of companies, which we continue even now to serve.
Some years ago it became apparent that we could not grow unless we could provide worldwide cross-cultural consulting services. Like many small firms, we did not have millions of dollars to set up little ITAPs all over the world. So we developed a strategy that allowed us to grow our business internationally. We focused not only on our core business - cross-cultural consulting - but also how we conducted that business - defining strategies that would foster expansion. Our strategies included certifying others to use the ITAP tools, licensing others to offer our products and services, and developing a growing international alliance of partners.
Getting Started - Taking Stock
We could claim that we always thought out steps before we took them, but "it ain't necessarily so". Our stocktaking began when one of our chief clients shared their thoughts on rationalizing their client base. Their message? They expected increasingly to use service firms that could both deliver a range of services and to deliver them on a worldwide basis. Their message was clear. Business would go to those in our field who were large and well-represented globally. Our challenge? How could a small Princeton-based firm begin to work in that direction - to offer a wide range of services and offer them on a worldwide basis.
It will come as no surprise that the Internet and our website (http://www.itapintl.com) played a critical role in our first venture outside the U.S.
In 1997 we were contacted by a reader of our web page who wanted to set up a cross-cultural firm in Canada and wondered if he could do it in concert with ITAP International (Princeton). After thorough due diligence on both sides including a strong training effort, ITAP International licensed our partner, now ITAP Canada, to use our trademarks and intellectual property. An important factor to consider here was that we had been able to reach out internationally through the Internet and find a partner, and our web site continues to play an important role in that process.
At about the same time, we were introduced to a firm in Mexico that was interested in being certified to administer our cross-culture questionnaire. Now we had connections that extended into the NAFTA region.
Through an internal source, we were introduced to a British firm, Kimball Consulting Ltd., which specializes in human resources services and consulting. Kimball wanted to expand its reach into the European continent and felt the need to add cross-cultural offerings to its product mix. After a year of co-marketing and working together on client contracts both in the United States and abroad, we completed a licensing agreement for Kimball to serve clients across Europe using our cross-cultural approaches.
Early in 2000, we established a formal relationship with a firm in Shanghai, China, to deliver our programs and products there. In addition, discussions on an alliance with a firm uniquely positioned to provide our services in Japan began in April, 2000.
Business networks on three continents put us well on the road to a global delivery system for our clients. Our Chinese firm was recommended to us by another business in Philadelphia; our Japanese connection came through a long-standing relationship with a firm in our business sector.
The lesson here is that there are many roads that lead to Rome, and London, and Shanghai, and if we want to do business in different parts of the world, we have to have a readiness and flexibility to conduct that business in different ways. ITAP has used certification (of our intellectual property), deveoping alliance partnerships (through licensing existing companies), and marketing relationships to expand our global reach.
Each firm in this network of associations has added to the range of services and products that we now all can deliver on a global basis. As we grow, our strategy is to have centers of business excellence regionally, but still maintain a global business delivery capability. This objective requires us to look for partners which not only expand our reach but also enrich our consulting and product offerings.
For any business that wants to transact business globally, a presence on the Internet is a necessity. Our website now represents our partners on a combined web page; each partner has a unique focus but our combined business approach is represented there. To a large extent, ITAP's web presence has replaced the mailing of brochures and materials, because that information now can be easily found in cyberspace.
We also use our web pages (and e-mail) to develop common marketing approaches and to write common documents. All of these approaches to global business development are available to small business owners at a small cost relative to their potential payoff. More of our clients or potential clients also come to us - initially as an inquiry - through their Internet research, which leads them to our website.
ITAP now offers global service and product delivery. Because we are globally distributed, we have to learn to work together using cyberspace and other electronic means. We use regularly scheduled teleconferences and email extensively as well as face-to-face meetings in planning our joint work (marketing, product development or service delivery).
The process of the globalization of ITAP described above is viewed only from our U.S.-based perspective. Each of our partners has a different perspective on our development and we will be presenting those perspectives in future columns. Since our business focuses on the impact of cultural differences, we know that some of the different views and approaches of our partners are often a direct result of our different cultural perspectives.
For example, our Canadian partner, a French-born resident of Toronto, recently requested that ITAP partners use a predetermined agenda for our teleconferences. Our London partner (as did we in Princeton) operated with the notion that developing an agenda takes too much time, precious time that could be used for other business purposes. After a discussion that helped us understand our partner's French perspective, we all decided that it would be useful to develop a brief agenda to help keep us on track, to prepare and focus our thinking, and, as we discovered, to save time!
This article originally appeared in the June 20-22, 2000, Princeton Business Journal, a publication of the Princeton Packet.
| - NOW AVAILABLE: Shopping Cart for Global Performance Enhancement Tools |
| - Update: ITAP's virtual team tools are now web-enabled! |
| - ITAP announces 2 new Regional Relationships: Human House/ITAP Denmark is now Human House/ITAP Nordic; Organizational Development Consultants, Ltd./ITAP Kenya is now Organizational Development Consultants, Ltd./ITAP East Africa |