Wednesday, May 09, 2007

International Consultants

I wanted to share my recent observations with regards so-called "international consultants" who are plenty in USA and whom I meet quite often at various networking events.

I don't really understand what is the reason behind the phenomenon I am going to talk about (may be the geographical position of USA - far away from most of the world, i.e. Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa) but most of Americans I meet who spent at least a couple of months abroad during their lifetime (either working or as a student) consider themselves to be professional international consultants. Here are 2 classic examples that I recently met:

1. Middle-aged guy who spent 3 months in Europe as a student (about 20 years ago) insists on being extremely knowledgeable about in European business. He never worked in any European company and since his days over there many countries do not exist any more and new ones emerged.

2. A lady who spent a year or so in Europe working as a ground personnel for 1 of the American Airlines (you know those girls who check in your luggage before the flight) now has her own consulting company specializing in... international business and international relations! How much did she learn about European business models printing baggage receipts???

Moreover, neither of these so-called "international consultants" speak any foreign language and I suspect has know clue about cultural aspects of the regions they "specialize in" either.

However, their businesses exist and, apparently, some companies trust them! I just wanted to warn my readers about these types of "consultants" and "international experiences". Don't waste your money! If you have never been abroad except as a tourist your experience and knowledge is not inferior to that of such "consultants" even if they spent several month abroad. The main question you have to ask is what were they able to learn doing whatever they were doing while staying abroad? Drinking in pubs with other students or printing boarding passes (as per my examples) has nothing to do with understanding the principles of international business.

I do call myself an international consultant too (my company is Emerging Markets Advice ) but in contrast to what I have already mentioned I lived, studied and worked in 5 different countries (and when I say "studied" I mean I studied international management, and when I say "worked" I mean I worked as international business development professional in big multinational companies). I also participated in a number of cross-regional and global projects involving a dozen other countries and in addition I speak 3 languages.

This phenomenon does not exist, say, in Europe because you cannot fool a truly international community where the majority speaks at least 2 languages, has experience studying abroad and some of them have worked abroad too. There you really have to show you can add value compared to everyone else.

Therefore, dear business owners, if you plan an international expansion, please, be careful choosing a consultant to help you with the task! Beware of former international camp councelors, flight attendants and the like.


Anonymous said...

Having been raised overseas, and in business in outside the U.S. for fourteen years I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. I wholeheartedly concur with these points and am also amazed at the "international businessman" that I meet abroad. I attribute some of this to our (Americans) misunderstanding of the world at large which allows us to get fooled. Kudos to you for pointing it out! A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Steve McLaughlin

ANNA D said...

People in the USA who profess themselves to be "International Consultants" whom are PHONIES know nothing about Intl Business. It does not surprise me, as I worked with 100's of them in US Corporations. They are awful to do business with & make your job 10X harder, due to their lack of knowlege. They are no better than people employed by Large Corporations in the United States in an Intl Business / Export Capacity, but do not know what they are doing. Don't worry, you can immediately recognize it after speaking to them in just less than 5 short minutes. Worse, you are forced to work with them because they are the designated contact person(s) at the other Corporation you are working with !! Trust me, any Company with 1/2 a brain seeking to hire an International Business Consultant will quickly see thru them that they have ZERO knowledge. Their References should be checked whether they had past Clients for Consulting Jobs or if they worked for any Corporation.