studied with a language teacher for five months, he admits his skills are tested when he gives oral presentations. “I seem to always manage just fine, but the preparation it takes to organize my thoughts in Italian is challenging—but rewarding.”
Briggette Harrington recalls playing golf one hot summer day in 2006 with a woman in Ghana who complained that her hands were too hot inside her gloves. Harrington, who had an extra pair to lend her, assumed that the synthetic fabric was the problem and suggested she purchase a new pair at the nearest golf shop. “She looked at me like I was from Mars,” Harrington recalls. “She said ‘What golf store? There are no golf stores here.’ ”
After investigating the woman’s claim and surveying about 200 golfers, Harrington quickly realized that in a country where there are roughly 22 golf courses, there was probably demand for a store that would sell golf apparel and products.
“There was no historical data for me to really decide whether or not this was a viable industry,” she says, “but I knew that companies sponsored tournaments at least twice a month.”
At the time, Harrington traveled frequently to Ghana in her work as an independent consultant in Washington, D.C. But within 45 days, after speaking to top golf manufacturers and securing exclusive distributorship within Ghana, Togo, and Cote d’Ivoire, she opened Golf World (www.golfworldltd.com), the first of three stores that would eventually be located across Ghana. Since opening in July 2006, total sales for the last three years is approximately $560,000, with the bulk of business coming from corporate tournament merchandising.
Harrington, 49, admits her success as Golf World’s owner and managing director hasn’t come without difficulties, and to professionals interested in starting a business abroad, she suggests hiring a consultant to help decipher the country’s business and cultural climate. In Ghana, for example, Harrington paid an “expedite fee” five times before she got her business license. She quickly learned that foreign investment requirements are very different from those in the U.S. She has also noticed a difference in the way Ghanaians and Americans approach business.
“As Americans we think outside the box. If you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. But in Ghana, it’s more of a linear society. People are taught to do their job one way and one way only,” she says.
“You have to figure out what the culture of the people and country is, how they do business, and how they think, or you’ll lose your investment or never get to where you want to be.”
Her business has also brought her and her staff other rewards. She has helped many of them to open bank accounts and learn computer skills; one worker is taking reading lessons. “We’ve definitely touched people’s lives here,” she offers. “If and when they leave, they have some life management skills that will carry them throughout their lives.”
When Robert Spencer moved to Japan five years ago, he found the transition easy. Before moving, Spencer, 31, worked in his hometown of New York City selling Japanese equities to U.S. institutions. The office culture in Tokyo was similar to the one back home, and all his colleagues spoke English. “Prior to the relocation, I already had working relationships with many of my colleagues in the Tokyo office.”
As a vice president of Goldman Sachs, Spencer works as an equity derivatives salesman covering foreign institutions, and he spends most of his day executing trades on his clients’ behalf and offering advice about the Japanese market.
Also, because Japan and China are geographically close, Spencer says there’s ample business opportunity in both markets, and he often advises his clients to gain exposure to China either directly or through Japanese companies.
Though his adjustment has been painless, he has quickly learned the differences in business rituals, such as exchanging business cards. “Arriving at a client meeting without business cards, while not a big deal in the States, could be detrimental to the start of a client relationship [here].”
For professionals interested in working in Japan, Spencer advises learning the culture and intricacies of business first, since being unaware of details could potentially undermine a budding business relationship.
Finding an apartment, opening a bank account, or securing a gym membership—Spencer found these challenging as well. “Tokyo is a great city and most of these are one-time experiences,” Spencer says. “Once you get past them, you adjust and can enjoy living here.”