Beyond Our Borders

Professionals step out of their cultural comfort zone and find opportunities in international business

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Bertrand Brenton, a consultant for an American mobile Internet company in Milan, says establishing personal relationships is important for business there. (Photo by Ivan Capoferri)

It’s clear we no longer live in an American-centric society but in a global economy. Now, more than ever, African American professionals and entrepreneurs need to assume a global focus.

From a corporate perspective, companies are gaining profits in markets such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the Middle East and therefore requiring more executives to live and travel abroad. In a June 2009 survey, Cartus Corp., a global mobility management and workforce development firm, found that nearly 60% of the companies surveyed agreed that companies value the skills acquired during an international assignment.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, the Minority Business Development Agency has noted that more minority small businesses are selling their wares overseas. According to a March 2008 report, Characteristics of Minority Business and Entrepreneurs, 2.5% of minority firms generated 10% of their sales through exports, compared with 1.2% of nonminority firms.

On the next few pages, three globetrotters share the rewards and challenges of working abroad. Their stories illustrate that global business opportunities not only exist but are attainable for any one with a strategy for success.

BERTRAMD BRETON
Milan

Milan is Italy’s second largest city and a world capital of commerce, fashion, and design. Bertrand Breton is not sure where the country ranks in golf, but he knows the game isn’t played much in Italy. But golf is about the only luxury he misses since making the European city his home six years ago. A native of Washington, D.C., Breton, a consultant for an American mobile Internet company, says his Milanese wife, whom he met in New York City while working at Digital Solutions Cooperative, or Dscoop, a technology company, convinced him to relocate. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” says Breton. “She’s definitely my favorite part of this adventure.”

Breton, 38, is also a fan of Italian business culture. Throughout the country most businesses are relatively small and family-owned, yet they drive the Italian economy. “In Italy, establishing a personal relationship with business partners is important,” he says. “If you don’t take the time to share aspects of your personal life with those you want to engage in business, things may not work out.”

Considering the congenial nature of business in Italy, Breton was surprised by the country’s level of bureaucracy. He says it can take almost a year to open a business.

Breton, who is fluent in French, struggled to learn Italian. Though he says it’s not necessary for the occasional business traveler, Italian is essential for those living and working in Italy. Having 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.”

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  • http://performanceconsultantsintl.com Hadji

    Hello, this article was very inspiring as we are working hard to break into the International market in the construction industry.
    Congratulations to those who have been successful in implementing this overseas expansions.
    Especially Mrs. Briggette for starting and growing a business in West Africa.
    There are many opportunities in West Africa and it is very refreshing to hear a success story from that part of the world.

    Thank you