How important is 'Industry Experience'?

Ed Marsh | Dec 31, 2010

My preference in hiring has always been to find the right people (intellect, creativity, energy, work ethic, technology implementers, tactical and strategic perspectives, commitment, team players, leadership, desire for growth, etc.) and ideally to find them unencumbered by the traditional assumptions (head trash) common to the industry for which I would hire them.

With the possible exception of some professional service providers, nobody ever brings a book of business and the refrain of "well maybe that works in XXXX, but that's not the way it's done in XXXX" stifles the creative Blue Ocean approaches required to consistently evolve a contemporary business as a continuously viable entity.

But there are certain background skills which are important - interpreting a balance sheet; understanding the data from an oscilloscope; hedging foreign political, market and currency risks; selling; etc.Those competencies are the ones which must be managed for effective application to a certain business challenge regardless of the industry.Given a baseline of requisite technical proficiency then the industry specific qualifications can be fostered and quickly developed - just like a network.

And this is the essence of my approach to international business - indeed substantial international experience is the critical success factor regardless of "industry."

International business is more than collecting internet leads and having a resident expert in preparation of customs and shipping documents.Rather it requires a management team and sales group which have an abiding understanding of their inherent inability to understand other cultures.Contradictory?Not at all.The mistake which kills most international business efforts is the false confidence that a few transactions, numerous visits or even some time living in country signify an understanding of the differences.

Effective international business practitioners are acutely aware of differences in perspective which are so deeply ingrained that they will never successfully internalize them.Yet they effectively manage and sell multi-nationally for the simple reason that they recognize that.They instinctively understand the inflection points and crossed signals and anticipate conflicts.And conflict is therefore often forestalled so energy is focused on proactive efforts rather than mitigation and repair.

Who has these skills?Often you find them in a small group of folks married to foreign nationals, those who have attended school overseas for extended periods, and general managers (not just org chart supervision) of foreign operations.