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Executive insights

By Mike Diliberto

Lessons in International Sourcing


still remember my first inter­ national fixture sourcing trip. Way back in 2005, i traveled with the founder of my previous employer (a fixture manufac­ turer) to China to explore our Asian sourc­ ing options. This trip left an impression on me that i will never forget. After those few weeks of being on the ground and visiting suppliers, i left knowing that we had seen the future, that this was where manufac­ turing was gravitating, and that it was only going to accelerate in the future. i also remember how in­over­my­head i felt try­ ing to conduct business in a place where i knew almost nothing of the language, culture, or expectations. in the end, we did some great things over there, and i went back to China again and again over the years that followed. my lack of cultural knowledge continued to weigh on me, and as i looked at my per­ sonal five­year plan, i knew that China was where i wanted to be. being a technologist by training, i had always felt that pursu­ ing an mbA was going to become more and more necessary to fill in the gaps in my business knowledge. After a few years of China experience, i knew that i needed to go back to school and focus on inter­ national business. And so, after much deliberation, i took a two­year break from work to attend thunderbird school of Global management. recently i joined the team of lynx innovation as the general manager of our soon­to­be­opened design and manufac­ turing center in China. since then, i’ve traveled to China countless times, and the way that i feel while there could not be more different. Although i am far from knowing everything about any foreign cul­ ture, i understand the differences in com­ munication, cultural understanding, and communicating across not just language but cultural barriers. i even found myself discussing the nuances of communica­ tions across these cultures to some of my colleagues—quite a difference from how i felt during my first few trips!
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in addition, i have a few points of view to share with my fellow fixture manu­ facturing professionals: Learn a Little Language. you would be amazed at how much traction you will get in even just trying to speak the language of those with whom you are doing busi­ ness. especially in a “high­context” culture

“ W hen all of the

information that we have about a for­ eign culture comes from news outlets or other media, we end up with a skewed view of reality.”

Eliminate Pre-Conceived Notions. When all of the information that we have about a foreign culture comes from news outlets or other media, we end up with a skewed view of reality. Almost everyone asks me what it is like to work in China, and i always start with, “it’s probably not at all like what you think it is.” One of my colleagues summed it up well, that the answer to the question “How long is a piece of string?” inevitably is answered only through our cultural out­ look, not an absolute truth. Overseas you will find this applicable to countless situ­ ations, that our individual cultural view­ points may give two people a completely different answer to the same, seemingly obvious question. Beware the China Hand. This was a piece of advice given to me by one of my pro­ fessors during my thunderbird studies in beijing, and it’s one that i have found to be particularly valuable. i’ve been to China more times than i can count, and yet i know that in terms of culture and understanding, i’ve barely scratched the surface. my value comes in knowing enough to know that i don’t always have the answer, but who i can ask the right questions. The China hand is that person who has been to China twice and is now a self­declared expert on China business. beware of anyone who can give you an immediate, absolute answer to any ques­ tion that comes up in international busi­ ness dealings. As with all situations in business, if it feels wrong, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and dig deeper to under­ stand the situation fully before you accept the answer.

where actions quite literally speak louder than words, this can really help to open the doors of communication with your hosts. There are countless ways to learn a language, my personal favorites being byki and Pimsleur. try a smartphone­based system to give you something to do on your long transpacific or transatlantic flights. Understand the Culture. As with language, a little effort goes a very, very long way. There are many tools available online and at your local library (or university library); Cultural Navigator and CultureGPs are two great tools, CultureGPs even has an iPhone app that you can use to quickly look up cultural information. Reach out to Colleagues. you’re prob­ ably not the first person to embark on this particular sourcing adventure, so reach out to those who may have done it before. linkedin groups are a great resource, as is the A.r.e. website. you may even find someone on the ground who can help you out, as i have on a few occasions.

Mike Diliberto is general manager, China, for Bloomington, Minn.based Lynx Innovation Inc. Contact him at miked
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