The Unspoken Truth about International Business

Language has been described as the mirror of culture. Language itself is multidimensional. This is true not only of the spoken word but also of the nonverbal language of international business.

Messages are conveyed not just by the words used, but also by how those words are spoken and through such nonverbal means as gestures, body position, and eye contact. These nonverbal actions and behaviors reveal hidden clues to culture.

Five key topics – time, space, body language, friendship patterns and business agreements – offer a starting point from which managers can begin to acquire the understanding necessary to do business in foreign countries.

Understanding national and cultural differences in the concept of time is critical for an international business manager. In many parts of the world, time is flexible and is not seen as a limited commodity; people come late to appointments or may not come at all.

In Mexico for instance, it is not unusual to show up at 1:45PM for a 1:00PM appointment. Although a late afternoon siesta cuts apart the business day, businesspeople will often be at their desks until 10 o’clock at night.

In Hong Kong, too, it is futile to set exact meeting times because getting from one place to another may take minutes or hours, depending on traffic.

Showing indignation or impatience at such behavior would astonish an Arab, Latin American, or Asian.

Perception of time also affects business negotiations. Asians and Europeans tend to be more interested in long-term partnerships, while Americans are eager for deals that will be profitable in the short term, meaning less than a year.

Individuals vary in their preferences for personal space. Arabs and Latin Americans like to stand close to people when they talk. If an American who may not be comfortable at such close range, backs away from an Arab, this might incorrectly be perceived as a negative reaction.

An interesting exercise is to compare and contrast the conversation styles of different nationalities. Northern Europeans are quite reserved in using their hands and maintain a good amount of personal space, whereas Southern Europeans involved their bodies to a far greater degree in making a point.

International body language, too, can befuddle international business relations.

For example, an American manager may after successful completion of negotiations, impulsively give a finger-and-thumb “okay” sign. In southern France, this would signify the deal was worthless, and in Japan, it would mean that a little bribe had been requested. The gesture would be grossly insulting to Brazilians.

Misunderstanding nonverbal cues can undermine international negotiations. While Eastern and Chinese negotiators usually lean back and make frequent eye contact while projecting negativity, Western negotiators usually avert their gaze for the same purpose.

In some countries, extended social acquaintance and the establishment of appropriate personal rapport are essential to conducting business. The feeling is that one should know one’s business partner on a personal level before transactions can occur.

Therefore, rushing straight to business will not be rewarded because deals are made on the basis of not only the best product or price, but also the entity or person deemed most trustworthy. Contract may be bound on handshakes, not lengthy and complex agreements – a fact that makes some, especially Western, businesspeople uneasy.


Excerpt from Fundamentals of International Business, 3rdby Michael R. Czinkota, Ilkka A. Ronkainen, and Michael H. Moffett

Michael Czinkota ( teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the University of Kent. His latest book, forthcoming in October 2018, is “In Search for the Soul of International Business”.

“Redirecting Capital to Sustainable Investment” by Victoria Galeano and Jerry Haar

Published in the America Economia (March-April 2018), “Redirecting Capital to Sustainable Investment” discusses impact investing among Latin American businesses. To read this article in Spanish, click here

March – April 2018


Redirecting Capital to Sustainable Investment

Victoria Galeano and Jerry Haar

We are living at an unprecedented time in human history. Never before have consumers been so empowered to influence corporate behavior and firms’ impact on society and the environment. New market incentives driven by selective consumer groups such as millennials and women have begun to redirect capital towards enterprises the importance of being good corporate citizens.

To be a good corporate citizen is consonant with high standards of ESG (environmental, social, and governance). Many investors consider looking for ESG-oriented firms, believing they generate higher financial returns in the long term. More and more available information validates this correlation. For example, the Institute of Sustainable Investing’s extensive study of mutual funds found that sustainable investments in most cases equal or exceed the financial performance of traditional investments.

This has generated a search for sustainable investments and transactions of “green capital” and a proliferation of funds focused on sustainable investment. For example, the market for green equities reached a new historical record of over $200 billion in total issues in 2017. According to Bank of America, $21.4 trillion of global stocks embody ESG criteria.

There presently exist diverse strategies for selecting investments that incorporate ESG. In many funds, the selection process is based on monitoring sustainability indices. These indices compile a list of enterprises and score them based on ESG criteria. In the case of Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank utilizes Index Americas, the first index to be launched by a multilateral development bank. Index Americas selects 100 enterprises that are both the most sustainable, and have the largest presence in the region.

It is noteworthy that the Latin American financial system has slowly embraced this worldwide tendency, and increasingly, pension funds and other investment funds are incorporating sustainability investments in their portfolios. The leading stock market in Brazil already has an index of corporate sustainability, and the stock markets in Argentina, Chile, and MILA (the integrated stock exchanges of Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru) are in the process of developing similar criteria. At the same time, Latin American businesses are more and more cognizant of the importance of incorporating ESG in their operations. Firms such as FEMSA, Cemex, and Banco Itaú are industry leaders in attaining high standards of ESG.

These enterprises do not only allocate resources to improve their technological systems and internal processes but also invest in broadening their knowledge base of sustainability. In response to this need, various universities have incorporated sustainability into their MBA programs.

Attaining high standards of ESG brings multiple benefits to companies and helps firms achieve larger goals in many instances. Recognizably, however, the proliferation of rankings and standards requires significant resources in the generation of reports, scorecards, and audits. Additionally, obtaining results will invariably require the reconfiguration of internal processes or investment in costly equipment and technologies.

Nevertheless, enterprises that are able to integrate ESG principles in their business models and continually improve their sustainability are those that will be able to generate long-term economic benefits while engaging in behavior that is healthy and beneficial to people, the environment, and society at large.

Victoria Galeano is the founder and director of PRISSMA, a consultancy specializing in the financing of sustainable projects and products.

Jerry Haar is a business professor at Florida International University and a global fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

“Redirigiendo Capital Hacia Inversiones Sostenibles” de Victoria Galeano y Jerry Haar

Publicado en la America Econmia (Marzo – Abril 2018), “Redirigiendo Capital Hacia Inversiones Sostenibles” comenta los beneficios de las inversiones sostenibles en empresas latinoamericanas. Para leer en inglés, clique aqui.

Marzo – Abril 2018
Redirigiendo Capital Hacia Inversiones Sostenibles 
Victoria Galeano y Jerry Haar

Estamos en un momento sin precedentes en la historia de la humanidad. Nunca antes el consumidor tuvo tanto poder en sus manos para intervenir en el comportamiento de las empresas y en su impacto en la sociedad y el medio ambiente. Los nuevos incentivos de mercado impulsados por grupos de consumidores más selectivos, como millennials y mujeres, poco a poco han comenzado a redirigir capital hacia empresas que entienden la importancia de ser buenos “ciudadanos corporativos”.

Ser un buen “ciudadano corporativo” implica tener altos estándares de ESG (ambientales, sociales y gobernanza). Muchos inversionistas consideran que estas empresas además generan retornos financieros más altos en el largo plazo. Cada vez hay más información disponible que comprueba esta correlación. Por ejemplo, el Instituto de “Sustainable Investing” después de un largo estudio de fondos mutuos, concluyó que las inversiones sustentables usualmente igualaban o excedían el desempeño financiero de aquellas tradicionales.

Esto ha generado una búsqueda por inversiones sostenibles y transacciones de capital “verde”, y una proliferación de fondos enfocados a las inversiones sostenibles. Por ejemplo, el mercado de bonos verdes alcanzó a principios de 2017 un nuevo récord histórico con US$ 200.000 millones en total de emisiones y, según Bank of America, aproximadamente US$ 21,4 trillones de activos globales consideran criterios ESG.

Existen diversas estrategias para seleccionar inversiones que incorporan factores ESG. En muchos fondos, el proceso de selección se basa en el monitoreo de índices de sostenibilidad. Estos índices construyen una lista de empresas de acuerdo con un sistema de puntajes que califica su desempeño en ESG. Para América Latina, recientemente, el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) lanzó IndexAmericas, el primer índice desarrollado por un Banco Multilateral de Desarrollo, que selecciona las 100 empresas más sostenibles y con mayor compromiso por la región.

El sistema financiero de América Latina se ha unido lentamente a esta tendencia mundial y cada vez más fondos de pensiones y otros fondos de inversión incorporan inversiones sostenibles. La bolsa de valores de Brasil ya tiene un índice de sostenibilidad corporativa, y las bolsas de Argentina, Chile y MILA están próximas a desarrollarlos. De igual manera, las empresas latinoamericanas son cada vez más conscientes de la importancia de incorporar factores ESG en sus operaciones.

Empresas como FEMSA, Cemex y Banco Itaú son líderes en sus industrias por sus estándares en ESG. Estas empresas no solo destinan recursos para mejorar sus sistemas tecnológicos y procesos internos, sino que también invierten en ampliar sus conocimientos en sostenibilidad. Como respuesta a esta necesidad, diversas universidades han incorporado, además, la sostenibilidad en sus programas de MBA. FIU, por ejemplo, en cooperación con el BID, está lanzando un “MBA de Impacto” bilingüe para América Latina con seis residencias en varios países, en el que se integra la sostenibilidad de manera medular en el currículo de MBA.

Aunque tener altos estándares en ESG trae múltiples beneficios a las empresas, también conlleva retos importantes. Por un lado, la proliferación de ránkings y estándares implica que las empresas ocupen muchos recursos en la generación de reportes, scorecards y auditorías. Por otro lado, obtener resultados puede implicar la reconversión de procesos internos o la inversión en equipo y tecnologías costosas. Sin embargo, las empresas que logran integrar principios de ESG dentro de su modelo de negocio y mejorar constantemente su desempeño en sostenibilidad son aquellas que logran generar beneficios económicos de largo plazo a partir de comportamientos cada vez más sanos hacia la sociedad y el medio ambiente.

Victoria Galeano es la fundadora y directora de PRISSMA, una empresa de consultoría para el financiamiento de proyectos y productos sustentables.

Jerry Haar es un profesor de negocios en Florida International University y Global Fellow del Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars en Washington, D.C.

The Case for Cuban Engagement

After six decades of communist rule in Cuba, the island is now governed by someone outside of the Castro family for the first time since the 1959 revolution. The new leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel, was vice president and a provincial party chief.

Many believe that the political and economic status quo of the Caribbean nation is unlikely to change. However, lessons from the business world indicate that any change in an organization’s key leaders ushers in a new era for a company.

Whether it’s an acquisition, merger or the appointment of a new CEO, these transformations usually carry enormous repercussions for key functions.

New priorities are typically manifested by new promotions, new players, new rules and new aims. In turn, this results in shifting financial conditions, new private developments and new service assortments.

When applying such transition effects onto countries, one could argue that there is an opportunity for President Trump to act decisively in formalizing and normalizing trade relations with Cuba if conciliatory and meaningful changes are made.

For example, changes could be made so that there are no longer higher hotel rates for Americans than for Europeans, as well as no more ongoing accusations or regurgitation of historic events that have long passed.

Curative International Marketing, a theory developed at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, directly addresses past errors and focuses on long-term restitution and improvements.

Such a move would advance U.S. businesses and their strategic interests while allowing Cuban citizens to operate in the private sector independent of the communist regime.

So far in the Trump administration, the opposite tactic has been taken by restricting American travel and trade with Cuba, which is a reversal of President Barack Obama’s policies.

A pro-business posture allows for increased commercial relations (beyond cigars) that would be more effective in countering the interests of the Cuban military’s monopoly in business.

This policy would empower private Cuban entrepreneurs by eliminating their dependence on the Cuban state apparatus and open them up to U.S. leadership and influence in the region. Private success over public ventures would speak volumes in favor of new economic and social thinking.

As a first measure, restoring the capacity for U.S. citizens to schedule individual visits to Cuba, which was eliminated in 2017, should be considered.

The potential economic boon for Cuba’s tourist industry could eventually stimulate growth in both the U.S. and Cuban economies. Also, this measure would promote democratization and bolster innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit in Cuba.

The recent promising developments in the Korean Peninsula indicate that diplomacy rather than deterrence can advance American interests in places where ideological and strategic divisions run deep. As the White House approaches a deal in East Asia, it could apply the lessons learned from the North Korean negotiations closer to home in Cuba.

President Trump’s acumen for dealmaking can face an ultimate test in Cuba. Opening conversations — and trade — with the island could mark a vast improvement in the bilateral relationship. Hopefully, the American people can look forward to the use of politics that shapes a future good for all of us.

Michael Czinkota teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the University of Kent.

Lisa Burgoa of the School of Foreign Service contributed to this commentary.

A Philanthropic Awakening in Latin America

A Philanthropic Awakening in Latin America

Jerry Haar

For a long time standing now, “Latin American philanthropy” has been considered an oxymoron. Traditionally, wealthy Latins and corporations have had deep pockets but short hands, believing it the role of the public sector to fund charitable and philanthropic endeavors while keeping their own wealth in the family, shipping it offshore or giving it to the Church.

The times they-are-a- changing, however; for without much fanfare we are witnessing a growing awareness among the wealthy and corporations–principally through corporate foundations in the region–that philanthropic giving and social engagement are critically important and highly beneficial for their nations, to society, their companies and themselves. (It should be noted that most countries in Latin America use the term “private social investment” rather than philanthropy.)

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