Last week a business executive from a green technology firm lamented to me that his company had been purchased by a Swiss firm six months ago. The problem he felt was one of clashing business cultures. One of the main points of disagreement was in risk taking. The American subsidiary was used to taking a higher level of risk in this fast-paced competitive industry. The Swiss parent company had a much more thorough decision-making process. The Americans were very frustrated as they saw opportunities slipping past them because of the longer decision-making time.
This is a common issue especially in mergers and acquisitions. The key is to first look for the commonly shared values and expectations between the two companies/divisions. For instance, one Denver-based company found that their low employee turnover rate served as a great recruiting tool in China where employees normally want to stay with a single company long term. For the Swiss and American divisions, a common shared value was product performance. Next, look for ways to exploit the arbitrage. Since American business culture is very pro-risk taking, higher risk projects could be handed off to the American division. In Switzerland, a professional failure can ruin a career. In the U.S., you’re not considered experienced in many fields (especially entrepreneurship) until you’ve failed at least a few times.
I’d be interested to hear from readers about their experiences in blending different cross-border company cultures together.