This week I caught up with Matthias Leitzmann, Director of International Business Development at VXi Corporation, a manufacturer of noise cancelling wireless and unified communication headsets. Matthias is a leader on the front lines of the ever-shifting landscape of international business. He is also a regular contributor to the weekly #GlobalBizTalk Twitter group.
Matthias, how did you originally get into the international business development field? What made it appealing?
I came to the US to attend college when I was 18. On my initial flight over, I knew I wanted to do “something” with international business – I just didn’t know exactly in what capacity and when. The thought of connecting and leveraging both my European background and my newfound American experiences seemed incredibly exciting to me. It still is today.
As I entered professional life, I always kept an eye on ways how I might be able parlay any of my skills into international business. As I was working as an executive search consultant/headhunter, the opportunity presented itself when one of my clients needed a suitable reseller for his company’s products in Germany. I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back since.
What approaches work best for you to find & evaluate new international business opportunities?
My approach is a channel-focused model. It is the leanest and most cost effective model. It provides tremendous leverage and scope. When vetting and research show that there is a need for my employer’s service or product in a particular country, then I begin searching for in-country partners (i.e. distributors, integrators, resellers) that see the potential of our market opportunity and want to be part of growing it locally. In other words, I look for partners that want to make my business their business and with whom I have shared interest and trust. My success will depend on finding the right suitable partner and how well I am able to manage and grow the relationship.
As someone who works extensively in both North America & Europe, what are a few of the most important differences in doing business that you think our readers should know?
At the core, I find (business) people are very much the same here and in Europe. The goals of running a profitable and successful enterprise, of building something viable and sustainable, and the desire to earn money are all the same. These basic, universally common goals are “buried” under a web of cultural differences and experiences. Being able to penetrate, navigate and deconstruct those layers is the challenge. In that, it is less about differences per se than being able to understand and relate to those differences. Empathy in international business is very important. The faster you can begin to relate (if you enjoy the process of learning, respecting and working with the differences), the sooner you will be able to get to the core and speak a “common” language. The better you become at this skill, the more success you will have overseas.
What do you wish you had known about international business development when you started in this role?
Patience and romanticism. More of the former, less of the latter. Developing overseas business takes patience, along with a healthy dose of stamina or thick skin. Furthermore, it is easy to get romantic about the idea of running a “global business”. The questions that needs to be asked: is it going to be profitable and contribute positively to the overall goals of an enterprise?
Can you give our readers any advice on maximizing the potential of strategic international partnerships?
Besides looking for the obvious in a potential international partner, such as expertise, track record, capacity etc., the factor that can maximize the relationship is a common personal “hook”. This is something that builds rapport with that partner beyond the mere business relationship. It could be that the person you are dealing with in Europe attended college in the US. Or it could be that you both follow Champion League soccer. Or you could both enjoy reading the same international newspapers and so on. This rapport will contribute to making a “long distance” relationship seem so much closer and real. The more you can bond on a level beyond business, the more likely the relationship will thrive (and last). Minimally, it will result in both of you enjoying engaging with each other more and calls getting returned faster. On the other spectrum, such a deeper connection may very well contribute to both of you better navigating any potential rough waters that lie ahead. And as with any business endeavor (especially international business) there will be plenty of challenges you and your partner will need to overcome together.
About Matthias Leitzmann
Matthias was born and raised in Munich, Germany. He moved to Rhode Island in the late 1980’s to attend Bryant University’s business school. After a successful career in executive search, including having completed multiple international projects, Matthias began focusing on the sourcing, vetting, recruitment and management of international B2B and B2C channel partners. In his capacity as an executive search consultant and channel development specialist, he has successfully completed assignments for leading high-tech companies, such as Cisco, EMC, MKS Instruments, and Ericsson, and many smaller, venture-backed firms.
He is presently the Director of International Business Development at VXi Corporation, a manufacturer of noise cancelling wireless and unified communication headsets. A frequent international business traveler, and authorized to work both in the EU and the US, Matthias speaks fluently English and German. He is currently based out of Boston. I highly recommend following Matthias on Twitter (@MLeitzmann).