THE UNADAPTABLE EXECUTIVE
by FREDRIC L. BLANK, Partner, Atlanta
The deadline passed, and the U.S. headquarters asked the local Central American manager about a report on its subsidiary. It received a variety of excuses and promises. Deadlines, it seemed, do not have the same urgency below the border.
An Asian auditor laughed when he was asked about so-called "illegal acts." "Without grease," he responded, "your client can fold up its Asian tents and silently steal away."
At a business meeting in Brazil, the local accountant repeated to the U.S. controller that the auditors' "revisions" were not complete. The controller grew impatient. He did not realize that revisions should have been properly translated as "reviews."
How great is the "cultural gap," how great the "cultural confrontation," when businessmen from different back-grounds fail to understand one another? My experience has been that business transactions deteriorate, and are often altogether stymied. This result is inevitable in practically all international dealings unless specific precau-tions are taken.
Cultural confrontation is a natural result of different upbringings: customs, laws, and languages. Man, a creature of habit, falls into familiar patterns which harden with time. Why cannot be adapt to other cultures? His lack of understanding is usually attributable to (1) unfamiiiarity with the other culture, and (2) an assumption that his own modus operandi is superior. Since parties on both sides of
the culture gap are susceptible to similar rigidity, a "barrier" is formed which must be overcome to the satisfaction of each party.
Because the U.S.A. as a nation is basically a self-contained unit, we have developed an ingrown form of isolationism, or call it provincialism. We tend to think we have no need to learn foreign languages, to adapt to foreign customs, even to try and understand foreign positions. On the other hand, the Dutch or Danes, who have survived by foreign trade for generations, have learned foreign languages well, adapted