Daily Business worldwide – Interview with Mr. Barry Enright23 Aprile 2021
Sales Manager at SKG ITALIA SPA
I graduated from Dublin Institute of Technology with an honors degree in Mechanical Engineering and from there went to work in the Tohoku region of Japan for a company called ALPS Electric, designing automotive climate control units.
After returning from the land of the rising sun, I moved to Parma to work as a Sales Engineer for SKG ITALIA, acting as a technical sales liaison between ALPS Electric and Denso Thermal Systems.
Later I took up the position of Sales Manager within SKG ITALIA working on Thermal Management components for conventional and electrical vehicles.
- Which countries do you have the pleasure of collaborating with and which country would you like to focus your attention on?
My work in the automotive industry takes me to France, Germany, Poland, UK, USA and Japan where I also worked for a two year stint, so let’s focus on that.
- Before each trip, how do you prepare to meet foreign clients or business partners with different cultures?
Even though F2F meetings are currently on hold due to Covid restrictions, a video call requires much of the same preparation as a physical meeting.
It’s important to understand who your interlocutors are and what background they have: technical, sales, etc, as well as what cultural background they come from. In preparation for a meeting I study the attendee list and their roles and make sure I have all angles covered.
Most of my customers are multinational firms with a mixed ethnic workforce so if I’m presented with a question from, say an Italian person, I generally tend to give a concise answer, touching on the key points, because I think this is the ‘answer format’ that they are looking for.
If a Japanese person askes the same question I will generally garnish the answer with more details, and if it’s technical based, I will have a report or presentation prepared.
- When you are in the country mentioned, what do you need to pay particular attention to in order to accommodate your client?
As in many other countries, in Japan it’s customary to go out to dinner after a long day in the meeting room.
While the technicalities of the business are discussed within the office confinements, agreements are often made over dinner where the atmosphere is more relaxed and trust can be built up between the two parties.
Japanese people will often place traditional dishes in front of you to taste, which are regarded a delicacy, but for Europeans, may be a stomach-churning prospect.
It’s something which is important for the Japanese and is regarded as a test of your respect and commitment towards them.
Needless to say that on countless occasions I have found myself eating such dishes as ‘Umeboshi’, a pickled fruit or ‘Natto’, fermented soybeans with a slimy consistency, not exactly my cup of tea! However, if it helps bolster our relationship then it’s worth it.
- Can you tell me some anecdote, even in the past, if you ever made a Gaffe because you didn’t know the culture or the habits and customs of your interlocutor?
The first incident happened during a job interview for a Japanese company.
I had grown up on a farm in Ireland and when asked why I did not wish to pursue a farming career, I replied that it entailed “too long hours”, to which the Japanese interviewer quickly responded “you will also be expected to work long hours in a Japanese company”.
My answer might not have raised an eyebrow in a European working culture but needless to say, Japanese companies have a different working philosophy. I quickly realized my mistake and improved my interview tactics, eventually landing the job.
Before setting off to Japan, I was versed on the ritual of giving and receiving meishi business cards.
I had learned about the importance of the meishi, that it represented the person’s face and consequently, that it should be received humbly. Soon after arriving in Japan I had my first opportunity to put in practice the theory.
The giving and receiving of the meishi went to plan, accompanied by the customary bowing, but when I turned to go to my seat I put the meishi in the back pocket of my trousers and sat down. This, for a Japanese person is the equivalent of sitting on their face, an insult, so I quickly learned to keep the business card on the table in front of me at all times.
- Do you believe that knowing cultural differences and / or appropriate behavior can affect the outcome of a good business?
Most certainly, if one is not aware of the customs practiced in that country, there is a risk of offending your client unbeknownst to you.
Obviously it depends on how ‘flexible’ or open-minded you client is, but the risk is always there.
- What, in your experience, should be taken into consideration to respect the culture in the country you mentioned?
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. You don’t need to spend hours reading boring books about culture and traditions, you just need to understand the basic differences between your culture and that of your client. With a click of a mouse you can quickly discover the Do’s and Don’ts of any culture and learning these could just be the difference between a successful meeting and an unsuccessful one.
It doesn’t have to be about the signing of a multi-million dollar contract, it may simply be a Quality meeting or a Technical meeting in which you want the client to adopt your solution. If he/she is impressed by your preparation and body language, then it’s already half the battle!