Daily Business worldwide – Interview with Mr. Guillaume Dehandschoewercker21 Maggio 2021
Commercial Director at Lesaffre Italia S.P.A.
- Which countries do you have the pleasure of collaborating with and which country would you like to focus your attention on?
Through my professional career I had the chance to visit and to work in many different countries.
A 1 year 1/2 experience in the U.S (I was 23 years old) was the 1st exposure to a new culture, another way of working.
When I came back to France (my home country) I started travelling in South East Asian countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar, Mongolia…); the Indian Sub-continent (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afganisthan…); the Pacific (Australia, New Caledonia, Fidji, Papua new Guinea, Australia); Africa (I lived in South Africa for 5 months) and the middle east (Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia)
I currently live in Parma, Italia together with my family.
Travelling is part of my life. Thanks to the company and products I’m selling which gave me the chance to meet great people, colleagues, friends.
I will share some experience and memories with an incredible country: Indonesia. With a population of 270 millions hab. Spread on 18.000 islands (80% of the pollution lives on 5 main islands)
I had the chance to spend months in Indonesia through 25 years of business travelling. Great way to experience some evolution of the country, culture and way to conduct business there.
One country but an incredible mix of cultures, religion, influences.
- Before each trip, how do you prepare to meet foreign clients or business partners with different cultures?
It is upmost important for me as a person but also as a professional to learn, to understand and to take into account the cultural dimension of my partners.
My job not only give me the opportunity to meet « businessman » but also to be in direct contact with the population of different level of education.
The first step was to learn about the geopolitical environment; the migration waves of the population: what actually build the country and the current population.
This is especially true in Asia where the movement of population (from China for instance) has an impact on the business (Chinese has developed the business / trade in many countries of South East Asia)
This element of the history is quite recent (1 or 2 generations); so it seems important for me to know it, to understand it and not to « discover » it when you land in the country.
It is a proof of interest of the people, of the country you visit for business.
Then, I also try to spend some time to understand the news of the country I plan to visit: politics, sports, key current issues, events etc…
Once again, the aim is to be aware when I’m landing in the country about what my partners could have in mind, what could I share with them?
Indeed, there are some cultural elements you need to take into account in the business relation. The idea for me is not to « copy / paste » the culture of the guest country I visit but to avoid any mistake that could damage the relation with my partners. It is a sign of respect first and a condition to maintain a good relation in the business.
- When you are in the country mentioned, what do you need to pay particular attention to in order to accommodate your client?
To accommodate a client in Indonesia is for me the capacity to understand his feelings. Asian cultures do not usually show their emotions after a good or bad news; as far as business is concerned.
In our latin civilisation (French, Italian, Spanish…) the expression of our feeling is quite easy to feel.
I found sometimes difficult to reduce the gap between both cultures.
It takes time to build the relation in order to share with precision the impact on a decision.
I usually like « to go straight to the point », I had to adapt myself in Indonesia to make sure my partners were not loosing faces in « difficult » times or meetings for instance.
- 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?
I had a great experience in Jakarta !
My partner always wanted to bring me to a private club (sports, sauna, steam-bath etc…) on Friday afternoon.
In France, we are definitely not used to bring our clients / partners in such places!
In Indonesia, this is part of the culture, in business as well.
I first enjoyed all aspects of this place, like a kid going to an « amusement park » going from a place to another!
My partner was sitting on the steps of the steam-bath for hours…just talking in Chinese with other members of the Club.
I did not realize that he was doing business there. This place was an unique way to build relationships with the Indo/Chinese community which is very influent in Jakarta (traders, banks, customs people etc…)
I understood quickly that it was not the right time to jump into the swimming-pool but to talk about business and to get an easier access to key people.
My partner brought me there also to show to this community his international exposure in business.
- Do you belive that knowing cultural differences and / or appropriate behavior can affect the outcome of a good business?
From these experiences and years, knowing cultural differences is a key of success in business.
It is a proof of respect, a way to show our intention to build a long term relationship.
Knowing these differences and sometime playing with them is a great source of satisfaction for business and for my life.
It takes several visits to build a relation or to understand a culture but it can also take a few minutes only to damage the relation with a wrong behavior.
Globalization makes me sometimes feel that things are becoming the same worldwide: we all have access to the same information, the same products, at the same time etc…but the cultural dimension remains « strong » Vs. globalization. This is the greatest interest of travelling and doing business with different cultures.
For the above reasons, an appropriate behavior will definitely contribute to the development of the business on a long term.
- What, in your experience, should be taken into consideration to respect the culture in the country you mentioned?
Indonesia is not a single country or a single culture…
The time and the experience are really important to take into consideration to respect the culture of the country.
The influence of the migrations brought to the country hundreds of aspects to know. Indonesia is a great « patchwork » of people, influence, religion.
Having the intention to learn about the culture with humility, respect is already the first approach.
To be supported by a professional is another step which allows me to give even more chances to succeed on a long term relationship.
Know before you go to Indonesia:
- The pace of business negotiations in Indonesia is far slower than in the West. Be patient and do not rush.
- Politness is one of the most important attributes for successful relationships in Indonesia.
- Indonesians have a difined status, this is one reason why they will ask you very personal questions about your job, your education and your salary. Let them know your position.
- Indonesians rarely say “no”, when there are any qualifications attached (“it might be difficult”) or they suck in air through the teeth – that means “no” or indicates a problem.
- Indonesians may smile or laugh in situations that westerners consider inappropriate. Smiles may hide embarrassment, shyness, bitterness or discord.
- Do not show anger in pubblic! It is considered to be unable to control yourself and such a person will not be trusted or respected.
- Always be aware of social hierarchy.
- Speak in quiet and gentle tones.
- Smalltalk – avoid topics like criticism of Indonesian ways, religion, bureaucracy, human rights record, or politics. Avoid any discussion of sex or the roles of the sexes.
- Most ethnic Indonesians are Muslims; the majority of the others are Hindu. Traditionally, there is no physical contact between men and women in these cultures, because of this women should not offer to shake hands with Indonesian men. Of course if a westernized Indonesian offers to shake hands, do so.
- Business cards shoud be printed in English and one part in Chinese in gold ink. Present your card with both hands and offer it to each person present.
- Contact between people of the same sex is permitted. Men hold hands with men – this is interpreted as friendship.
- Don’t forget the left hand is considered unclean for Muslims and Hindus – eat with your right hand only!
- The foot is also considered unclean. Don’t cross your legs when sitting. Do not show your soles.
- Never touch someone’s head – it is considered the seat of the soul.
- Gift giving is a traditional part of their culture. It is not customary to unwrap a gift in the presence of the giver. Do not give Pork or alcohol, it is prohibited to Muslims. Meat products must be halal.
- Business Dress is often casual.