Michael : Good morning John. Firstly I’d like to thank you for taking part in our podcast and would ask you to kick off by giving a short introduction of who you are and what you do.
John : You’re more than welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here. My name is John Rajeski and I’m an International Businessman. I’m currently based in Seoul, South Korea, and I’ll be moving to Singapore at the end of June. And, I have a background coming out of High Technology in Silicon Valley.
I have actually run Asia Pacific for AltaVista, which was an early Search Enterprise pioneer in the Silicon Valley space, long before the Google’s and the Yahoo’s of the world got all the notoriety today. That was actual Enterprise Search, so we were selling into large installation bases, where the bigger the user base or the bigger the capacity the better.
Prior to that I worked at Baan, which is a company based in Europe, handling their business for launching a DSS solution, out of Holland; that was very successful.
And, I’m currently based in Seoul as I mentioned, right now I’m also consulting. I’m working for a Start-up that I was a part of creating and for a firm out of New York. The Start-up itself is out of Silicon Valley; it’s in the mobile application space.
Michael : To summarise that very briefly – which would you say are the locations that you have most experience in and also the industries and channels and the market?
John : Locations would be Seoul, Singapore for sure, as far as Asia Pacific; and as far as Europe it would be Holland and the UK, and prominently Western Europe. As far as Channels go it would be both direct sales to customers, or through indirect sales through System Integrators, VAR’s, or ISV’s; which is really the predominant way that technology is sold in Silicon Valley.
Michael : And what do you think are the biggest challenges that people have to date in international sales?
John : Well, I think there are several that come to mind. One, for sure is cultural sensitivity. If I was to give broad strokes as to how business is done internationally, I would say that the US model is – ten minutes ago is too late. The sense of urgency is always crisis or panic driven, or both, for that matter. Especially coming out of Silicon Valley with Start-ups, where they’re boot-strapping or founders are mortgaging their homes, or whatnot, to fund their ideas.
That sense of urgency is good from the standpoint of creating urgency and drive, and initiative, but it’s also a real challenge because if you look into the short-term you can close business; but if you’re looking into the long term and into developing market penetration, that can be a real challenge.
As far as the European model – my experience in that regard is that the European model is more about a pedigree. So it’s really about your background work, where you’re from and your lineage more than anything else. Which is very different from the American model, especially with the ‘ten minutes ago is too late’ mantra that I’ve mentioned a few minutes ago; but the whole orientation in the United States is to innovation – so I think that Westerners, because we’re separated by a common language for example, as you always hear about English – we have a lot of similarities, but at the same time there’s a lot of dissimilarities as a result.
And then if I were to go broad strokes about Asia, I would say that Asia is all about loyalty, and loyalty is paramount in the long-term. Your relationships are absolutely, the number one reason why you’re going to do business, why you’re going to do an introduction, how you’re going to develop your network. Moreover, it’s more the case that it’s what you’re contributing that matters most versus what you’re deriving.
Michael : OK, you’ve talked about culture, and the things that you’ve mentioned as being one of the issues – is there anything else that comes to mind or is that really the top?
John : I really think that culture is the baseline to everything. As far as the nuances of business, I mean economic determinism drives everything. So you have a value that you’re providing, be it a service or a good, you’re ultimately going to provide that sale because the customer is going to want something that you have. If they value it than they are ultimately going to purchase it, but I think that fundamentally you’re not going to get to that unless you’re sensitive to the nuances of the cultural aspects that I mentioned.
Michael : So, how do you handle this yourself? What have you done to make yourself successful with these cultural things?
John : I’m laughing because I was thinking that if I were in Japan I might hit my head a lot, like a typical Westerner, a little bit taller than the average Asian. I think having a self-effacing sense of humor; I think being sensitive from the standpoint of trying too. It’s not just a matter of being patronizing, but it’s really a matter of trying to embrace the culture.
I mean, I live Seoul, and Korea is very different from the West. So trying to have the nuances of what I can incorporate into my experience of being a business person, be it a little bit of the language, for example. Be it a little bit of the mannerisms, be it oriented around conservative dress, because Korea tends to be more conservative.
If it’s South-East Asia, in for example Singapore, because it’s a cultural Mecca – there’s lots of different people that come from different walks of life as well as different countries, so it’s a little bit easier. But I think at the same time it’s very important to come in – I would say as more of a student of the area and the region – understanding that you have some abilities, that you have some desire to contribute, but at the same time you’re always learning and you’re always trying to absorb whatever it is: the culture, the awareness, the business rhythm and what have you to fit in, for lack of a better term.
Michael : Do you have any stories of somebody that hasn’t quite done it right and what’s happened to them? Or somebody that’s made a mistake in this area?
John : Yes, absolutely. I lived in the Middle East when I was an undergraduate. And, I was studying in an exchange program, and people in the West tend to be very expressive with their physical gestures, and I see a lot of Westerners, even at that point in time as an undergraduate, up until this time today as a business professional, not being aware that in Asia, it is not the same as it is in the Middle East, that unlike the whole of Asia – in the Middle East, people don’t use their left hand for example.
So it’s incredibly rude, and incredibly offensive in the Arab World that somebody uses the left hand, because that’s the hand that cleanses the body, whereas Westerners have no cultural sensitivity on balance to that.
And again, I’m talking in broad strokes for the purposes of this discussion. And, I see so many people that are oblivious to the fact that they’ve made a faux pas in as far as how they were using their left hand, that they had no idea not only to what it was that they did, but how it was that they were going to recover.
Some other ones come to mind. For example in Korea; the Koreans have an epic drinking tradition, they love their national drink which is Soju, and many Westerners have tried to imbue in a Soju session, and I’ve seen many of them carried out, when they would have been very well-served to just say, “No. And, I’m not going to try and drink you under the table.”
And that’s more the classic male chest-beating of competition in a healthy respect. I don’t know that drinking is competition in a healthy respect, but for lack of a better term I’ll leave it at that.
I think more than anything else, you see people that base their business dealings on their own cultural paradigms. So in Japan, for example, you see a lot of Westerners that take out a business card and just look at it with a passing glance and put it in their wallet, which the Japanese don’t do. They actually accept the business card very graciously, and then they study it, and then they set it down in front of them.
And they almost pattern it in a way which is hierarchical. The most senior person is the person that they’re going to address at the meeting, so that card is going to be first, and then all of the subordinates independent of their positions are going to follow on.
Michael : So you’ve talked about some of the things to make it work, you’ve talked about some of the issues that somebody may have – If you had to recruit a person yourself for these markets and cultures, how would you know who to choose?
John : Well, one of the things that would be absolutely paramount for me in terms of anybody that I would consider not only choosing, but in a pre-selection process, would be ‘have they lived and worked overseas?’
And, I mean this with all due respect – England doesn’t count, Canada doesn’t count… places like Australia, and New Zealand. Not because they’re not different than a culture that a Westerner is from, but because the similarities are so close that you can get away with some of the things that I’ve talked about that when we faux pas – that nobody is going to look at it otherwise and/or even notice, for that matter.
And I think that’s very important. Because if you could live and work in a different culture and have that experience – then you’re clearly the person that has that temperament to be willing to deal with things that aren’t necessarily defined in a way that you’re used to. Or some of the things that you’re going to anticipate going into something that suddenly doesn’t turn out to be that way, and all of a sudden, nothing is going as planned.
And you’re going to have to know, that having lived in another culture, you’ve had days like that, so you’re going to know how to respond when things don’t go the way you had planned.
That would be a big thing in terms of what I would look for in background. Obviously international sales experience would be important; sensitivity to language, even if it’s a rudimentary ability of language, would be good. And obviously some track record of success: have they sold something in a market other than their own?
Those would be some of the ones that would come to mind.
Michael : Before I ask you if there’s anything that you’d like to plug or for your contact details – is there anything else that you think is important about international selling? Is there anything that we’ve already talked about that you’d like to reemphasize? Or it may be something new.
John : I think that the one thing that I’ve been trying to stress is a level of sincerity, and especially as I’ve mentioned with the United States and the model of ‘ten minutes ago is too late.’ and because of the influence of the United States historically over the last few hundred years; the US has a tendency to think that everything is done that way around the world, and that’s not the case.
And, I understand that there are various nuances that cultures have as far as that tendency goes. But I think that it’s really important to understand that you’re always the visiting team, so the calls might go against you – if you want to use a sporting analogy – or the home crowd is going to get the favoritism, but you can actually use that to your advantage if you’re sensitive and aware of what needs to be done.
Even so far as some of the nuances that I’ve mentioned, even towards cultural sensitivity, language ability – even if it’s rudimentary – I think being gracious, being soft-spoken, and trying to be yourself in an ideal respect as openly and as genuinely as you can possibly be – I think goes far as to helping people be successful.
Because if someone goes all the way overseas they have a very distinct advantage because they’re actually already there. As was once said by Woody Allen, “75% of success is just showing up.” So in the fact that they’re just there, they can go far. If they’re just there and go on about ‘well this is how we do it back where we come from.’ it’s an as if they couldn’t throw it in the ocean standing at the shore, kind of thing.
So I really think that those are important points. I also think that humor is really important, because you can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re living and working abroad, because you have to know, again, that your culture is different than the one that you’re in.
So you have to look at the commonality between people, and that the differences, they’re not as big as people often think that they are.
Michael : You’ve been kind enough to share your experience with us for the last 12 minutes, is there anything that you’d like to plug, or is there anything that you’d like to bring to the attention of our listeners?
John : One thing I’d like to say is thank you for your time and consideration. I’m a huge proponent of Linkedin. I think it’s a fantastic medium, I have no affiliation with it other than I’m an active member in the network itself, and if I have the opportunity to encounter individuals like yourself, I appreciate that.
As far as my own plug goes, if you will, www.rajeski.com is my website if you want to find out more about me.
Moreover, I’ll be in Singapore at the end of June actively seeking my next opportunity, and if that’s not shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is!
Michael : OK, and your contact details?
John : My last name, www.rajeski.com is probably the best way of getting a hold of me
Michael : Thank you very much for your time.
John : It’s an absolute pleasure.
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