The American Michael Todd, a former MBA student of mine at the IESE Business School (in 2001, while I was a visiting professor there), told in a student submission for a course on intercultural management of his failed attempts to procure a job in another culture. In May 2001 he tried for a summer internship in a multinational company, but his approaches to well-known multinationals operating in America such as Clorox, Nestl and Del Monte proved unsuccessful . This was because recession was setting into the United States, and the major multinationals were hiring only one intern from every 50 who applied.
Todd expanded his search from well-established multinationals to less-known companies, and came to know about a vacancy with Target Japan, the Tokyo-based subsidiary of US multinational Boston Scientific, a medical device manufacturer. Their vacancy was in marketing management. The job required a comparative analysis of the existing distribution system and alternative systems. Todd felt that working in Japan, a country he had never visited, would be an interesting experience. He was quite hopeful about his prospects when he e-mailed his CV to the Vice-President, Marketing of Target Japan. He did not know Japanese, but the company had said it did not require a Japanese-speaking intern. He was also buoyed up by the fact that the Vice-President, Marketing was a Haas Business School alumnus.
A few days later Todd received a reply that the Vice-President, Marketing and a colleague were coming to Boston Scientific within the week, and wanted to interview him. The Vice-President, Marketing said he was impressed by Todd's background, especially his prior experience as a consultant. He also suggested that there might be a good fit between his company's requirements, and Todd's background and potential.
Todd spent time before his interview becoming familiar with both Boston Scientific and Target Japan. He learnt about the multinational's prime product, a coil used to prevent brain aneurisms from rupturing. He tried to think of arguments to offset the fact that he did not have a background in the medical devices industry. He even tried to anticipate questions he would be asked at the interview, and prepared appropriate responses.
On the day of the interview, Todd drove to the Boston Scientific office in Freemont feeling quietly confident. Within minutes of arrival he was ushered into the interview room and met the Vice-President, Marketing and his colleague. After they had introduced themselves to each other and exchanging formal greetings and handshakes, Todd was astonished to find the men facing him continued to stand. The vice-president then took out a business card, held it with both hands, and presented it to Todd with the print side facing him. Todd said 'thank you', and put the card in his pocket. The vice-president's colleague then presented his business card in the same way. Todd thanked this man as well, and put his card too in his pocket.
All three then sat, and the interview commenced. At the conclusion, Todd was quite pleased with his performance, and returned to Haas Business School confident that he would be going to Tokyo that summer. He went over the interview with a friend who had worked for some time in Tokyo. The friend opined that Todd had spoilt his chances by putting the business cards in his pocket in an offhand way.
In the Japanese culture business cards are accepted ceremoniously, especially if they are presented by someone senior. A card is received with both hands. The recipient examines it and makes a comment on its information: for example, on the person's title. What Todd had done was cavalier.
Target Japan did not hire Todd, who now says, 'in performing due diligence for this particular opportunity, I would have been well served to have researched the culture as well as the company'.
Target Japan values employees who display intercultural skills. High-performance multinational corporations expect their managers to have intercultural management competencies, and state this as a company core value, as has been done by Nestl . Such companies prefer to hire expatriates who demonstrate not only professional competence, but intercultural management skills as well. For such companies, professional competence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for being considered for a managerial position.
When the Target Japan senior managers presented their business cards to Todd, they were gauging whether he was aware how the Japanese handle them. Had he taken the trouble of finding out anything at all about Japan? Global companies that espouse as a core value the possession and development of intercultural skills do not want to hire foreigners who would behave like nerds sitting behind a desk crunching numbers . They are looking for people who will visit local museums in their spare time and acquaint themselves with local dance forms, music forms and so on. The question such global companies ask is whether the manager they are hiring will want to become accepted by local managers, by attempting to integrate into their way of life. Is it a meaningful value for that manager to learn about other cultures? Is it a meaningful value for that manager to imbibe aspects of another culture while living and working there?
A manager has to be adept at working with and through other people, and managers who detach themselves from their colleagues because of cultural differences will be unproductive. A cultural value is relatively durable in an adult, and difficult to modify in the short run. Hence, a sensitive multicultural corporation would prefer to hire a manager who already has some intercultural capabilities and can demonstrate evidence of this at an interview. Given globalization patterns, large numbers of managers are interested in knowing more about other cultures and becoming assimilated in those cultures when working there. Hence global companies are not finding it difficult to obtain managers with some measure of intercultural management skills, as Todd discovered . All the global managers interviewed for this book averred that transnational corporations should state as a core value that managers possess intercultural management skills.