Larry Lieberman, founder and president of Vision Quest Lighting, didn't set out to make a great hire in China--or any hire there at all. Lieberman's Ronkonkoma, New York-based company employs just 33 people, but, as is the case with many similarly sized manufacturers, it sources some products in China and sells through distributors in several countries.
That was the extent of his global footprint until, he says, "I struck up a correspondence with an export manager about attending a trade show in Hong Kong. I never did go, but we kept emailing, and nine months later, I hired him to oversee our sourcing in China."
As the world continues to flatten, odds are good that your company is either doing business overseas or assessing the possibilities. Your initial foray may not require you to make any actual hires, of course, but at some point you'll need the proverbial feet on the ground in order to maximize a market's potential.
But whom to hire, and how? You can learn a lot from Lieberman's experience. Though he says he simply got lucky in finding an ideal employee in China, the networking and relationship building tactics he employed are the exact skills that many experts say are vital to finding the best candidates. You can do a fair amount of that in the U.S., by attending global trade events and conferences. And, as we describe here, you can tap many other resources, including outsourcing your hiring.
Learn the Real Cost of Labor
You want to know whether your product or service has potential, certainly, but you also need to research a potential market's labor laws, legal infrastructure, industry-specific regulations, and more. In Brazil, for example, taxes, mandatory bonuses, and employer-paid social welfare costs will have you paying three to four times as much in statutory benefits versus the U.S. Terminating an employee can be costly and complex, so look far beyond base pay.
Get (Free) Expert Advice
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has offices in most major international cities. That can be a great starting point both for learning how to establish yourself in a new country and for finding viable hires there. The U.S. Commercial Service, part of the Department of Commerce, also offers a range of informational resources designed to help U.S. companies enter new markets. (You can tap the resources of the latter at trade.gov/cs/services.asp.) Another resource: U.S. business schools can connect you to alums who have returned to their native countries.
Learn the Cultural Nuances of Hiring
Interviewing candidates in other countries can be a real eye opener. You are often allowed, for example, to ask questions about their personal lives that you're prohibited from asking in the U.S. On the other hand, the interviewing dynamic in many countries can have the candidate seeming polite to the point of being obsequious and reluctant to ask any questions. Talk to business partners familiar with the market you're considering about how best to evaluate candidates there. Recruiters can help with this, too.
Import Your New Hire (Temporarily)
Bring the person to your U.S. office right away and immerse him or her in the company's history, operations, and growth strategy. The person's first order of business may be to land customers in, say, France, but as an extension of your company, he or she needs to understand everything about it. Talk through tactical issues such as time-zone differences, email conventions (Americans tend to be curt, for example, which can be construed as rude in other countries), and expectations regarding vacations and holidays.
Look for Workarounds
If you aren't ready to plant a flag overseas, there are plenty of hybrid approaches. You can find and then strengthen your relationship with a distributor, to the point at which that partner dedicates one or more employees to your business. You could also try U.S.-based businesses such as Globalization Partners, a Boston-based company that will hire employees on your behalf; it acts as the employer of record and handles payroll and all the legal complexities of an overseas operation. Then it contracts the employee exclusively to you.
Meet, Greet, and Network Like Crazy
Talk to customers, suppliers, even employees with relatives who live abroad. Recruiters can also help. You want people with their own strong local networks, both in terms of reaching out to prospective customers and making additional hires. When Cleveland-based consulting firm NineSigma was introduced to a savvy executive in Seoul, South Korea, it decided to open an office there to take advantage of his contacts and expertise.