It's a great feeling when your company is doing well. Your team is strong and efficient, and your culture is thriving. Your financial statements are in a great place, and you have the cash and revenue to expand. You've identified the perfect market that needs your products and can support your company. When it works out so well, it can make you feel on top of the world - so why not go conquer it?!
It's time to take the next step - and of course, here's where the trouble comes. Running a business is hard enough. Breaking into a new market, with all the logistical, legal, and cultural challenges that can arise, can feel nearly impossible. It certainly helps to be with a large company that can provide ample resources and support. Still, any size company has lessons to learn from successful execution.
YPO member Giovanna D'Esposito has mastered the art of international expansions. D'Esposito has a degree in mechanical engineering and industrial management from the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II and an MBA from INSEAD, and is a graduate of Harvard Business School's exclusive Presidents' Program. She began her career as an engineer, including several years at Procter & Gamble. She spent time consulting with Kurt Salmon, was a Director at Capital One, and did talent management at Eden McCallum. D'Esposito then moved on to the gambling and gaming space, becoming Managing Director for industry giants Paddy Power Betfair and Sky Betting & Gaming. Earlier this year, she became the General Manager of Southwest Europe for Uber, a region that includes Croatia, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
One of the key themes of D'Esposito's career has been her ability to take existing companies and expand them into new countries. As she takes on her next expansion with Uber, it's time to revisit an episode of my podcast 10 Minute Tips from the Top, where D'Esposito shared some of the strategies she uses to build success in a new market:
1. Get a handle on regulations.
D'Esposito describes the challenge of international expansion as, "Taking a business that already exists somewhere, and finding ways of exporting it to a different country, different culture, different rules, different ways of doing things." When you begin, you can't be certain what will work and what might not translate. Although she had prior experience with Capital One, D'Esposito polished her expansion skills in the gambling and gaming industry. The online gambling market worldwide is massive and growing, particularly with the US lifting some restrictions on sports gambling. As she grew gambling businesses in Italy, she found that "Italian regulations are actually quite distinctive...Everything that happens on, say, my company's website is mirrored, so our technical systems are linked to the regulators. So whatever happens on your site, the regulators see it and have to approve it." Whatever the rules are, you need to make sure you follow them. You need to be an expert to ensure everything runs smoothly.
2. People are motivated by purpose.
Beyond applying the rules properly, you need to make sure the team you entrust to implement your vision is capable and willing. When D'Esposito was considering taking the job with Paddy Power, she recalls, "I had done a few years as a freelance consultant, but I was missing a sense of belonging, to have a proper identity and to be a part of something that you want to build with a team." She fully embraced life as part of a team. One of the most important leadership lessons she ever learned was, "To be true to yourself and never to be afraid of showing your true colors to your team," and D'Esposito was able to establish that kind of positive relationship with her colleagues. She also learned a great deal about them, explaining, "People are motivated by purpose much more than they are motivated by status or compensation or the traditional ways of doing things. And I think there's a lot to say about Millennials being motivated in a way that my generation wasn't." By identifying and tapping into their core purpose, D'Esposito was able to get the most out of her team.
3. Ask "Why?" all the time.
One of D'Esposito's fundamental beliefs about leadership is what she calls "The Power of Why." It's no surprise, then, that her favorite question to ask when she meets someone new is, "Why are you here?" She suggests that if you want to grow as a leader, "Always ask why...If you're sitting in a meeting, ask, 'Why are we doing that report?' or 'Why are we doing that task?'" Her focus on "why" relates to her belief that purpose is a key motivation. Just as people need a purpose, the team needs a clear goal. To that end, she explains that employees are most valuable "when they focus on the deliverables, not the tasks." She wants every employee to remember why they're there, and how their work contributes to the larger goal.
4. Don't be afraid to write your own script.
When you're expanding internationally, there's often no set way of going about things. D'Esposito has had to forge her own path to establish the companies in new markets, a skill she learned early in life. Where D'Esposito grew up, "If you're a woman, everything has been written for you by your early twenties. You get married, have children, and you look after them. And I just couldn't subscribe to that script." This reality has shaped her life, she says, explaining, "All the choices that I made, which actually led me to where I am now, originated from needing to do something different - not what was decided for me." She continues, "I chose to go to mechanical engineering university simply because I was told that being an engineer was the most certain way of finding a job. And what I wanted was to find a job and be financially independent so that I could decide what to do." In your personal life and your career, find what will make you happy and give you the sense of purpose you need. Remember that you have the power to choose!
On Fridays, Kevin explores industry trends, professional development, best practices, and other leadership topics with CEOs from around the world.