It's a Smaller World

Your special issue on doing business in foreign markets was excellent ["Gone Global," April]. Nowadays just about every business and every employee has international responsibilities. You missed one key element in your coverage of global business, however. Some business schools have stepped up to the plate and restructured their curriculums around doing business globally. I attended Duke's Global Executive M.B.A. program, which visited foreign businesses and held more classes in overseas locations than in the U.S. We visited seven countries in all. Even more significant, many of my classmates not only came from other countries, but were also actively doing business in Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and everywhere in between. Our graduation program had "congratulations and good luck" listed in 25 languages.

Avi Deitcher
CEO and President
White Plains, New York

Having lived and worked in 70 different countries, I was very interested in your global business issue. The information in the issue is tremendous, bordering on stupendous. I hope every American business will read and heed your advice. My only caution is that I believe some of the World Bank's GDP growth data is a bit exaggerated on the upside, especially for countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Myanmar.

I have always suspected that failing autocratic socialist governments tend to inflate their GDP figures. My recent visits to Cuba have reinforced this suspicion. Myanmar is in a time warp. As for Venezuela, Hugo Chávez is taking it down the same path Fidel Castro trod 48 years ago. I would bet that Venezuela's GDP is shrinking, not expanding, and will continue to do so under Chávez.

Larry Grupp
Vice president of operations
Northwest Business and Consulting
Moscow, Idaho

Dissecting the PR Machine

Amens and hallelujahs were coming from my office as I read Geri Denterlein's open letter to her clients ["Conflict Is Key," April]. I particularly agreed with her point that companies should take an active role in the PR process. PR isn't a turnkey service. Clients can't just say, "Go get some press" and expect it to happen without significant involvement on their parts.

In the five years since I started my PR firm, nearly every relationship that's gone sour can be attributed to a client who didn't make time for meetings or provide adequate, timely information about the company. I plan to make Geri Denterlein's letter required reading for both my clients and employees.

Cooper Smith
Cooper Smith Agency

Geri Denterlein's letter was very well written and a helpful read for entrepreneurs who want to make better use of their PR firms. But I do have a bone to pick. There's a perception of PR people as spinmeisters who can't always be trusted. Ms. Denterlein did little to dispel that image. She mentions that some CEOs ask, "Can you get us on the front page of The Wall Street Journal?" She says, "The short answer may be yes," and then switches from talking about The Wall Street Journal to "a major newspaper" before explaining why it was unlikely to happen for most clients. That hardly sounds like a yes to me. It would be more accurate, and engender more trust, to underpromise so she could overdeliver down the line.

John Seiffer
The Small Business Coach
Milford, Connecticut

I generally enjoyed Geri Denterlein's letter to her clients, but she does all her clients a disservice when she and her team place their own expertise on the back burner in order to pacify a client's demand. She is the public relations expert, not her clients. Yet she recounts that, against her better judgment, her firm pitched a story to reporters about a real estate developer whose condo owners "really liked him." The reporters, she says, "didn't take us seriously." If that's so, I doubt the reporters will be inclined to call on her expert opinion the next time they are writing a story.

Clients that don't respect our company's methodology are ones we can afford to lose.

Elizabeth M. Johnson
CEO and president
E. Johnson & Co.
Lakeville, Connecticut

Exit Strategy Distractions

Thanks to Norm Brodsky for taking us on the ride with him as he decides what is next for his company ["The Offer, Part Six," April]. We have recently had offers to buy our company. The bids were fair and flattering. However, I quickly decided that I am not ready to sell and that even the discussion of a possible sale was personally distracting.

A close friend of mine had a large company pursuing his business. They had a protracted due-diligence and kicking-the-tires session that lasted 10 months. He went from being mildly interested in the offer to taking himself out of the business mentally. Instead of replacing reps and adding new product, he was dreaming of golf and taking it easy. They went down to the very end, when the money was going to be wired. Then the big company had a change of management, and the offer was withdrawn. He woke up with a company that was leaderless and in need of fixing. It was with great effort that he got back into the company mentally and did what was necessary to move forward. Three years later, when he was approached again, he made the stipulation that the process had to move fast or no deal. They did the whole dance in 60 days from start to finish.

Rob Auerbach

Shedding Tiers

Jennifer Gill's analysis of credit card processing fees was fantastic ["Cracking the Code," April]. But the part about tiered pricing needed a bigger caveat. If a processor is charging you "qualified" and "midqualified" (or worse yet, "nonqualified") rates, you're usually better off switching to another processor. Businesses should look for a processor that takes its entire profit on the front margin above interchange. Doing this also lets you see when transactions are missing information and being downgraded to a higher interchange cost, so you can act to prevent those downgrades in the future.

John Robinson and Scott T. Pierce
U.S. Merchant Services
Cypress, California

Learning Curve

I teach computer applications, so I understand Leigh Buchanan's complaints about the typical training process, which involves sitting in a classroom and doing what everyone else is doing ["Train in Vain," April]. Different people learn in different ways. I loved the performance evaluations Buchanan wrote about bug circus employees. I would have encouraged her to do more. Maybe then she would have learned how to use the program better.

Dolores Russo
Dolores Russo Photography

What About the Books?

It's telling that Part Two of Bo Burlingham's story about Kepler's, a bookstore, doesn't once mention a single author or book title ["The Plot Thickens," March]. Burlingham also fails to include views from anyone outside of the store's management team and its consultants. I couldn't imagine him writing a similar story about a software company without mentioning an engineer or views from outside industry observers.

If Anne Banta and Clark Kepler want to revive the business, it's essential to pay more attention to their primary product and how customers relate to it. Banta may know good business, but without knowing good books, her efforts will be futile.

Ricky Opaterny
Palo Alto, California