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What Does Going Global Mean to U.S.-Based Bank Tech People?

Going global is not just a buzz word - start studying.

Short answer: Same technology and vendor expertise, whole new way of doing business. I should come clean and say this is for folks who never left Des Moines, Kansas City, Phoenix, Cleveland, Roanoke, Worcester or any other all-American city. When I received my first set of orders as an ROTC-commissioned second lieutenant, I was thinking Germany, Great Britain, France, Japan, Turkey. I got Omaha. I never got an international assignment as a member of the military, but the good news is - the U.S. was not at war anywhere. It was my business career that sent me out of town in a global way, even though I was ill-equipped in the enormously diverse cultures of the world. Saudi Arabia was one example.

In 1981 a sheik, who was related to the Saudi Royal Family, invited me to Dhahran to set up systems that would protect his 20% interests in 27 American oil ventures. The 20% was a prerequisite for doing business in Saudi Arabia. The easy parts were the accounting and the technology; the rules are pretty much the same no matter which country you're in. The tough part was working out the business arrangements based on local customs. A popular U.S.-based computer hardware company (now defunct) presented the sheik with an offer he couldn't refuse. Buy our hardware, we'll throw in the software for free. In my book, software constitutes the real value of any technology procurement. During the six months that my clients examine core solutions, at least 80% of their activity is examining the details of how the system works.

Everything I learned about Saudi culture I received from a chain-link-fence salesman on a Lufthansa flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt and then Dhahran. First class service on Lufthansa was by far the best in the world, and the food was exquisite. I remembered most of the do's and dont's received from my 14-hour crash course, but in particular, after having eaten goat right from the carcass with my fingers, I realized why Saudis don't like to be touched by someone's left hand. I wouldn't either, no matter which greasy hand it was.

Six months later, I got a call from an agent of the sheik saying that he wanted me to resume the project. The agent confessed that the software deal never materialized and the sheik was stuck with a lot of computers that didn't know a debit from a credit. I acknowledged my international shortcomings and stayed in Atlanta where the innuendos and nuances are as plain as good ol' boy English. No hard feelings.

So I should advise my readers that I'm not the person to guide all-American bank tech specialists in matters of international significance. But global is not just a trendy word these days for banking and technology. It's quite real in that the bank tech high velocity action is now anywhere but in the U.S. This is a time for bank tech people to put their excellent wares and expertise to work where demand is strong. Go global! And you can prepare by reading the right stuff. I'm lucky enough to be in Dallas where I met a former Texas Instruments executive who offers his craft on how to conduct business around the world. Lothar Katz spells things out in a pragmatic voice. Here's an example from this month's newsletter.

Global Business Practices: Ten Tips for Doing Business in Norway

  • Norway is neither a member of the European Union nor of the Euro zone - and proud of it!
  • Being straightforward, honest, and dependable are admired qualities in Norway. Avoid any kind of bragging and hyperbole.
  • Norwegians are quite egalitarian. While authority is respected, "bossiness" will be frowned upon.
  • Know and respect the fact that gender equality at the workplace is a reality in this country.
  • Don't expect much small talk to take place before a meeting begins. Norwegian businesspeople often get right down to the issues at hand.
  • Being overly polite can be a mistake in Norway. Others might suspect that you are about to ask a special favor.
  • Open competition between team members may be frowned upon.
  • Decision making often requires getting inputs from many others, sometimes the whole workteam. Allow enough time for this process.
  • Norwegians rarely pass out compliments. When they do, it will be because they mean it.
  • With the exception of handshakes, avoid all physical contact with others.
  • Sounds to me like Norwegians are the kind of people I want to be. How many cliches can you recall that fit the need to be well-informed about the environment you're in? One that I use all the time is from the Music Man: "Ya gotta know the territory."

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