Carry a Chicken in Your Lap: Or Whatever It Takes to Globalize Your Business

Carry a Chicken in Your Lap: Or Whatever It Takes to Globalize Your Business

by Bruce Alan Johnson, R. William Ayres

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Recession-hit American companies are sending people overseas in record numbers in search of new business. But sadly around 75 percent of these expats fail, costing an estimated two billion dollars a year. CEOs, vice presidents of international marketing, and HR departments must learn how to choose and educate the right


Recession-hit American companies are sending people overseas in record numbers in search of new business. But sadly around 75 percent of these expats fail, costing an estimated two billion dollars a year. CEOs, vice presidents of international marketing, and HR departments must learn how to choose and educate the right people to send overseas. Beyond helping companies to save money, this book will help save their reputations in foreign markets, strengthen their relations with partners and governments, and increase their sales and brand loyalty. Dotted with dozens of real-life stories gleaned from the authors’ globe-trotting experiences, Carry a Chicken in Your Lap answers these questions:

· Why do major corporations keep choosing the wrong people for jobs overseas?

· What should they do differently, and how should they do it?

·  In addition to the billions of dollars lost, what does it cost a company in terms of public standing in a foreign market when it sends the wrong people?

· What specific damage do the wrong people do and can any of it be corrected? (The answer may surprise you.)

Bruce Alan Johnson's Carry a Chicken in Your Lap: Or Whatever It Takes to Globalize Your Business is the resource you need to ensure success overseas.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In a word, this book is outstanding. It presents basic but not usually well-known information in a delightfully interesting way, laced with the authors’ personal experiences. Carry a Chicken in Your Lap should be required reading for every person contemplating an overseas assignment, as well as anyone who is contemplating an overseas business. Senior executives who will make the final critical decision regarding the person(s) best suited for this assignment will undoubtedly benefit from this fine book. . . . A most worthy addition to the current storehouse of knowledge regarding the underlying difficulties in doing business outside of North America. [This] book sums it up in an easy-to-read but fascinating style.”—Richard Zimmerman, former CEO of Hershey Foods

“Too many firms look at foreign markets as just another trip to MacDonald’s—same stuff, just a different location. And they pay for that misperception with failure, over and over. What these authors have done is to take much of the guesswork and all those bad ideas out of the effort of starting up in a new place where more is different than just the language and the scenery. Local customs, traditions and long-established work habits, family structures, and even diet all play a role in success and therefore in failure of any endeavor in a new place. If you think foreign markets are for you, this book is both tour guide and key; what they have done is to turn the lights on to that new and sometimes thorny path. Plus, it’s a great read!”—Greg Garrison, former CBS News legal analyst and host of The Greg Garrison Show

Publishers Weekly
When companies embrace global commerce-which veteran businessmen Johnson and Ayres believe is, in most cases, the right choice-much can go wrong. To keep that from happening, Johnson and Ayres delve into the economics, legalities, culture shock, personnel and travel practicalities (including the permutations of jet lag), to demonstrate the right way to get your business a global footing. Relationships are paramount, as is the right attitude: "The international arena is no place for the weak in character." Although some advice seems simplistic-"No matter what country you are sent to, reach out to the local people with humility"-there's plenty of easy-to-overlook common sense tips that should help develop a reader's perspective: "American companies should shed their previously strong sense of exceptionalism," and simple transparency can "keep your company out of a lot of trouble and limit the damage" when mistakes occur. Further tools include a useful foreign phrase-book and time conversion charts, which one might not think are so important; Johnson and Ayres's discussion of what can go wrong, however, will convince otherwise.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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St. Martin's Press
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5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Carry a Chicken in Your Lap

Or Whatever It Takes to Globalize Your Business

By Bruce Alan Johnson, R. William Ayres

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Bruce Alan Johnson and R. William Ayres
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-56553-4


Failure Before You Even Start

"NO WAY!" SHE SHOUTED at the top of her lungs. "You're not getting that damned thing on me!"

She was a young American woman, perhaps in her midtwenties. The "thing" was a black cloth chador, the modesty garment worn by Muslim women throughout most of the Islamic world. The place was inside a Boeing 747 commercial aircraft about half an hour out from the airport of a major Arab country.

The crew tried calmly to tell the upset woman that passing out such garments to Western women before landing was required by national law. But she would have none of it. "You'll be arrested, miss, and probably treated very harshly," the maître de cabine warned her in soft tones. "Because not to be covered modestly and properly is considered to be an offense unto Allah."

All to no avail. After we landed, a heated exchange in Arabic with security police took place at the forward door of the aircraft. Seconds later three officers yanked the woman from her seat and dragged her yelling down the ramp connected to the plane. Bruce was not far behind them, hoping he might help. But it was too late. A representative of the dreaded religious police, or muta'awa, was now joining the party. He lashed at the woman's exposed legs with a small whip, inducing cries and tears.

Within a few hours, she had been arrested, released, and placed against her will onto an aircraft destined for a European city.

Bruce pursued the story. She was a middle-management employee of a large American multinational corporation, on her first overseas assignment. She had been given almost no training whatsoever for entering an Arab country that was highly orthodox in its observance of the strictures of Islam.

She was the wrong person, sent by a company that had not done its homework, to a country whose environment and realities had been completely disregarded.

It was a disaster, but one that could so easily have been prevented.

For a lot of reasons — all of them wrong, as we explain in this book — too many American and Canadian companies assume that anyone on their staffs can succeed overseas. As you just read, this is a wrong assumption — usually, in our considerable experience, a catastrophic one. And it is a very, very expensive assumption.


Every year American corporations send thousands of employees overseas. Sadly, around 75 percent of them fail. Since it costs roughly $300,000 a year to maintain an employee overseas, and the average assignment runs four years, this means they are spending $1.2 million per employee sent abroad. With an aggregated 75 percent failure rate, this means that companies are investing the equivalent of $1.2 million with a 75 percent chance of getting little or nothing back. Or, put another way, they are losing roughly $3.5 million out of every $5 million invested in sending people overseas! It has been estimated that American rms alone lose $2 billion per year in direct costs because of sending the wrong people overseas.

Wow. Huge losses. But, even worse, many ruined lives. All of it is completely avoidable, but little understood. Because we believe that the success rate can be improved through learning new principles, we've written this book.


If you're a Canadian reading this book, the figures above might induce a small sense of smug self-satisfaction. "Those Americans," you might say. "They have never been any good at paying attention to the rest of the world. We here in Canada — we know better. We speak more than one language. We're not nearly so arrogant. We know how to do this."

We wish heartily that this were true. If it were, this book would be filled with Canadian success stories to contrast with American failures. But the truth is, while both sides of the border have had some successes, both have had a tremendous number of failures as well — and usually for the same reasons. We are indebted to Canadian journalist Andrea Mandel-Campbell and her work, especially her recent book Why Mexicans Don't Drink Molson: Rescuing Canadian Business from the Suds of Global Obscurity, in which she catalogs those errors far more thoroughly than we can. Don't take our word for it; take hers. And remember that only fifty companies in Canada account for half your country's exports. (A couple of quotes from Andrea's book worth pondering: "Given what Canadians have been able to achieve at home, in such a harsh and unforgiving climate, going abroad is eminently doable. If we can build ice roads across hundreds of kilometres of barren, treeless tundra that are able to withstand the merciless pounding of thousands of transport trucks as they make their way to Yellowknife ... just south of the Arctic Circle, then we can do anything. It's a matter of first wanting to, and then familiarizing ourselves with the new topography." But: "In fact, most [Canadian] SMEs [small-to-medium-size enterprises] do not even think about exporting. According to a poll taken by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in 2004, an astounding 51 percent of respondents didn't sell abroad because their products or services were 'not exportable.' ... [The] Toronto Dominion Bank quickly jumped on the finding, asking, 'In this day and age, what isn't a global product?'")

We hope that this book can be as useful to our neighbors to the north as it is to organizations in the United States. Indeed, given that the United States and Canada have the world's most active trading partnership, much of what we have to say may be useful to American companies exporting to Canada and vice versa. Both cultures share a great deal in common, including a proclivity to make the same mistakes in sending the wrong people abroad. We have a lot to learn from each other — and, more important here, a lot to learn about doing business with other parts of the world.


Are you responsible for choosing the people your organization sends overseas? These can be management staff, roving representatives, administrative support people, engineers, or anyone who will be representing your organization or company to another part of the world. Then you need this book. Are you looking for an overseas assignment yourself, to broaden your experience and boost your career? You need this book, too.

Whether you work for a large multinational company, a small enterprise launching into the international arena for the first time, a nongovernmental organization, or a university — you want to be effective. The late management guru Peter F. Drucker (a colleague of one of the authors) used to stress two things constantly. First, that the difference between efficient and effective is that being efficient means doing something right; whereas being effective means doing the right thing. This is a crucial difference many of us confuse. Second, he reminded us that no matter what our role is in an organization, the idea that should be overarching everything else in our minds is contribution. What should we be contributing to our organization?

When you send people overseas, you can't be effective unless you send the right people. If you go overseas, you need to be right for the assignment. It's as simple as that.

This is a book about international business. But it also applies to any noncommercial institution or organization that needs to send people overseas. Specifically, it's about one of the most basic tools of international business and relations — sending your employees overseas.

But this book will not be useful for every business that sends people overseas. If your organization uses overseas assignments as rewards or perks or punishments or for "diversity" or as part of a "career track" or for any reason other than to get tasks accomplished, this book isn't for you. (We'd like to change your mind and persuade you that such an approach can only result in failure; see if you agree with us by the end of this book!)

If, on the other hand, you view international expansion as a way to get something done — if you have identified something that will benefit your organization and you need to send the best person abroad to make that happen — then this book will help you. We don't guarantee success — that hinges on far too many factors, and every good manager knows that there are no credible guarantees — but we can help with one crucial, usually overlooked first step: choosing whom to send.

The book you're holding in your hands will be your friendly guide on how to do it right. Filled with stories and anecdotes (some of them pretty shocking) from our many years in the international arena, Carry a Chicken in Your Lap will help you to send the right people, for the right reasons, to globalize your business.


The book is organized into four main areas. First, in this introduction, plus the next chapter, we'll lay out the argument for why it's important to go overseas, and what the key considerations are. Next, we'll spend four chapters talking about what it takes to be successful overseas — and what characteristics lead expatriates to fail. We're making two central points here. First, not everybody can do this. Although Americans and Canadians are fond of imagining that any one of us can master anything if we just try hard enough, this is manifestly not the case in the international arena. Some people just can't overcome some of the hurdles we'll discuss — any one of which can render an assignment useless or even counterproductive and dangerous!

Second, the characteristics needed for success in the international arena — the things that you should be looking for in your people — aren't the things we usually look for, and they aren't usually found on a résumé. Which means you're going to have to do your homework by getting to know your people well. This is a theme we'll hit throughout the book — there's no substitute for knowing whom you're working with and what their strengths and weaknesses are. We don't offer foolproof international ability tests or ten-step checklists. There are no magic bullets here. What we will do is guide you in the kinds of honest conversations you need to be having with your employees.

Having given you a picture of what to look for in employees to send overseas, we'll spend a couple of chapters talking about how, and some of the obstacles that keep companies from doing this the right way. That will lead us into the third major area of the book: the context of sending people abroad. Here we'll talk not only about the mistakes companies make in their selection processes, but problems in dealing with corruption (it's not called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for nothing), international politics (yes, politics does matter in international business, far more than in your domestic market at home!), and with partners overseas (whom can you trust?). Some of these things affect whom you choose to send, and most of them affect what you send them to do. They are crucial parts of the picture, and we'd be remiss if we didn't offer you at least an introduction to them.

Finally, we'll turn the whole book on its head and talk about things from the other side: the perspective of someone who wants to be sent abroad. Much of this book is written for managers, executives, and human resources professionals who send people abroad to represent their company. But if you want to be the one who gets sent — if you're looking to internationalize your career — there's a lot here for you as well. We've got two chapters devoted to addressing two key questions: should you go overseas, and if so, how should you prepare and market yourself? If this describes you, read the rest of the book, too — there's a lot of useful stuff that you'll need to know!

Globalizing a business is exciting. Overseas markets at their best represent new business opportunities, as well as new opportunities to learn. They also involve enormous challenges. And in the present climate of economic uncertainty in the United States and Canada, they may hold the lifeline of survival for your company — if you can get it right and get the right people over there.

Let's get started!


Why Go Overseas?

AT THIS POINT, YOU may be saying to yourself, jeez, this sounds like a bunch of trouble. "Overseas" is a place where my employees may get dragged off planes and whipped, and where I could lose millions of dollars? No thanks. I'll stick with what I'm doing now, thank you very much.

Indeed, a great many American and Canadian companies have made exactly that argument. They vote with their feet by staying at home, plying their trade in the same well-worn paths in their regional domestic markets, hoping someday maybe to branch out all the way to the other end of the country. Chances are, if you've at least picked up this book, you aren't 100 percent committed to that strategy — you're at least thinking about taking your organization global, if not already in the midst of doing it. But you may have colleagues, managers, board members, or other stakeholders who do think this way. Chances are that somebody is going to feed you this argument at some point.

We have written this book on a fundamental premise: that going global is very likely in the near future to be a good thing for most businesses and many nonprofit organizations. We believe that current circumstances are going to make this strategy necessary for many, not just an option. Even in an economic downturn — in fact, because of it — getting your business or organization overseas is a fundamentally sound strategy. For the rest of this book to make sense, and to be useful, we need to explain why.

An important note on timing. We're writing this book at the beginning of 2009. Some of what we have to say here is connected to events and forces operating now, in the midst of a severe recession. We're not fortune-tellers, so we don't know exactly how things will look when you're reading this. But the outlines are pretty clear.

Note that much of what we have to say throughout the book is not dependent on this particular time or economic situation. Some of the trends discussed below have been a long time in the making and will not be reversed anytime soon — if ever. Some reasons for going global are as old as business itself and never change. We believe that now — that is, the time in which we are writing this book, and for the next few years — is a particularly auspicious moment to be thinking about globalizing your organization. But we also hope that you will find the book relevant whatever your present circumstances may be, because crossing borders and finding ways to partner with others around the world will always be important — and it will also be crucial that you have the right people to do the job.


Why is now a particularly good time to consider globalizing your organization? It's no secret that the U.S. and Canadian economies are in the throes of a serious recession. By the end of 2008, the American economy had already experienced a year's worth of recession. More than 1.5 million jobs were lost in the United States in 2008. Personal income, industrial production, housing starts — a broad swath of economic indicators all dropped for most of the year, with 2009 promising to bring more of the same. The last two quarters of 2008 saw real GDP declines that accelerated through December, with no letup in sight. Canada's economy has not fared any better — it shed tens of thousands of jobs in 2008, reaching an unemployment rate near 6.5 percent and likely to go higher in 2009. The drop in commodity prices in late 2008 took a severe toll on the one sector of the Canadian economy doing reasonably well. All of these forces are expected to continue through 2009, with many of the effects being felt well into 2010. Of course, this is all as of this writing. By the time you pick up this book, things could be getting better — or they could be considerably worse.

What does this recession, or even depression, mean? For businesses, it means a serious drop-off in domestic markets. If you sell your product or service to Americans and Canadians, you're almost guaranteed to be selling less of it than you were two years ago — probably substantially less. Depending on what you sell, you may not see that market rebound for a very long time.

If this is you, the conclusion is obvious — you need to find new markets. Waiting for a market rebound at home isn't a strategy, it's a default mode. Although we're used to assuming that if the United States is in a recession, everywhere else is worse, this isn't true anymore. Chances are good that parts of the world are recovering fast. Some have undoubtedly weathered the storm better than North America. We'll talk more about the shifting role the United States plays in the world later in the book — for now, understand that just because the American economy has led the world into a downturn doesn't mean it will lead the way out again.


Excerpted from Carry a Chicken in Your Lap by Bruce Alan Johnson, R. William Ayres. Copyright © 2009 Bruce Alan Johnson and R. William Ayres. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bruce Alan Johnson has run his own businesses worldwide since 1985, helping clients such as Hewlett-Packard, BMW, and Eli Lilly solve their international problems.

R. William Ayres Ph.D., has been a professor of international relations at various colleges and universities for more than a dozen years.

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