Our International Imperative
At Vistage, we have four strategic imperatives. Some or all of them might apply to other companies too.
The third of our four strategic imperatives is to expand internationally. Nearly 60% of Vistage members, who are mostly small-medium-sized companies, are already doing business internationally. And about 25% of our members are doing business in China. That is remarkable, because these are not GE-sized enterprises. These are relatively small companies, and yet they are finding opportunities internationally and doing so in growing numbers. And those numbers are only going to increase. Remember too that there are different ways to do business internationally: export, import, outsource, manufacture, and distribute in, to or from other countries.
So why are we (and so many other companies) venturing abroad despite the risks and complications that are inevitably involved? For us, there are three reasons:
1) The obvious one is the potential for revenue growth. The large populations of places like China, India and other even smaller markets present large opportunities for sales. And in our case, since we demonstrably help executives to grow as leaders and to grow their companies, there is a particularly strong demand for our unique services in these countries.
2) I feel strongly that we owe it to our current and future U.S. members to provide them connectivity with our members in important other countries. Business leaders here in the U.S. want to have opportunities to learn from, do business with, and interact with their counterparts in other countries. The reverse is equally true: Business leaders in China, for example, want to travel to, work with, and learn from their counterparts in America and the other countries where we have operations. And we at Vistage must provide that connectivity both online and in-person, as we are doing.
3) It’s a lot easier than it used to be to do business internationally. The internet makes it much easier to do research on, to market to, to connect with, to negotiate with, and even (in some cases) to deliver products/services to companies abroad. And communication charges are a tiny fraction of what they used to be. Yes, of course, in-person meetings are still necessary and travel costs can be expensive. But it’s still much easier to penetrate foreign markets today than at any time before. That’s why so many Vistage members have found opportunities abroad just as some of their opportunities at home were “drying up” during the recent recession.
The one thing I would hold up as a caution is the one I mentioned—you better know what you’re doing; you better understand how you have to adapt and customize what you do for the local market; and you better have a lot of patience and tolerance for bumps in the road that you didn’t foresee and for risks and costs that you didn’t anticipate. In this brave new world, you have to be brave.