As part of my package for a graduate program in global relations and business I had to write about an event that triggered an interest in global business. I thought it might be interesting to share parts of that essay since I frequently get asked how I got started and most assumed it came from working in Search Marketing.
My 20+ year global business career was triggered by a chance encounter with ethnocentric arrogance that pivoted a young Marine into a consulting career helping companies understand the unique needs and wants of customers and how they can successfully reach them using the internet.
This epiphany occurred at the Winchester Bar in Hiroshima, Japan in 1983. While enjoying Japanese whiskey, with my fellow Jarhead Gene, two engineers from Ford Motor Company got a bit loud voicing frustration with the Japanese engineers that wanted to completely change their cars for the Japan market.
Maybe it was due to the whiskey, but out of nowhere I interjected, “maybe I am just a drink Marine” then asked, “How long have you been in Japan?” and “Have you driven here?” A lively discussion followed starting a domino effect that would alter my future career path.
Ultimately, the conversation netted out that they did not care about local conditions. The cars sold well in America so why change them for Japan. This post is not meant to be a thesis as to why Ford and other American companies have failed in Japan but to give context as to why I was confused by their determination to not change the cars.
First the Japanese drive on the left side of the road like the British. This means a left had steering wheel puts on you the opposite side of the road. With the exception of freeways and major cities the road are tiny and enforce larger vehicle wins rules for right-away. These narrow roads and few places to park mean you need a smaller car. On top of that, the car is one of the few “personality extensions” and there are many nuances to that from colors, to features and of course a place to put your shoes.
Over time I realized that conversation prompted me to make mental notes of bad product adaptations which has become a minor obsession during visits to over 100 countries. I first shared these mistakes in my International Marketing class leading to a research project developing decision support software for mode of entry models. It is interesting to note that I almost failed a subsequent advanced course over these very models with a professor who was teaching global marketing yet has never been out of the United States.
Despite working many hours on these mode of entry models, my business school thesis, suggested that companies could bypass the nearly one thousand market entry considerations and go direct to the consumer using the Internet. While the paper was criticized by my advisor and a few teachers that the Internet was just a fad and no place in business it did spark conversation in the academic community. I was soon asked to present this radical idea as formal papers in Greece, Japan and Russia.
In 1995, my premise of the Internet was validated with $21 million in online orders from Japan after the Kobe earthquake. The resulting press generated over 100 requests from multinational companies not wanting preparedness supplies, but wanting to replicate our success of using the Internet to enter Japan.
I soon after sold the preparedness company and started on the journey of global digital marketing consulting. Multiple agencies later, my current agency helps maximize these opportunities using local market research, process improvement and big data to mine new and bigger opportunities.