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International Business Essay

Paper type: Essay Pages: 20 (4826 words)

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When companies source, manufacture, and/or market products in foreign countries, they encounter fascinating and often challenging cultural environments. Chapter Two examines the dynamics of culture and its effect upon international business operations and strategy. While exploring the causes of cultural differences, rigidities, and changes, it focuses upon the impact of cultural traditions on business activities, as well as the mutually satisfactory reconciliation of cultural differences. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the ways in which firms can potentially maximize their effectiveness while operating in a world of complex and dynamic cultural diversities.

Chapter Outline

OPENING CASE: The Java Lounge—Adjusting to Saudi Arabian
Culture [See Map 2.1.]
This case provides a striking example of the challenges presented to foreign firms by a pervasive, theocratic, national culture. It shows why companies have had mixed success in Saudi Arabia, a modern yet ancient society grounded in Islamic law, religious convictions, and behavioral traditions. In particular, the case highlights the example of the Java Lounge, a new, up-scale Jeddah restaurant that serves an affluent niche of Saudi consumers.

Further, it describes ways in which a variety of foreign firms have adjusted their products, facilities, and operating strategies in order to meet government requirements and yet satisfy the Saudi consumer. It points out numerous paradoxes one may encounter regarding Saudi legal sanctions, purchasing patterns, and attitudes toward work. The case concludes by noting some of the opportunities that exist in Saudi Arabia—either because of or in spite of the contrasts and contradictions found there.

Teaching Tips: Carefully review the PowerPoint slides for Chapter Two. Also, review the corresponding video clip, “Inside the Kingdom: Life in Saudi Arabia” [Nightline, 20:00].

Culture refers to the specific learned norms that reflect the attitudes, values, beliefs, and customs of a society. Often, people simultaneously belong to different groups representing different cultures and/or subcultures. Further, every business function is subject to cultural influences. Thus, major problems of cultural collision are likely to occur if a firm implements practices that do not reflect local customs and values and/or employees are unable to accept or adjust to foreign customs. Thus, it is vital that firms determine which business practices vary in a foreign country and what adjustments, if any, are necessary. [See Fig. 2.1.]

Although people agree that cross-cultural differences do exist, they often disagree on their impact. Are they widespread or exceptional? Are they deep-seated or superficial? Are they easily discerned or difficult to perceive? It is vital that managers develop an acute awareness of all those cultures in which they operate. However, the amount of effort needed to do this depends on the similarity between countries and the types of business operations undertaken. In addition, not only are there differences that distinguish various cultures, there is also a good deal of variation found within cultures. Finally, because cultures are dynamic, current attitudes and behaviors may well change in the future.

Cultures consist of societies, i.e., relatively homogeneous groups of people, who share attitudes, values, beliefs, and customs. While nations are a useful but imperfect reference for international business, language and religion often serve as stabilizing influences on culture. A. The Nation as a Point of Reference

The nation provides a workable definition of a culture because the basic similarity among people within countries is both a cause and an effect of national boundaries; in addition, laws apply primarily along national lines. National identity is perpetuated through the rites and symbols of a country and a common perception of history. At the same time, various subcultures and ethnic groups may transcend national boundaries. In many instances, non-national similarities (such as management vs. labor) may link groups from different nations more closely than certain groups within a nation. B.Cultural Formation and Dynamics

Culture is transmitted in a variety of ways, but psychologists believe that by age ten, most children have their basic value systems firmly in place. Nonetheless, individual and societal values and customs constantly evolve in response to changing economic and social realities. Cultural change that is brought about by imposition is known as cultural imperialism. The introduction of certain elements of an outside culture may be referred to as creolization, indigenization, or cultural diffusion. C. Language as a Cultural Stabilizer

While a common language within a country serves as a unifying force, language diversity may undermine a firm’s ability to conduct business, to integrate workforces, and to market products on a national level. Isolation from other groups, especially because of language, tends to stabilize
cultures. Because some countries see language as such an integral part of their cultures, they may regulate the inclusion of foreign words and/or mandate the use of the country’s official language for business purposes. [See Map 2.2 and Fig. 2.2.] D. Religion as a Cultural Stabilizer

Religion can be a strong shaper of values and beliefs and is a major source of both cultural imperatives and taboos. Buddhism, Christianity Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism represent just some of the religions whose specific beliefs may affect business practices. Still in all, not all nations that practice the same basic religion place identical constraints on business. In addition, violence among religious groups can damage property and disrupt business activities for both home and host country firms. [See Map 2.3.]

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

The more isolated people are, the less likely they will influence and be influenced by other cultures. Although transportation and communications systems have rendered many natural barriers less formidable, they still play a role. Natural conditions affect people’s preferred physical culture, as well as the words used to describe it. Proximity also speeds cultural diffusion—people generally have more contact with others nearby than those far away. However, certain notable exceptions, including the appearance of subcultures, have been caused by colonization and immigration.

Attitudes and values affect all dimensions of business activities, from what products to sell to how to organize, finance, manage, and control operations. The result is that there are thousands of ways to relate culture to business. A. Social Stratification Systems

People fall into social stratification systems according to group memberships that, in turn, determine a person’s degree of access to economic resources, prestige, employment, social relations, and power. Ascribed group memberships are defined at birth and are based on characteristics such gender, family, age, caste, and ethnic, racial, or national origin. Acquired group memberships are based on one’s choice of affiliations, such as political party, religion, and professional organizations. Social stratification affects both business strategy and operational practices. 1.Performance Orientation. Some nations base a person’s eligibility for jobs and promotions primarily on competence, but in others, competence is of secondary importance. In more egalitarian (open) societies, the less difference ascribed group membership makes, but in more closed societies, group membership may dictate one’s access to education and employment. Further, social obstacles and public opinion in a firm’s home country may also affect its practices abroad. 2.Gender-Based Groups.

Strong country-specific differences exist in attitudes toward the roles of males and females in society and the workplace, as well as the types of jobs regarded as “male” or “female.” However, in some parts of the world, barriers to employment based on gender are easing. In addition, as the composition of jobs becomes less physical and more creative and/or technical, the relative demand for female employees is also increasing. 3. Age-Based Groups. Many cultures assume that age and wisdom are correlated; thus, they often have a seniority-based system of advancement. In others, there is an emphasis on youth, particularly in the realm of marketing. Often there is a mandatory retirement age in business, but not in politics. Clearly, firms must consider reference groups when deciding whom to hire and how best to promote their products. 4. Family-Based Groups. In some societies, family membership is more important than individual achievement.

Where there is low trust outside the family, such as in China and southern Italy, small family-run companies are generally quite successful, but they often have difficulty expanding beyond the family. In addition, such allegiances may impede the economic development of a nation if large-scale operations are necessary to complete globally. 5. Occupation. In every society certain occupations are perceived as having greater economic value and social prestige than others. Although many such perceptions are universal, there are significant differences in national and cultural attitudes about the desirability of specific occupations, as well as the willingness to accept the risks of entrepreneurship, rather than work as an organizational employee.

B.Work Motivation

Employees who are motivated to work long and hard are generally more productive than those who are not. On an aggregate basis, this will have a positive effect on economic development and national competitiveness. 1. Materialism and Leisure. Countries differ in their degree of materialism. In some societies, such as Japan and the United States, people desire less leisure time than others, such as much of Europe. Sociologist Max Weber claimed that predominantly Protestant Western economies were the most economically developed because of their emphasis on hard work and investment. This view of work as a path to salvation (an outgrowth of the Reformation) is known as the “Protestant ethic”. In rural India, however, where minimal material achievement is a desirable end in itself, any added productivity will likely be taken in the form of leisure, rather than income. In still other countries, leaders stress the need for a culture that combines material comforts with spirituality. 2.Expectation of Success and Reward. Although the same tasks performed in different countries will have different probabilities of success, different rewards for success, and different consequences for failure, people will usually work harder at any task when the reward for success is greater than the consequence of failure.

The greatest enthusiasm for work exists when high uncertainty of success is combined with the likelihood of a very positive reward for success and little or none for failure. 3.Assertiveness. Hoftsede’s study of managers from more than fifty countries defines a person who ranks high on the masculinity-feminity index as someone who admires the successful achiever, has little sympathy for the unfortunate, and prefers to be better than others. Such a person believes that that it is better “to live to work” than “to work to live.” However, those attitudes, as well as a preference for growth and profitability over quality of life and environment, are not shared by all. (Examples of countries ranking high on this variable are Japan, Austria, Venezuela, and Switzerland; those ranking low are Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark.) Further, countries also differ in the degree to which individuals are assertive, confrontational, and aggressive in their relationships with others. Thus, country managers will be motivated in a variety of different ways. [See Fig. 2.4.] 1. Needs Hierarchy. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that people will try to fulfill lower-order physiological needs before satisfying (in order) their security, affiliation, esteem, and self-actualization needs. This theory can be especially helpful for differentiating the reward preferences of employees in different countries, who may likely rank some of their higher-order needs differently. C.Relationship Preferences

Within social stratification systems, not every member of a reference group is necessarily equal. In addition, there may be strong or weak pressures for group conformity. Such national differences in norms influence both effective management styles and marketing behavior. 1. Power Distance. Power distance describes the relationship between superiors and subordinates. Hoftsede’s study states that when power distance is high, the management style is generally distant, i.e., autocratic or paternalistic. When power distance is low, managers tend to interact with and consult their subordinates during the decision-making process. (Examples of countries ranking relatively high on power distance are Brazil, France, and Malaysia; those ranking relatively low are Austria, Japan, and the Netherlands.) 2. Individualism vs. Collectivism. Hoftsede’s study defines individualism as a person’s desire for personal freedom, time, and challenge. His/her dependence on the organization is low, and self-actualization is a prime motivator. On the other hand, collectivism indicates a person’s dependence on and allegiance to the organization, as well as his/her desire for training, collaboration, and shared rewards.

A prime motivator is a safe physical and emotional environment. (Examples of countries ranking high on individualism are Australia, Britain, and the United States; those ranking high on collectivism are China, Mexico, and Japan.) It should also be noted that in many instances, an individual’s preference for individualism vs. collectivism will be more important than the national norm relating to the same preferences. D. Risk-Taking Behavior

Nationalities differ in their attitudes toward risk-taking, i.e., how willingly people accept things the way they are and how great their need for control of their destinies. 1.Uncertainty Avoidance. Hofstede’s study describes uncertainty avoidance as one’s tolerance of risk. When the score is high, workers need precise directions and the prospect of long-term employment, while consumers are wary about trying new products. When the score is low, workers are willing to be creative and to move to new jobs, while consumers accept the risk of being the first to try new products. (Examples of countries ranking high on uncertainty avoidance are Greece, Belgium, and Portugal; those ranking low are Britain, Denmark, and Singapore.) 2.Trust. Trust represents one’s belief in the reliability and honesty of another. Where trust is high, there tends to be a lower cost of doing business because managers devote less time to investigation and oversight and more to innovation and investment. (While Norwegians tend to exhibit a high degree of trust, Brazilians tend to be skeptical.) 3.Future Orientation.

Individuals who tend to live for the present as opposed for the future see risks in delaying gratification and investing for the future. Where future orientation is higher, workers will more likely be motivated by types of delayed compensation, such as retirement programs. (While a future orientation tends to be higher in Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, it tends to be lower in Italy, Poland, and Russia.) 4.Fatalism. Fatalism represents the belief that life is predestined, that every event is inevitable, that occurrences represent “the will of God.” Unlike those who believe strongly in self-determination and basic cause-and-effect relationships, fatalists (e.g., Muslims and other fundamentalists) are not likely to plan for contingencies or take responsibility for performance. Thus they are less swayed by persuasive logic than by personal relationships. E.Information and Task Processing

People from different cultures obtain, perceive, and process information in different ways; thus, they may also reach different conclusions. 1. Perception of Cues. People perceive cues selectively. They identify things by means of their senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, sound) and in various ways within each sense. The particular cues used will vary both for physiological and cultural reasons; (e.g., differences in eye pigmentation enable some to distinguish colors better than others; the richer and more precise a language, the better one’s ability to express subtleties.) 2.Obtaining Information. Language represents a culture’s primary means of communication. In a low-context culture, people rely on explicit, first-hand information that bears directly on a decision or situation; people say what they mean and mean what they say. In a high-context culture, people also rely on implicit, peripheral information and infer meaning from things communicated indirectly; relationships are very important; (e.g., while the United States and Germany are considered to be low-context cultures, Japan and Saudi Arabia are considered to be high-context cultures.) 1. Information Processing. All cultures categorize, plan, and quantify, but the ordering and classification systems used often vary.

In monochronic cultures (e.g., northern Europeans) people prefer to work sequentially, but in polychronic cultures (e.g., southern Europeans) people are more comfortable working on multiple tasks at one time. Likewise, in some cultures people focus first on the whole and then on the parts; similarly, some cultures will determine principles before they try to resolve small issues (idealism), whereas other cultures will focus more on details rather than principles (pragmatism). F.Communications

Communication problems may arise when moving from one country to another, even though both countries share the same official language. Of course, problems also arise when moving from one language to another. 1.Spoken and Written Language. Translating one language into another can be very difficult because (a) some words do not have a precise translation, (b) the common meaning of words is constantly evolving, (c) words may mean different things in different contexts, and (d) a slight misuse of vocabulary or word placement may change meanings substantially. Further, while jokes and laughter have universal appeal, much humor does not. Therefore, words must be chosen very carefully, because poor translations may have tragic consequences. 2.Silent Language. Silent language incorporates the wide variety of nonverbal cues through which messages are sent—intentionally or unintentionally. Color associations, the distance between people during conversations, the perception of time and punctuality, a person’s perceived status, and kinesics (body language, including gestures) are all very significant. Misunderstandings in any of these areas can be serious. [See Table 2.1.]

Once a company identifies cultural differences in the foreign countries in which it operates, must it alter its customary practices? Can individuals overcome adjustment problems when working abroad? A.Accommodation of Foreigners

If products and operations do not run counter to deep-seated attitudes, or if the host country is willing to accept foreign customs as a trade-off for other advantages, significant adjustments may not be required. Further, members of a host society may be offended if foreigners adopt traditions or behaviors that are felt to be cultural exclusives. B.Cultural Distance: Usefulness and Limitations

Cultural distance represents the degree of similarity between two societies. Countries may be relatively similar to one another because they share the same language, religion, geographical location, ethnicity, and/or level of economic development. Generally, a firm should have to make fewer adjustments when moving within a culturally similar cluster than when it moves from one distinct cultural cluster to another. Nonetheless, a manager must not assume that seemingly similar countries are more alike than they really are and be lulled into a complacency that overlooks critical subtleties. [See Map 2.4.] C.Culture Shock

Culture shock represents the trauma one experiences in a new and different culture because of having to learn to cope with a vast array of new cues and expectations. Reverse culture shock occurs when people return home, having accepted the culture encountered abroad and discovering that things at home have changed during their absence. D.Company and Management Orientations

Whether and to what extent a firm and its managers adapt to foreign cultures depends not only on the conditions within those cultures but also on the policies of the company and the attitudes of its managers. 1. Polycentrism. Polycentrism represents a managerial approach in which foreign operations are granted a significant degree of autonomy, in order to be responsive to the uniqueness of local cultures and other conditions. 2. Ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism represents a belief that one’s own culture is superior to others, and that what works at home should work abroad. Excessive ethnocentrism may lead to costly business failures. 3. Geocentrism. Geocentrism represents a managerial approach in which foreign operations are based on an informed knowledge of both home and host country needs, capabilities, and constraints.

Does International Business Lead to Cultural Imperialism?

POINT: Modern cultural imperialism has come about because of the technical, political, military, and economic supremacy of the Center in relation to the Periphery. Exposure to news and entertainment media, extensive advertising, mass distribution, and Western tourists leads Periphery peoples to believe that Western lifestyles are glamorous, exciting, and desirable. As international firms take advantage of this newly created demand, they uncaringly employ practices and attitudes that further upset the local culture and self-identity that helps stabilize a nation. While rich countries may be able to prohibit investment in culturally sensitive industries, restrict the use of foreign languages, limit the screening of foreign films, etc., Periphery countries lack the resources to do so.

COUNTERPOINT: Although Periphery peoples have adopted everything from jeans to Coca-Cola, they pick and choose products based on personal interpretations of their needs in relation to the realities of the cultures in which they live. While trade-offs are often involved, globalization provides options that otherwise would not exist. Further, evidence does not indicate that the adoption of foreign products necessarily causes a change in a country’s culture. With contact, cultural diffusion spreads in two directions. Cultures have always evolved, and what is occurring is the development of hybrid cultures, not cultural imperialism. Finally, foreign firms must adhere sufficiently to local culture lest they fail—and local competition may not be local at all.

E. Strategies for Instituting Change
Companies may need to transfer new products and/or operating methods from one country to another in order to gain a competitive advantage. To maximize the potential benefits of their foreign presence, they need to treat learning as a two-way process and transfer knowledge from home countries abroad and from host countries back home. 1. Value system. The more that change upsets important values, the more resistance it will encounter. Accommodation is much more likely when changes do not interfere with deep-seated customs. 2. Cost Benefit of Change. Some adjustments to foreign cultures are costly to undertake, but their benefits are only marginal. The expected cost-benefit of any change must be carefully considered. 3. Resistance to Too Much Change. Resistance to change may be reduced if only a few demands are made at one time; others may be phased in incrementally. 4. Participation. A proposed change should be discussed with stakeholders in advance in order to ease their fears of adverse consequences—and perhaps gain their support. 5. Reward Sharing.

A company may choose to provide benefits for all the stakeholders affected by a proposed change in order to gain support for it. 6. Opinion Leaders. Characteristics of opinion leaders often vary by country. By discovering the local channels of influence, an international firm may seek the support of opinion leaders to help speed the acceptance of change. 7. Timing. Many good business changes fail because they are ill-timed. Attitudes and needs change slowly, but a crisis may stimulate the acceptance of change. 8. Learning Abroad. The essence for undertaking transnational practices is to capitalize on diverse capabilities by transferring learning among all the countries in which a firm operates.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: What Will Happen to National Cultures?

Although some tangibles have become more universal, the ways in which people cooperate, solve problems, and are motivated continue to differ. Many expect that as contact across cultures becomes more widespread and as people become more flexible citizens, hybrid cultures will develop. Others believe that national cultures will be more homogenized with respect to visible expressions of culture, but that basic values will not change. A third view is that national cultures will become stronger because of feelings of nationalism. Finally, some people feel that national borders as we know them today will change to accommodate ethnic groups and other subcultures.

CLOSING CASE: Charles Martin in Uganda [See Map 2.5.]

Hydro Generation (HG) is a U.S.-based specialist in power generation, with plants in 16 countries. Charles Martin, a 29 year-old American has been assigned by HG to manage the preliminary stage of the construction of a large dam in Uganda. Martin’s specific assignment was to (i) work with Ugandan government authorities and villagers to gain support and necessary permission for the construction, (ii) establish an office and hire people who would be responsible for local operations, and (iii) help foreign visitors when visiting Uganda. Vice President James Green wondered whether to continue to employ Martin in Uganda for the construction phase of the project. In particular, Green was concerned about Martin’s lifestyle, some of his business practices, and his participation in Ugandan tribal rituals. Green worried that Martin’s practices were counter to both HG’s corporate culture and methods of operating elsewhere, that some of his actions bordered on the unethical, and that some might actually be illegal under U.S. law.


1.Describe Ugandan cultural attributes that might affect the operations of a foreign company operating there. Business in Uganda typically moves slowly; however paying tips to people in advance can speed the process. Because unemployment is high and hiring is generally done through word-of-mouth, contacts typically recommended their relatives, who are usually hired. Further, although the majority of Uganda’s population is Christian, tribal religions believe that many natural sites (including that of the proposed dam) possess spiritual qualities and are sacred.

1. Would you describe Green’s and Martin’s attitudes as being ethnocentric, polycentric or geocentric? What factors do you think influenced their attitudes? HG’s corporate philosophy embraces the idea that although secular, HG’s business activities should embody strong Christian values. Further, subordinates should be given full responsibility in making and implementing decisions, but they should also be held accountable for their results. By choosing to live in a middle-class Ugandan neighborhood while shunning the expatriate community, by paying extra for service, by hiring recommended relatives, and by paying fees and participating in tribal ceremonies, Martin exhibited a more polycentric (autonomous) attitude, while Green seemed to be more geocentric in his approach. While Martin was more concerned about his effectiveness with respect to his assignment in Uganda, Green was more concerned with corporate-level issues.

3.Who was right, Green or Martin, about the controversial actions Martin took in the Ugandan operations? What might have been the result if he had not taken those actions? Arguments can be made for the positions of both Green and Martin. Certainly Martin had achieved the desired results in a timely fashion. However, Martin’s rejection of the typical expatriate lifestyle ran counter to Green’s idea of a desirable corporate image; Green further felt that this might create assimilation problems for future HG expatriates assigned to the project. Tipping for services could easily have led to the expectation of increasingly larger payments as the project progressed. (Note the dealings with the official caretaker of the sacred site, who was willing to appease the spirits for increasingly higher fees.) Further, Martin’s participation in the tribal ritual could have been construed as a mockery of tribal customs and also have been seen as an affront by Uganda’s Christian majority. Finally, the close connection between HG’s local Ugandan employees and government officials represented an invitation to corruption. Nonetheless, had Martin chosen to ignore local customs, the project could easily have fallen behind schedule at any point.

4.In HG’s next phase, the dam construction, should it employ someone whose main function is to be a liaison between HG’s corporate culture and the culture of Uganda? If so, should Martin be the person for the job? Given the importance and the size of the project, as well as the many pitfalls that will surely be encountered along the way, it seems only logical to employ someone who is extremely well versed in the culture of Uganda to serve as a liaison with HG’s headquarters. Whether that person is Martin or someone else, however, HG must establish clear guidelines that reflect both U.S. law and corporate policy to guide the managers of their foreign operations. WEB CONNECTION

Teaching Tip: Visit www.prenhall.com/daniels for additional information and links relating to the topics presented in Chapter Two. Be sure to refer your students to the online study guide, as well as the Internet exercises for Chapter Two. _________________________

Chapter Terminology:
culture, p.49
cultural imperialism, p. 53
creolization, p.53
indigenization, p.53
ascribed group memberships, p.58
acquired group memberships, p.58
hierarchy of needs, p.62
power distance, p.63
individualism, p.64
collectivism, p.64
low-context cultures, p.66
high-context cultures, p.66
monochronic, p.66
polychronic, p.66
idealism, p.66
pragmatism, p.66
silent language, p.68
kinesics, p.69
cultural distance, p.71
culture shock, p.72
reverse culture shock, p.72
polycentrism, p.72
ethnocentrism, p. 74
geocentrism, p. 7

Additional Exercises: Cultural Challenges

Exercise 2.1. Ask students to outline the reasons why the various elements of culture (social structures and control systems, language and aesthetics, religion and other belief systems, educational systems, etc.) might increase the cost of doing business in a country. Be sure that the students illustrate their ideas with concrete examples of both cultural elements and specific countries.

Exercise 2.2. Choose two to five countries that are culturally diverse. Ask students to compare the cultures of those countries and to discuss the ways in which cultural differences will affect the cost of doing business in each. Conclude the discussion by examining the ways in which business practices and ethics vary across the cultures.

Exercise 2.3 In many countries religion has a dramatic effect on people’s attitudes, customs, and behavior. Lead students in a comparative discussion of the potential effects of the basic beliefs of the world’s major religions upon international business opportunities and operations.

Exercise 2.4. Pop culture can influence the development of global preferences in a number of ways. Lead students in a discussion of the ways in which movies can affect the cultural dimensions of a society. (Select particular movies, examine various values embedded in them, and discuss the nature of their impact upon the lifestyles of people around the world.)

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International Business. (2016, Apr 10). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/international-business-2-essay

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