Globalization Gold: Understanding culture is essential for business success

Forward by Derek B. Miller, World Trade Center Utah

Worldview-Derek-MillerWe live at a pivotal time in history for international relations. The value of trade is being questioned, refugees are forgotten and regional stereotyping is prevalent. Now, more than ever, it is important to understand cultures and how to connect with someone from a different part of the world. This is especially important in international business, where relationship building and trust are key.

Before each trade mission, World Trade Center Utah briefs participants on customs and norms they need to be aware of in each country. This leads to more successful interactions upon arriving in the country because locals see that the delegation is making an effort to respect their way of doing things.

One reason Utah is successful when it comes to international business is residents are sensitive to and familiar with different cultures. Many Utahns have lived abroad and have a deep understanding of cultures and their importance. More than 120 languages are spoken in daily commerce in the state. 

This month, we have invited Dr. Taira Stuart to share her unique perspective on Utah’s culture and how it helps the state successfully participate in international business. Dr. Stuart is an intercultural expert with more than 19 years of experience consulting agencies such as NASA, U.S. Congress, U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense. She is originates from the Soviet Union. The remainder of this article is authored by Dr. Stuart.

Taira StuartFrom Russia to Utah: A foreigner’s view of Americans

The first time I saw Utah was in a book presented to me by a delegation of Utah businessmen visiting the Soviet Union during perestroika. I saw photographs of very strange “moon” landscapes like nothing I had seen before. While the landscapes of Utah were foreign to me, the name Salt Lake City was familiar because my English grammar textbook had a whole set of exercises about traveling by airplane to Salt Lake City. As I was doing these exercises I would often wonder how it would feel to visit this unknown place.

Miracles do happen, and several years later I flew to Salt Lake City. My hosts picked me up and took me to their home. The characteristic sound of tires against the freeway forever became in my mind the sound of America.

Eventually, I understood that freeways were a symbol of American life. They are the veins that transport the energy and blood of American business. They are a symbol of her national character. You have to move with a certain speed, otherwise you will be pushed to the side of the road. The slower speed is simply not allowed.

Soon after my arrival to Utah I began my first career in the United States as a cook and ranch hand in Southern Utah. I consider myself inordinately lucky that my American life started in rural Utah on a ranch. I was treated very matter-of-factly. Nobody speculated that I may be a Soviet spy, as was the case in my future political career. I was immediately accepted, and it captured my heart forever.

Quickly I understood that the people I was working with were honest and unpretentious. We in Russia, Ukraine and even in Europe are not familiar with this America. People outside of the U.S. are fed a constant stream of Hollywood big-budget action productions and are used to thinking about Americans as two-dimensional cardboard figures with bulging muscles, fast cars and simple thoughts. The ranch painted a different picture for me as I saw real people with values and work ethic.

I slowly began to understand Americans through my experiences with these ranchers. I felt their humanness, their desire to do right. I saw that the tough demeanor was only the demeanor that hid tender hearts.

Very soon thereafter my career skyrocketed. I started facilitating large international negotiations inside the beltway of Washington D.C., but I never forgot my Utah experiences. They helped me cut through the government rhetoric and remember the values I observed from Southern Utah ranchers.

Globalization is alive and well, but the most important aspect of it is our ability to humanly connect with each other. Only then will our international business endeavors be successful.

Utah has a unique advantage when it comes to understanding culture and conducting international business. I have not seen any other place in the world where people speak so many languages from so many different countries. This knowledge of language often does not come from the classroom but from serving religious missions or time living abroad doing humanitarian work.

Globalization is alive and well, but the most important aspect of it is our ability to humanly connect with each other. Only then will our international business endeavors be successful.

These global travelers immerse themselves in the culture and see a country through the eyes of a resident. They mix with real people on the streets and learn to understand them viscerally, like I had to do on a ranch in Southern Utah. They are Utah globalization gold because at the end of their experiences abroad they bring home a more globalized view of the world and knowledge that will help them broker international deals for future employers.

The Beehive State is aptly positioned for globalization by combining old fashioned virtues, which inspire trust, and rich international experience. The most important aspect of globalization is our ability to connect with each other on a human level. Only then will international business endeavors be successful.