10 Lessons Learned from Taking a Company Global
You’re going to regret this, love it, resent it, invest more into it than you ever expected – but, if it works it will be the greatest thing.
Going global will bring you bigger highs and bigger lows than you have ever had before. It’ll ruin your sleep more than a new born with cholic. You’ll lie awake worrying about sales in San Francisco, you’ll be jet lagged because of your recent trip to Tokyo, you’ll have hundreds of e-mails pouring in – at midnight from Miami, at 6am from Singapore. You’ll have to learn new languages – the languages of remote leadership, the languages of people who say they agree with you but don’t really, the language of long distance motivation. Below, Alex Cheatle, CEO and Co-Founder at Ten Lifestyle Group, discusses the firm’s experience and challenges in going global.
Here’s some of what I have learned. We started off with an intention to get global and have done it – we have 21 offices, our 850 staff (of whom less than 250 are the UK, speak 27 languages that cover every major global economy.
1. Get used to travelling and make sure that enough people on your top team are up for it. We once lost a contract in the early days because we thought that we could pitch for it over the phone.
2. Make it measurable – you can’t rely as much on gut feeling when you’re not in the same office / culture. Being able to rely on data and quality assurance means that going international can be streamlined, because you know what is going on all the time even when you can’t be there physically.
3. Hire people in your strong markets who will travel to set up new markets and may even relocate. We were lucky enough to have senior leaders in our team who have been willing to move to help us set up in the Americas and in APAC. Taking the intimate knowledge of the company with them has been essential in the success of growth in these areas.
4. Know that most people see HQ as Mordor – and you are now HQ to our international businesses.
5. Encourage staff at all levels to travel through working holidays and exchanges.
6. Look at your travel budget, if the CEO travels economy it sets the tone and helps cap the cost of going global.
7. Understand culture but don’t let it become an excuse to avoid strategic discussions. For example, we realised that if our Russian members had a complaint they would almost certainly vocalise it. Whereas our British members hardly ever complained. Initially some of us thought that this meant the Russians valued the service more, but the problem was that Brits don’t like to complain, they would just stop using the service.
8. The grass is always greener on the other side. At HQ, staff get better access to the boss, but Cape Town has a great office. Whereas in Columbia they get more holidays, and in Zurich, nobody works late shifts.
9. You can’t go global by inches or by mistake. If it’s in your DNA, your vision, you’ll make it happen. Don’t just open an office in Australia because you have someone who wants to live there, global means taking on the whole world.
10. Enjoy your travels or you’ll miss out on some of the best things in life. Of all the difficulties it really is worth every moment. Like a new-born you once held in your hands, watching the company grow, develop and mature is something that will fill you with immeasurable pride.