What does internationalization change for a business leader?

David Kassar

Published at 14/02/2020

4.4% growth in Poland, 6.3% in China, 5.3% in Egypt, many countries show indicators that are favorable to business… For a company director, going international means potentially gaining access to dynamic markets, and therefore giving a new dimension to the development of his or her business. This evidence is clearly felt by the leaders of small and medium-sized businesses: nearly three-quarters of them, in France, consider that international development allows them to find new growth drivers.

However, in the course of my career, alongside entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds, I have observed how internationalization is not self-evident. Internationalization is not only the promise of an acceleration of the development of one's company, it is also, and perhaps above all, the confrontation with one's own questions, doubts, psychological brakes and, at the end of the day, with the very reason that pushed us to undertake. So many questions that can be frightening, so much they imply rubbing shoulders, at all levels, with issues that are sometimes totally foreign to our way of working and our entrepreneurial culture.

How can we explain this discrepancy between an observation shared by a large majority (“internationalization is a tremendous potential for my company” ) and a very strong apprehension on the part of many managers, even though they are directly concerned (“it's not for me, I don't know how to do it, I can't do it?”). I think the answer lies in the way many entrepreneurs ask themselves this question. If one considers internationalization as a simple change in the scale of one's activity, then the consequences, which I have observed so often, are quite logical. Who would be totally serene to the idea of multiplying by two or three the size of his company, the number of his employees, his production volume…?

A process that reshuffles the deck

To think of internationalization as a simple quantitative increase is a mistake, and this mistake explains why many business leaders feel illegitimate to embark on the conquest of a foreign market. Going international is not doing the same as it is done at home but in another country. If this were the case, it would be enough to surround yourself with interpreters, and that would be the end of it! On the contrary: it is a process that implies, for any manager who is confronted with it, to first rethink his way of working, his role in the company, and his own perspectives. It is a question of knowing how to question oneself and to accept the changes that result from this. Is it useful to recall the numerous challenges that arise during this strategic phase for a company? Acquiring knowledge of the targeted markets, identifying trusted local players, leading a partner ecosystem, adapting the business model, mastering local regulations…

When I accompany entrepreneurs in their international development, I want to insist on these points to raise awareness. Due to the existence of a multitude of technical, commercial, legal or financial difficulties, the internationalization process begins with an inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of the company: this is what we call the export diagnosis. This exercise inevitably returns the manager to his role as a visionary leader, to his way of doing things and to the corporate culture he instilled.

To fully appreciate a business deployment outside of borders, it is imperative to understand the reality on the ground. This means frequent travel abroad. Even the most active company manager cannot be ubiquitous, and he must therefore integrate these new parameters in order to set up a new organizational structure. From the in-depth restructuring of the top management to the simple one-off transfer of competences, there is a whole range of possibilities, each of them depending on the particularities of the company. This is another exciting challenge of my job: to understand each case in its complexity and its specificities in order to help the manager make the best choice.

Change of scope

Whatever the case, the role of the business leader is inevitably called to change dimension as soon as he has made the choice of internationalization. His time and energy will be more devoted to the design of a global strategy, to the detection of local partners, to the identification of suitable financing mechanisms, to risk prevention ... Some choose to give up the operational, others prefer to retain certain executive functions. Here again, a multitude of possibilities exist. However, all of them involve redefining the scope of intervention of the active forces involved and a reflection on the talents to be “taken on board” in the process.

In such a context, I have often had to face the fears of managers who, anxious not to lose contact, feared that internationalization would cut them off from their teams. This is further proof that such a process is not simply an expansion of its market. It is indeed a human adventure above all! It is a process that cannot be improvised. It must be explained, embodied and carried with conviction, in order to engage not only the employees, but also the stakeholders.

As any internationalization process relies on a good understanding of the issues and perspectives that await the company and its leader, Mission Internationale provides a comprehensive and integrated approach. We do not simply provide entrepreneurs with a toolbox and network of contacts to help them develop their business outside their country. In addition to structuring and managing the project, we also accompany the entrepreneurs, both on a personal and managerial level, in this difficult but highly rewarding challenge. I have always been convinced that internationalization is both an entrepreneurial and human adventure. Accompanying this dual dimension continues to be a source of joy and satisfaction.