Profession: Economist & Internationalisation consultant
Languages: Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, English
Interview: Nicola Minervini is a true business internationalisation guru. Born in Italy, much of his professional career as a consultant has been in Latin America, especially in Brazil —he considers Portuguese to be his second native language—, but he has also advised European companies. In publications such as Export Engineering. How to develop innovative export plans and Internationalisation Engineering. Innovating to compete in the international market —books we’ll talk about during this interview— he makes his experience in the field of business internationalisation available to the general public and guides those who want to explore external markets. We decided to try, so we contacted him on LinkedIn to ask if he would like to be interviewed for our blog. He said yes, so we have the great honour of introducing him to you. Keep reading and get to know him.
How would you introduce yourself to our readers?
I am a trainer and internationalisation consultant.
How would you introduce your latest book, Export Engineering. How to develop innovative export plans, to our readers? Would you say it’s an internationalisation guide for companies?
It’s actually been both my last books. The one you mention, Export Engineering. How to develop innovative export plans, has been published by Mexico’s Cengage Learning for all of Latin America. It is destined to all the Spanish-speaking countries, except Spain —because of territory distribution between the publishing house’s several headquarters Also, the ebook Internationalisation Engineering. Innovating to compete in the international market, published by Glenn Cover, is aimed at the Spanish market and is available on Amazon.es. Both books have the same structure, but the Spanish edition obviously presents some small changes and focuses on European reality.
I would define them as a GPS for the exporter, an instruction manual, a bedside book, the exporter’s personal trainer. It simplifies the management of internationalisation, and improves competitiveness through information, methods and experiences.
This is no doubt a guide, but only in a general sense, because an internationalisation guide is generally understood as something where one finds everything related to the administrative and bureaucratic procedures of internationalisation: transportation, customs, payments, financing, contracts, price formation, etc. My book isn’t about any of these things, nor is it about macroeconomic issues —such as agreements, scenarios, etc.—, but it tries to fill a gap in the bibliographic market, since there are books on export management, there are books on strategy or marketing —which explain what to do once the export has started or how to implement an internationalisation strategy— but there are no books on how to internationalise in a very practical and didactic language, and this is the niche this book is included in. Its 102 checklists, the more than 600 links to specialized information sources and the fact that an entire chapter is written by twelve different authors make this book a guide that serves as a checklist for novices and a checkup for veterans.
Today, you have a very high status in the field of export and business internationalisation, but how did you start to get interested in it? Why did you decide to shift you career in this direction?
Thanks for this question, it takes me back to the “good old days.”
At the age of 22, with an Electronic Engineering diploma under my belt, I left Italy and emigrated to Brazil, where I started working as an electronic technician.
At the age of 31, I returned to Italy and was hired by the Swiss-Swedish group Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) as chief export officer for the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, and I subsequently held the position of resident-manager in Latin America —that’s why I went back to Brazil.
This period was my best internationalisation training. Later, I was a foreign trade and marketing manager in a large Brazilian company, also in electrical equipment sector —where due to the lack of export mentality of the company’s executives, I learnt a lot about how…. not to export!—. I stopped being an employee in 1985 and I opened my own export consultancy in Brazil. I came back to Italy in 1991 —I now live in Bergamo— and opened my consulting office, focusing on acquisition and consulting for Latin America, part of the European Union and Italy.
What is your experience as a consultant? Is it easy to work with big business managers and get them to take your advice? Do you consider that they are more or less permeable depending on the country and culture?
I have been a consultant for more than 30 years. On the one hand, it is rewarding to pass experiences on, to prevent others from making the same mistakes I made, to transfer a method —in order to avoid improvisations— and to teach how to reduce time and costs.
On the other hand, it is frustrating to see there are prejudices against those who work as consultants —because of bad past experiences or simply, especially senior managers, because of not knowing what a consultant can contribute—. Because there is usually a great lack of knowledge of the process of internationalisation, they don’t feel the need to resort to these type of services.
Export is often seen as a way out of a crisis, like what happened in Spain, and this makes people “jump in the deep end” without getting ready.
There are people who by consulting understand that you are going to look for a buyer and that the buyer will then pay you —when they do— a commission. There is a misconception: most people’s first concern is to look for a buyer abroad. Most export failures are due to the fact that people don’t ask themselves this simple question: Am I ready to export? Exporting is not sending what ever surplus I have in my internal market to an exterior market. The product, its characteristics, its price…will probably have to be adapted and that’s without taking cultural aspects into account.
Moral of the story: unfortunately, the market doesn’t appreciate consultants as it should. People confuse consultants with intermediaries and they think that knowing the name, surname and address of the client the product is being sent to is enough when it comes to exporting. You only need Google to do that!
Senior managers are definitely more permeable to the figure of the consultant in Anglo-Saxon countries.
Do you think that companies today disregard the importance of languages and cultural aspects of business? Do their communication strategies often absorb a large part of the budget or are they treated as secondary issues?
Not at all. People don’t realise how important this issue is, and experts agree —and I do too— that more than 60% of negotiations fail because of a lack of awareness of cultural differences. It is imperative that in internationalisation training, technicians and executives are given a high class load on this subject.
Despite globalization, despite Google, etc., the world remains a catalogue of incredibly different cultures. We do not need to look too far: within the same country, from region to region, there are different cultures. Having a good product at a good price is no good if months of work are ruined in a negotiation. And this without taking those terrible automatic translations the internet offers into account and the people who “sell” themselves as translators without the necessary training.
How important are cultural aspects for the success of negotiations with companies from other countries during an internationalisation process? Is internationalisation the only growth option for companies or are there other possibilities?
I have devoted approximately four whole chapters of my book to communication, promotion and cultural differences. Communication is one of the four pillars of my approach to internationalisation, which I have called P.I.M.E., i.e. Promotion, Information, Market and Enterprise. Within Promotion we would find issues such as communication, fairs, brand, cultural differences, networks, missions, etc.
As I explained earlier, cultural aspects play a key role in the success of negotiations. I would even say that one of the factors we can use to measure a company’s degree of internationalisation is the number of international employees it employs, because this helps to understand different cultures.
For example, many Japanese companies that want to export to China, send their employees to train in the country and they then look after this market.
In my book I make an “imaginary journey” around the world, trying to focus on the business cultures of the main trading partners, such as USA, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Have you ever turned to a translation agency, translator, interpreter, etc.?
Of course, I have had to negotiate with different countries and I didn’t share a common language with the people I had to talk with.
For example, when internationalising an Italian company in Poland, our partner hired a local interpreter for the Polish-Italian language pair. The interpreter was….an 84-year-old man! One should be retired and enjoying what is left of one’s life at that age, but it was impossible to live on a pension back then. We had problems because the man had studied old Italian and many words were incomprehensible. For the second meeting, we took our own interpreter, we gave him the brochures a week in advance and we talked to him previously about the issues we were going to discuss. I feel really sorry for interpreters when I attend a conference at which there is a simultaneous translation service and the speaker speaks at “a thousand words per hour”, they aren’t informed of the subject beforehand, they are not allowed to take breaks…they are barely allowed to breathe!
Do you have any language related anecdotes or stories?
I’ve been speaking Portuguese for 45 years. For me it is like my second native language because I have studied it, I have studied economics in Brazil and I have written several books in Portuguese.
When I travel to the rest of Latin America, trying to speak Spanish, I have to “self-check”, because there are several words in Portuguese that have an opposite meaning in Spanish, or that have different connotations, such as the word “no” that is a negative in Spanish and in Portuguese it means “in” or it sometimes has an obscene meaning.
Lastly, I would like to share some mistranslations that I mention in my seminar “The importance of culture in internationalisation”
- In a Japanese hotel they placed a sign that read “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid between 11:00 am and 12:00 am.”
- In a Norwegian bar: “Ladies are requested not to have children at the bar.”
- In an Italian walk in clinic: “Specialist in women and other diseases.”