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Why businesses need people with a global mindset more than ever

Charles Green

Alex Robbio


November 28th, 2018

Recently I was speaking with Alex Robbio, President and Co-founder of Belatrix, about his move to Barcelona, where he will be building Belatrix’s European presence. After growing up in Argentina, he moved to the US over a decade ago, and now lives in Spain, Alex has become very much a global citizen. In many ways, our lives have taken a similar, although different path – I grew up in the UK, moved to Holland to study, and then worked many years in Germany. In 2014, I joined Belatrix, and since then have been working in Peru. We recognize how fortunate we’ve been to have these experiences that have shaped who we are today.

Alex and I were discussing what these experiences mean – and decided to work together to write this article about how for entrepreneurs and businesses, having people in your team with this “global mindset” is becoming more important – and also for parents to realize that their children will benefit greatly from this mindset as well. Unfortunately in business, high performance in a local environment doesn’t necessarily translate into success abroad. As the Harvard Business Review states “Plenty of smart, talented executives fail spectacularly in expatriate roles”. This of course has knock-on consequences for businesses in their internationalization efforts.

Moving from a nationalistic to a global mindset

We have both lived outside of the countries where we were born for many years. In discussing the ideas for the article, we talked about how we have moved on from having a “nationalistic” mindset, to see the world in a more integrated way. We jokingly discussed how nationalism now only matters for the World Cup. While for us this is something that has become natural, it’s worth remembering that living long-term outside of your country of birth is rare – 3% of the world’s population according to estimates by the United Nations.

Despite the fact that it remains rare, the skills you learn, particularly in what we would describe as having a “global mindset” are becoming more important as the world becomes more interconnected. This is particularly the case for entrepreneurs. As Alex says, it pushes you to look at things from a different perspective that you may not have previously considered- to challenge your existing mental models. Meanwhile, the chairman of HSBC, Gabriel Martino, in Argentina spoke earlier this year about the importance for small and medium sized businesses to integrate with the global market – and it is those young businesses that put global at the forefront of their minds, that will end up becoming brands of Argentina, like we’ve seen with companies such as MercadoLibre.

The importance of having a global mindset for services businesses

One of the fascinating elements of having a global mindset for future entrepreneurs is considering the role of services. Even for physical products, in today’s hi-tech world, fuelled by big data and the internet of things, more and more of the value of physical products is coming from related services. In whatever industry you’re in, we’re seeing physical goods and products, turn into services, or manufacturing turning into “servitized manufacturing” – where manufacturers build revenue from related services. Think of BMW and their DriveNow carsharing services, or Rolls Royce, whose ongoing services and maintenance have become just as important revenue drivers as their traditional engineering expertise in building engines for airlines. In the services business, you can’t be effective in an interconnected, global world, without individuals who have a global mindset, who can understand the client’s unique situation.

Of course it’s not just services that require this global perspective. Selling products to different markets is easier than ever – but will often require customization to specific geographic markets.

While from a technological perspective, we can put together the tools and processes to build an international organization able to sell across the world, it’s much harder to build the culture – to bring people together and make the business a success. Academic research has shown a strong link between executives having this global mindset and a firm’s “internationalization behavior”.

Developing your global mindset – and the importance of having a backup plan

While many of the steps that Alex and myself have taken, may seem a little crazy, in both of our journeys they have actually been well thought out. Just as entrepreneurs need to do, we both had back-up plans, and had considered the worst case scenario, if the move hadn’t worked out.

Alex often refers to the book, “Crazy is a compliment”, by Linda Rottenberg, the founder of the entrepreneurial organization, Endeavor, where she discusses how to “derisk risk”. We’ve considered the benefits that these moves will provide for our careers and our personal lives. For Alex, he was motivated not just by the opportunity to grow Belatrix’s business, but also to provide his children with the same opportunities he received when moving to the US with his family at a young age. From my perspective, I wanted a new challenge and to do something slightly different – the opportunity to move to a new country, learn a new language, a new culture, which in turn has opened doors both professionally and personally.

The components of a global mindset

The Harvard Business Review highlights how a global mindset comprises of intellectual, psychological, and social capital. A core part of the psychological capital, involves what we can call a “learning mindset”. A couple of years ago at Belatrix, we conducted psychological assessments to see how we approach learning and work. The psychologists provided a report stating exactly that- I scored highly on having this “learning” mindset. Such a mindset is one of the factors that points to success in international environments.

To put this into practice, when I first moved to Germany I didn’t speak a word of German. I spent the next few years butchering the beautiful language of Goethe and Brecht, but little by little, I improved. Spending three hours a night in integration classes learning German along with people from across the world, from Afghanistan to Turkey, helped provide a strong basis in the language, while also providing a cultural introduction to the diversity of the country. I took the same approach in Peru.

In conclusion

Achieving success today means moving away from having a nationalistic mindset. For individuals, it means taking calculated risks in both our professional and personal lives.

In the coming weeks, here at Belatrix, we’ll be publishing profiles of individuals who have done exactly that. People who have seized the opportunities available, either to live and work in another country, or have moved across the organization into different roles. Both Alex and myself are looking forward to sharing these profiles.

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