As a business consultant who has helped local manufacturing, technology, and retail companies navigate business internationally, it made sense that he would be reached via email at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland for an interview.

“This is my freshman trip to WEF in Davos, Switzerland, after almost a year of weighing the opportunity cost and advantages,” Lerner said. “Davos is where the world comes to set annual initiatives. It’s an opportunity to meet a spectrum of founders, leaders, entrepreneurs, and people actively working for change.”

Lerner offered some tips and insights on how business entrepreneurs can expand their brands globally.

While in Davos, Switzerland, for the 2019 World Economic Forum, did you see any presentations, hear any discussions, or meet any company representatives with connections to Washington state or the Eastside?

Eastside and Washington state innovators (were there). Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke and joined a panel of other leaders to discuss the aspects of leading change. The world heard that Microsoft is currently the world’s most valuable company — a valuation earned by dedicated Eastsiders, Washingtonians, and others from around the globe. The sentiment from everyone I met and saw reflected in presentations was simple: Wow, I didn’t know all that was happening in Washington, but I’m not surprised. The world’s most valuable company is headquartered — along with many other first-movers — in Washington, but it’s not always obvious. It’s why many of us use the (hashtag) #ChooseWA when we publish on social media.

When does it make sense for a business owner to seriously consider expanding globally? Are there tipping points?

Ask yourself, “Is your core business solid? Are your practices and processes well-documented and part of the company culture?” Then, look at the opportunity to enter a new market possibly unchallenged or underserved by the one thing you do really well. Is your leadership team fully engaged, or maybe too busy? If so, then this is the right time. There’s an old saying: If you want something done, ask a busy person. Teams that are fully occupied generally have created team practices that can be leveraged for efficiency.

What are some things you learned about international business that you share with clients?

When building multinational and multicultural teams, it’s key to understand the experiences that have shaped your colleagues. Travelling to them allows you both to build from a foundation of respect, demonstrated by showing an interest in their root experiences.

Also, learn from everyone and respect that other countries have other ways of achieving success that may not be your own. There are many overlaps and commonalities that you should bring together.

Are there two or three factors that play into a company’s decision to expand globally?

We live in a world of ever-evolving technology and business opportunities. Opportunity is driven by finding white space in a market. Knowing your one strength is key to analyzing the market and achieving it. There’s the perennial sales story of two salespeople who find a country of people who live without shoes. One leaves because no one wears them. The other calls the home office and says, “Send more salespeople!” The second salesperson may not be right or successful, but they’ve recognized there is an opportunity. Analyze the market. Why don’t they wear shoes? What more can it do for the people who live there? Can you engage people locally to build and support the business as a local company? If so, you’ll earn an insanely loyal following.

Which Washington state industry has the biggest advantage when it comes to entering international markets?

The state’s top industries — agriculture and food production, maritime, forestry, energy production, military, and aerospace — are all supply chain companies. With 23 working ports, there is a wealth of knowledge to enter foreign markets, as well as attract direct foreign investment.

In your experience as an international business development consultant, what are some common reasons business owners turn to you for advice?

Where is there room for growth in my business? How do we fix our processes? How do we unlock our hidden assets and bring them to market?



Thumbnail photo by Monica Depiesse