Crossing borders

Nearly seven years ago, EDSA
opened an office in China, and Joe
Lalli faced a whole new set of challenges

The Fort Lauderdale-based landscape
and graphic design firm had found success in five U.S. cities and was ready to
move into the rapidly expanding Chinese
market, but had to adjust the way it
operated to accommodate another way
of doing business. But although the
expansion posed challenges for Lalli,
president and managing principal of the
firm, it also taught him a lot about being
a business leader in a global economy.

Smart Business spoke with Lalli about
the lessons he’s learned from growing
his company internationally.

Q: What has been the challenge of leading
an office as far away as China?

The hardest thing is really trying to introduce the EDSA culture from that far away.
If I didn’t go there, if EDSA people didn’t go
there, it would be impossible to have that
company over there.

It’s a matter of going there and working
with the people so that they know us, and
also bringing those people here.

We just had a group of 10 people from
Beijing come over here and work with us.
Some will be here three months, some five
months. It becomes much easier to work
with people because then we know who
they are, and we get a chance to spend time
with them.

Q: What are some other challenges of
growing internationally?

Ever since the company was founded, we
have done international work. Over the
years, we’ve learned a lot of things. First of
all, get big advance payments up front.
Second, do some research on the clients
you’re working for, see how (feasible) their
projects really are.

It’s really being more careful and identifying good clients and not getting far behind
in terms of payments.

Q: Have cultural differences been an issue
as you have expanded outside the United
States?

It has been, but we have one thing that
has helped us: We have over 34 different
countries represented right here in terms
of staffing. Just working around people of
different nationalities really helps us when
traveling to foreign countries.

I lived myself for two-and-a-half years in
what was then Yugoslavia, now Croatia,
working on a project, and I got to appreciate quite a bit what it’s like on the other
side of the fence.

Q: What has international growth taught
you about cultural differences?

One of the things is we really have to
study and learn the culture. Especially in
China, where the principles of feng shui are
prevalent.

When we go there, many times we are
working with what they would call a feng
shui master, and we’ve really learned how
they orient buildings around a lot of the
principles of feng shui and how we incorporate those into design. Once you understand some of their principles, it makes it a
lot easier to incorporate those into your
design.

Then when you present it, they’ll tell you
if it’s good feng shui or not. But that’s been
something very valuable, really, that I’ve
been able to take some of those principles
back here and use them on other projects.

Q: How do you incorporate the ideas of
international customers into projects?

One of the really important things is to
meet them and listen to what their vision is.
I ask them to tell me, in their words, what
their vision for the project is, and then really listen.

We treat every single project very unique.
Somebody says, ‘I like such and such a
project, we want one just like it,’ that’s not
possible. The programs and sites are usually different.

It’s extremely important to listen to what
they say. If you don’t agree with something,
you can discuss it, but it’s important to listen to what they say, then turn it into goals
and objectives of what we’re trying to
accomplish.

Q: How do you identify what makes a good
client?

No. 1, it’s looking at the projects that they
have, that they’re realistic. Also, it’s getting
good agreements and finding people who
don’t have problems paying us in advance
for travel or to get something going.

There are certain red flags, things up
front that tell you right away that you are
going to have some problems on the
project as you move through it. I also
think life experience is a good teacher,
just being involved in this business such
a long time.

HOW TO REACH: EDSA, (954) 524-3330 or www.edsaplan.com

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