John P. Bauer probably couldn’t have a better background for doing international business. He was born in Germany and spent time in France in his youth, married a woman from South America and speaks French and German fluently. Bauer has worked in the international food market for 50 years and has been president and CEO of Basic Food International since 1975. Being a true global citizen gives him a natural advantage when working with customers in other countries, but he says any businessperson willing to make the effort can learn the subtle differences between dealing with American customers and dealing with customers from other nations. Smart Business spoke with Bauer about how to expand to new markets overseas.
Become a citizen of the world.
I am fortunate because I was brought up in Germany and France, and we came to U.S. in 1941. So I am an international by birth and education.
Being able to speak the languages and having been in international business for 50 years provides me with an incredible background of adaptation and knowledge and being able to communicate with different people in a different country.
We were always in the international business and now, of course, it’s the flavor of the day. Everybody wants to expand their business, and the way to expand is to go into the world and create new markets in other areas besides the U.S. and Canada. It takes training and education and study.
You cannot just export Americana; you have to give the people what they’re looking for and give it to them a little bit better than what they had. A lot of people think because we have a product here that is popular that it should be popular in other countries, but that isn’t necessarily so. Everybody has different tastes and different ideas. You’ve got to make a combination of what’s best here with what they want there.
Learn other cultures to understand what people want.
One has to study, one has to travel to these countries, one has to mix with the communities in those countries. It requires study like everything else.
If you want to become a doctor, you have to study medicine. If you want to sell overseas, you have to study it and become familiar. You have to get the experience and get the knowledge.
It requires study, and one has to learn the languages to communicate with them. Although English is getting to be accepted as an international language, one still has to try to gain more experience and knowledge on the way other people live and what they like, and learn their language. So they have to acquire that knowledge and stay in that country for a while and gain that knowledge
Delegation develops better employees.
You delegate responsibility for the morale of your employees. It provides a challenge to the people you’re working with, because they feel they are being trusted.
You don’t want to just have people who are not thinking or taking responsibility. You develop initiative, as well. It gives your employees the opportunity to be more creative, and you don’t have to do everything yourself.
Hire people for the long run.
Always look for stability. Does the guy only want to have another stepping stone, or is he willing to grow with us?
Stability is very important, background is important. Does he have a nice family? What about his character. Does he have integrity? I look for loyalty, interest and ambition. Does he want to develop himself and, at the same time, develop the business? Does he feel that this is a position he wants to have permanently and grow, or is it only something he wants to fill temporarily?
We provide continuity and we have continuity with our employees as well.
Instill a feeling of family in the workplace.
The workers want to feel they are part of the family; they want to feel part of the organization. To build good spirits, we collaborate more, we have meetings often and take many out for lunch. We have a yearly get-together with their families.
You want to let them know they have a friend in the boss as well as an employer. Building the interest and morale, making them feel you are interested in them, they return and show more interest in their work and in the business. Instill confidence in them. It builds bonds and loyalty and makes them feel it’s more than a job.
Realize the status quo isn’t good enough anymore.
Our business is in a complete state of flux. New markets are being built. Old markets are disappearing. Positions are changing, and we have to change with them.
The experience I have from 40 or 50 years ago is not as valuable as the experience I gain today in my everyday business occupation. One has to adapt to all the different changes.
Globalization also presents new circumstances and new opportunities. Our markets are expanding, because the standards of living of many countries are going up.
This is creating new opportunities. At the same time, you can create new products. You have to innovate and adjust those products to the different tastes of different groups you are now doing business with. For us, it means more variety in the meat line or the chicken line. New types of products, new packaging, all of that creates new opportunities.
HOW TO REACH: Basic Food International, (954) 467-1700 or www.basicfood.com