As Canadian Shipper heads to press, we have just returned from the SCMA annual conference in Halifax, some highlights of which we feature in this issue.
The conference kickoff took place at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, (originally a shed!), through which one million immigrants, refugees, war brides, evacuee children and displaced persons passed between 1928 and 1971.
So many Canadians can trace their ancestry to other lands, in some cases to perilous journeys and rough beginnings.
For Canada’s supply chain professionals, a nation like Canada where multiple cultures are represented, and where there is an ever changing dynamic, creates a certain advantage when they head abroad or deal in the global arena, as many do.
A colleague and friend spends a good part of his day managing a project with support staff in three different countries. His understanding of the cultural differences amongst these teams, and his tolerance as a Canadian has made him a go-to person of sorts. The thing that struck me most was that as a Canadian he had had more exposure to the cultural differences of several countries that are geographically closer together than each is to Canada.
Working on our fashion logistics feature this month I talked to many supply chain professionals who spend a good part of each month on the road managing the needs of the fast-paced fashion sector, as more companies seek to take their brands global, and to embrace the reaches of e-commerce.
At the SCMA conference, Vincent Dixon, SCMP, and VP of Procurement for Stelia Aerospace, told attendees about spending a year in France based out of Rochefort, helping lead a merger of two companies, Sogerma and Stelia.
There is a formal hierarchy of position and pay in France, and with it a certain level of respect accorded. “In France my experience was that meetings always started late, but ended late too. If you’re in a position of authority or you’re trying to negotiate, it’s easier to go with the flow,” said the supply chain professional with 25 years’ experience in automotive, energy and aerospace.
“In North America, I might just call out a greeting to everyone while in France it was important to do a full walk around the room. North America has become more digitalized in the way we do business-there are not as many face to face contacts. In France, they won’t negotiate with you until you’re physically in the room. We had a lot of suppliers in the U.S., many of which are on the West Coast. They wanted them present. When they came they got further along on the deal than they realized they would, so the travel, in the aerospace industry especially, is important,” he said.
The need for thorough documentation was another aspect to consider.
“In France what I had to deal with was the level of detail in the slides. I found that all the presentations were in English on the slides but they spoke in French. The level of complexity was high. As you’re travelling to other countries and sending a presentation, how is it going to be perceived? Sometimes you feel you may not need it, but when we start dealing with Asian and Middle Eastern countries small misses in the language can really affect the outcome,” he added.
Another issue that came up was that of ethics.
“As I represented this group in France we ended up spending a lot of time around the world, particularly in China. The gifts were unreal. I felt at the time I wanted to say no, but I was told by everyone that that was impolite. You have to act professionally while considering the culture you’re in. Accepting gifts, while you may feel a large gift is unethical, may be the best bet in building and preserving the relationship,” he said.
From greetings to handshakes to eye contact, it’s easy to make an error in judgement.
To some cultures, particularly in Asia, business card giving is a piece of who you are.
“It’s now changing with a more Westernized younger generation. I have a habit of putting a note on a business card to remind me of that person. The message I received from the interpreter is that I was defacing their document,” Dixon recalled.
You could argue that hierarchy and formality have their place, but in Canada we have a lot more access to the various tiers of staff with whom we work.
“I have an office in Lunenberg and many people will come into my office during the day. In France, I never saw anyone who reported to me. You have a structured hierarchy, and it’s a fight to be granted a meeting. In China, when negotiating a deal, the only time the CEO would speak, it was directly to me, No one else would answer,” he said.
While not utopia, countries like Canada benefit from a workforce geared toward tolerance, well armed with skills that it takes to maneuver in the increasingly global arena.
Citing Robert Louis Stevenson, Dixon said, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.”
Julia Kuzeljevich is Editor of Canadian Shipper. She has been writing about transportation and logistics issues since 1999. All posts by Julia Kuzeljevich