June 24th, 2010
10:16 AM GMT
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Understanding cultural nuances is part of doing business anywhere in the world. I recently spoke with J.J Ngulube, the CEO of Munich Reinsurance Africa operations, about communicating across cultures.

This is our conversation about how he, as a Zimbabwean, does business with fellow Africans across the continent.

J.J Ngulube: There’s a lot of unwritten business rules and this varies from West Africa to East Africa even within.

Robyn Curnow: Like what?

JN: How you communicate. For example when somebody says 'yes.' When a West African says 'yes' you have to understand what that means.

RC: What does it mean?

JN: Is it 'yes I hear what you are saying?' Is it 'yes I agree?' Or is it 'yes I’m politely agreeing but I’m not happy with what you’re saying' ?

RC: So, it basically means no?

JN: Exactly. So even that 'yes,' you have to be able to interpret and body language is everything. It’s so easy for a non-African to go away thinking ‘I met those guys and they agreed with everything I said.'

This exchange is a wonderful description of the perils of doing business in a foreign land where language and cultural barriers can make all parties feel very confused about the outcome of a conversation.

Have you ever walked out of meeting thinking you had achieved one thing and realized later that you had agreed to something completely different?

I would love to hear your stories.



June 24th, 2010
07:16 AM GMT
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(CNN) – Toyota Motor Corp. is moving aside Japanese managers in Europe and North America in favor of local managers.

The move comes in the aftermath of Toyota’s recall saga earlier this year, when millions of cars around the world were pulled due to a variety of problems ranging from faulty brakes to issues with stuck accelerators. The Thursday announcement coincided with Toyota President Akio Toyoda’s first meeting with shareholders since the recalls.

The company was widely criticized for not being able to effectively communicate the separate problems which were cropping up in North America and Europe. Toyoda promised to give regional markets more of a voice in global operations.

“The aim is to put in place management structures capable of more rapidly and accurately grasping local conditions and identifying local needs,” a statement released Thursday said. “Taking both a medium- and long-term view, (Toyota) has long fostered local personnel in overseas markets.”

Here’s how the shake-up looks:

Toyota Motor Europe:President Didier Leroy (formerly Tadashi Arashima)

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, Inc.: President Chris Nielsen  (formerly Kenji Fukuta)

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, Inc.: President Norm Bafunno (formerly Kazumori Oi)

Europe Toyota Motor Manufacturing Turkey Inc.: President Orhan Ozer (formerly Tamer Unlu)

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Poland: President Carl Klemm (formerly Kenji Manabe)

At Toyota Motor Manufacturing operations in Kentucky and Canada, the current presidents (Steve St.Angelo and Real C. Tanguay, respectively) were promoted to newly created positions of chairmen, and Wil James and Brian Krinock were named new presidents.



June 24th, 2010
01:16 AM GMT
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(CNN) – Kevin Rudd’s sudden loss of his own party’s backing as Prime Minister of Australia seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom that has ruled politics since Bill Clinton successfully stumped for U.S. president in 1992 on the back of this slogan: It’s the economy, stupid.

In the midst of the storm clouds that have surrounded the global economy during the “Great Recession,” the Australian economy has been a ray of light.

Australia never fell into recession. Rudd was widely credited for successfully steering the nation through the credit crisis, thanks in no small part to its commodities-rich trade with China and other emerging economies.

As recently as six months ago, CNN’s Stan Grant reports, Rudd enjoyed record approval ratings for a sitting prime minister.

What happened?

Two major culprits, both of which have a deep impact on business in Australia: The failure of his emissions trading proposal – which would have introduced tougher cap and trade policies for industrial polluters – and a 40 percent “supertax” planned on mining companies.

A once passionate advocate of reducing global emissions, his softening on the issue upset his environmental base. His support of mining taxes, naturally, upset the nation’s powerful mining interests (at the close of trading in New York, shares of both Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton were up more than 2 percent on the news of a possible leadership shakeup).

Rudd’s inability to steer these two measures created doubt within his own Labor Party that he could successfully lead them to victory in upcoming elections.

Moreover, it appears Rudd alienated the supporters closest too him, who saw him as controlling and mercurial in his leadership style.

Which goes to show that its not always “the economy, stupid,” when it comes to politics. Instead it appears Rudd forgot that other maxim of politics, coined by former U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill: All politics is local.

It’s a lesson for executives, too: If you don’t have the support of those around you, you don’t have any support at all.



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