Episode 21: Understanding Business Overseas with Ihsan Atta of OPUS Corporation
In this episode of Brandstorm, we welcome Ihsan Atta, president of OPUS Corporation. Ihsan joins us to discuss why doing business overseas can be difficult without connections or cultural understanding.
Ihsan helps businesses both within the United States and elsewhere (mostly in China, India, Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries) to connect with overseas suppliers. Ihsan asks that any U.S. businessperson working with him to first present the research that they have done. Ihsan works with individuals who have skin in the game and have done their homework. He urges listeners to use trade publications and the power of the internet, as much can be learned from basic web searches.
Described on today’s episode as a serial entrepreneur from an early age, Ihsan founded OPUS Corporation back in 1996. Though still in college at the time, Ihsan knew he wanted to work in business after graduation, so OPUS Corporation was founded as an umbrella company to work within a wide range of industries. These include window wholesaling, property investment, manufacturing products and the importing/exporting of natural stone.
Ihsan indicates that the biggest mistake a business owner can make with another overseas company is not understanding the nuances of culture, and that what may seem completely obtuse to Americans may be customary in another country. For example, Ihsan says that in Middle Eastern culture, you may have a three-hour meeting where the crux of the business itself is only discussed in the final 30 minutes. It is important to understand cultural differences in everything from the tone of emails or the consistency of follow-up calls to gift giving or handshakes. Ihsan says listeners should not take offense or be bothered by these different approaches, as attempting to adapt can only help you become more successful in working with foreign companies.
What Makes a Good International Relationship?
Like most American business transactions, Ihsan mentions that comfort and trust are key to any worthwhile partnership. He urges those seeking international business to be clear on any communications, as cultural differences and language barriers can turn something we take for granted in small talk and give it a completely different meaning. Ihsan also states that gauging how interested any foreign business is in working with you is important. Your desires should be equal, otherwise it may not end up being a fair or productive relationship.
Resources for Business Owners
Ihsan explains that the U.S. Commercial Service – run by the US Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission – is a great resource for those seeking international business. Their goals are to help increase overseas sales and to assist businesses interested in exporting. Bankers and attorneys are not always necessary as they are here in the U.S., however they can be helpful with methods of payment, including wire transfers or letters-of-credit. With physical goods, Ihsan recommends being prepared as well as protected, as shipments from overseas are more prone to damage, customs hold-ups or other shipping delays.