Leaders are Learners – starting up business in Australia
When businesses look to set up operations in new markets, such as starting up business in Australia, it is usually because they are a leader in their domestic market and they wish to succeed in other parts of the world.
However packaging up what you offer domestically and sending it overseas does not guarantee success. To be successful on an international stage businesses need to see what has gone before them, learn from it and adapt what they already have for that new challenge. This is equally true for whatever it is you do as a collective, be it business or sport.
I first came across the term Leaders are Learners while reading “Legacy, 15 Lessons in Leadership” written by James Kerr. The book is about the New Zealand All Blacks, possibly the greatest sporting team in the world at present but – and as a passionate Australian rugby fan it pains me to say it – undoubtedly the greatest team in the 140 year history of international rugby.
What prompted me to title this piece Leaders are Learners was an event I attended earlier this week at Murrayfield Stadium, the home of the Scotland Rugby team, in Edinburgh. Coincidentally this event was on the week that Scotland are due to play New Zealand, and through the windows of the function suites at Murrayfield I could see the Scotland team preparing for the upcoming match. At this point I should add that despite 29 games between them that Scotland have never beaten the All Blacks.
The event I attended was called ExploreExport 2014 and was run by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and Scottish Development International (SDI). It was a one day event for Scottish businesses to learn about export opportunities and some of the considerations of doing business in new markets. The event included a number of seminars delivered by SDI staff and successful Scottish business owners with operations in overseas markets as well as the chance for businesses to meet with trade representatives from over 60 countries markets around the world including Australia.
I attended two seminars. The first about International Ecommerce and the other Developing Products and Services for International Markets. The seminars were great and had that balance between common sense advice as well as some specific examples of successes and failures that companies had come across when opening up in new markets.
After attending these seminars, as well as having spoken to a number of business owners and SDI staff, there were three lessons that became clear in my mind for these businesses:
- Don’t stop learning – A number of business that attended seemed to be leaders in their field. Some also had already been successful overseas as well. However they do not rest on their laurels and they do not assume what brought them success previously at home or in another country would work in a new market. They attended the event in order to learn whatever they could to ensure that they would be well placed for success in their new market.
- Teamwork is imperative – Surrounding your business with the right people is key. Especially in a new market. So whilst support can often come at a cost, in terms of time and fees and mistakes, no one can do everything on their own and it is important to find the right advisers, mentors and support – team mates – both before you go (such as immigration advisers) as well as when you arrive. The businesses I spoke to at the event were there to find these new team members.
- Be Different – Common sense says that each successful business is different. It might be the product or service, the people, the culture or all of them. And from my discussions and observations at ExploreExport this applies to operating business overseas as well. So whilst the advice given in seminars was generalised at times the message given was clear and that was that each business needed to learn the lessons from those that had been before them but they had to make sure they maintained their own identity and forged their own path.
So bearing in mind the lessons I took away this brought me back to the All Blacks. The All Blacks are phenomenally successful and one of key parts of their leadership status, and stressed in Legacy, is their attitude to learning. They take what they are good at and build on it year after year. Despite the number of star players they have they maintain the ethos that champions do extra and they challenge themselves to improve and be different even when they are the best. However they ensure that they maintain the team ethos and that there is a shared responsibility between players, coaching and support staff.
The key for opponents of the All Blacks, like Scotland this weekend, is to learn what lessons they can from them and elsewhere but to be their own team and have a plan unique to their strengths. And this is pretty much the same lessons for businesses that were conveyed at ExploreExport 2014.