Magazine article New Zealand Management

High Flying Kiwis: Why Our Managers Succeed Overseas: Globally, Kiwi Managers Fly Higher Because They're Not Weighed Down by Negative Cultural Baggage. That and a Down-to-Earth Attitude Allows Them to Get on with a Wide Range of People, Says Richard Mathews, a Kiwi Who Runs a Very International Team. (Success)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

High Flying Kiwis: Why Our Managers Succeed Overseas: Globally, Kiwi Managers Fly Higher Because They're Not Weighed Down by Negative Cultural Baggage. That and a Down-to-Earth Attitude Allows Them to Get on with a Wide Range of People, Says Richard Mathews, a Kiwi Who Runs a Very International Team. (Success)

Article excerpt

The image of New Zealand as a clean, green, conflict-free zone does more than help attract tourists--it has spin-offs for Kiwi corporate high-fliers working internationally.

Geographic isolation means that history hasn't lumbered us with a heritage of hate or bitterness from ancient conflicts or raw, new wars. And that, says Richard Mathews, is a distinct advantage when it comes to building cross-cultural business relations.

"If you look at other parts of the world, neighbouring countries have invaded one another and done some pretty unpleasant things--and that baggage remains, even in business. In some countries and cultures, people don't want to be managed by certain other nationalities."

Mathews should know. As senior vice president for international software solutions company JD Edwards, he's spent the past couple of years visiting one or two other countries a week from his base in the United Kingdom.

Thirty-eight-year-old Mathews reckons Kiwis culture hop with greater ease because they can't be classed either in global or local pecking orders. "People don't have any particular expectations when they meet you. So you can start with a clean slate and it's a matter of what you can make of that in terms of your own relationship or leadership skills"

If anything, there's the impression that someone from New Zealand may be a tad naive and need a little extra coaching in the ways of the world. That, grins Mathews, is very helpful."You sometimes get the impression people think we're still in grass skirts ... but it does give you an advantage at first meeting because it means you can ask lots of questions without risk of [giving] offence."

Finding out as much as he can about other cultures is all part of a fairly steep learning curve for a Dunedin boy who started his career in accountancy at the local branch of Deloitte Touche. But he wears his present status as an international management high flier with disarming modesty. "I sometimes look at my [business] card and think yeah, that panned out pretty well."

Mathews didn't exactly shine academically while at school in Brighton, and then amazed himself by achieving degrees both in science and commerce from Otago University. "Really, my education has been more about getting on with and understanding people than about great marks."

Those people skills are what he now applies to picking the best leaders for JD Edwards company branches in more than 100 different countries. "The things you look for in terms of people's abilities to run companies and manage others don't vary much but it's sometimes hard to get through those language and cultural barriers to understand them."

Experience has whittled the kinds of questions he asks about a particular country down to three primary topics--its political system, its tax structure and its history.

"Once you've got those three things sorted, you start to get a feel for the country, what drives it, and how people see their role in the economy."

For instance, an 80 percent tax rate in Sweden means there's no incentive for workers to do overtime so if extra hours are needed for a special project, it probably pays to fly other nationals in to do them.

In global terms, he sees the business culture in Australia and New Zealand as pretty similar while those of France and Germany, for instance, are very different. And although Middle Eastern countries appear very "westernised", their economic drivers, legal structures and even their working week (Saturday to Thursday) are quite different. …

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