How International Experience Brings Business Success?
Philippe Dehennin’s Business Success
Katrina Burrus, Ph.D, MCC, interviewed Philippe Dehennin who is CEO of BMW, Switzerland since February 2012. Mr. Dehennin started his carrier at BMW as responsible for sales for both Belgium and Luxembourg in 1987. He was then elected as president and CEO BMW Belgium and Luxembourg before taking over as President and CEO of BMW France in 2009. This blog is the first part of a series of blogs on Philippe Dehennin’s leadership and BMW’s desired competencies. The first question was on his background and this is what he said:
I was fortunate to be born and raised in a diplomatic family. From a very young age, I was exposed to foreign countries, foreign cultures, and foreign languages. As a kid, you very quickly pickup ingredients that at a later stage in your life make more than a citizen of your country but a citizen of the world.
How does International experience bring business success?
The way International experience brings business success is that you try to understand other people’s perspective. When I arrived in Switzerland, I crossed just one border from France into Switzerland. I was taking care of our BMW interests in France. When crossing the border, you are immediately exposed to an entirely different universe, a different set of values, a different language, and different assumptions about life and different ways of managing a business.
You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. –Christopher Columbus
It’s very important that you put yourself in the perspective of the people you’re going to work with. What is their view of the world? How do they view themselves? How do they see their role in the company that you’re managing? Unless you put yourself in their shoes, you will not get their buy-in.
How does speaking the local language or dialect impact business success?
When I left France for Zurich, you expect to speak German in Zurich. I had to realize quite quickly that German was not the working language of the company. The language that people spoke when they worked together was Swiss German, and it was much more effective to let them speak Swiss German to communicate.
I knew a few of my predecessors who were firm on the fact that High German should be spoken at all times. What I found out is that although people are genuinely good German speakers, they were not so comfortable having to interact in German. It’s important to accept that people may not like to speak the language that you think they should be speaking.
Switzerland has four official languages, German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic. One would assume that people speak German in the Swiss German part of Switzerland. In fact, they speak a very special form of German. And what I am saying; you have to adapt to language derivatives.
It was very interesting in the beginning that colleagues would always talk to me in German. But I very quickly found out that when I was not around, they were speaking Swiss German what we call here in Switzerland, Schwyzerdütsch.
I thought there must be a reason that they speak Swiss German in their day-to-day activities when they are amongst themselves. They probably are more comfortable speaking their own derivative of the German language. Therefore, I offered that they speak Swiss German in our meetings, which they appreciated very much. They perceived it as a sign of respect and an understanding of their culture.
Special thanks goes to Philippe Dehennin, CEO of BMW Switzerland who was interviewed by Dr. Katrina Burrus, MCC. Katrina coaches Global Leaders and Manages to develop cultural understanding. The entire interview with Mr. Philippe Dehennin can be listened to here. Subscribe to the Excellent Executive Coaching Podcasts for more leadership tips and strategies on itunes.