Foreign Relations

Taking It Slow

Still, the entrepreneurial spirit that helps family businesses succeed from generation to generation plays well in the global arena . . . as long as you take certain steps:

  • Set aside capital. This market won't bloom overnight; you must identify and dedicate resources within your company to make it happen. If international expansion is to be taken seriously, it works well to have the project under the direction of a family member who has the enthusiasm and authority to make it happen.
  • Consult with advisors who have international skills. These professionals are well worth their cost. They have the experience and knowledge that can help you sidestep trouble and climb more quickly into a profitable alliance abroad.
  • Do your research. Have the family member heading the project meet with potential international distributors and customers to understand the differences that exist between your domestic market and the foreign market you're interested in. Have your advisors investigate the reputations of your potential foreign partners and distributors before signing any agreements.
  • Dip a toe. Don't commit to building a plant before you've established a distributor relationship or performed the research to ensure you have a product or service that foreign customers will pay for. Focus your resources on developing small successes in high-potential markets--one at a time.

Obviously, all your dealings abroad won't be with family businesses. But search them out whenever possible so you can capitalize on the characteristics you share. Says Nager, "If you find a family business abroad you can work with, your relationship will probably be stronger and longer-lasting than two companies working together which are not family owned and operated."

Contact Sources

Arthur Andersen Center for Family Business, 711 Louisiana, #1300, Houston, TX 77002, (800) 924-2770

Bulbtronics Inc., fax: (516) 249-6066,

E.J. Poza & Associates, (440) 247-6300,

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Foreign Relations.

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