Does it pay to be multi-cultural?
Last week the world went gaga when Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, conducted a Q&A session in Mandarin Chinese when he was at a university in Beijing. Zuckerberg’s fluency in Mandarin is striking, but he had a personal motivation as well: he had reportedly asked his fiancé’s parents for their blessing in their native tongue two years before.
It’s a positive sign when the CEOs of global franchises learn the languages of their markets. Coca-cola scored a win in China when they transliterated their trademark into characters that mean “makes mouth happy.” The size and scope of America’s marketplace can become a hindrance when it allows our corporate chieftains to be insular.
And it’s not enough to learn a language. Culture is crucial. Different cultures have different systems for learning, different means of showing respect, different ways of coming to a decision. If you’re trying to make a point in another country and you don’t understand how people there think, you may say something entirely different from what you intend. Such misunderstanding can lead to some comical errors.
When asked why he learned Chinese, Zuckerberg said he likes challenges. That’s for sure. Maybe that’s why the 30-year old is running a $200 billion company.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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