Company Teaches the Human Side of International Business


American firms conducting business abroad occasionally discover that a deal can be made or broken on subtleties.

How a greeting is extended, where a company representative sits in a car and what kind of gift, if any, to bring a foreign counterpart can be received as offensive or gracious, depending on a culture’s social standards.

In the world of international trade, where business deals can have great positive or negative effects on a company, avoidable errors are better avoided.

“Forward-looking companies see the need to get into international business--and to succeed in international business, they have to get into international culture,” said Michel Englebert, executive director of International Training Systems.


The Oxnard-based firm, operated by Englebert and partner Shoshana Brower, contracts with companies to train employees on the proper ways of transacting business in foreign countries and with different cultures.

Englebert, who was born in South Africa and raised in Belgium, founded the company in 1984 in Japan to prepare Japanese corporations to do business in the United States. He began offering his services to U.S. businesses about a year and a half ago.

The firm has about 30 clients, including Haas Automation, the University of Maryland, the Technological Institute of Malaysia and Sony Corp.

In June, ITS will add Ventura-based Patagonia to its roster, with a one-day workshop emphasizing effective ways to market the company and to interact with the businesses in Japan.


“Our focus has been in areas where American business has gravitated--North, South and Central America, the Pacific Rim, North African cultures,” said Englebert, who has a lineup of cultural trainers with whom he works on a contract basis.

“We discuss everything from etiquette--greetings and dining--to other elements that are more important, that involve value systems, perceptions and conflict resolution,” he said.

Englebert said the need for cross-cultural training is on the rise throughout the country in general and in Ventura County in particular.

“The United States is a little slower to understand the need because the U.S. has had the good fortune to be able to stay internal, but that is changing now,” he said. “Ventura County is becoming increasingly known as the new Silicon Valley, with a lot of high-tech firms, and when we’re talking high tech--software and electronics--we’re talking international.”


Moorpark’s Genoa Technology fits that group. The 70-employee firm provides testing services to printer, fax and telephony companies around the world. Earlier this year, the company underwent some ITS training.

“Our needs were to be able to communicate better with our customer accounts and field representatives,” said Gary Mussell, Genoa’s employee communication and training coordinator. “One of the trends in technology is the need for localization, revising manuals, software and other stuff into the local language, where the target market is.”

Mussell said company officials felt the need for cross-cultural training as the operation grows.

“We’ve grown to the point where we have representatives in Germany, Spain, Israel, Japan and Taiwan, and we needed to expand our knowledge base,” Mussell said.


“There’s a tremendous technology belt through the Pacific Rim, and [businesses] are going to have to be able to deal with these local people--they are going to be asking you to assist them, provide tech support,” he said. “I think if companies are going to survive into the next century, they are going to have to accept this. You may be saying the words right, but the way you are saying them may not be effective.”