By Ricardo Ordonez, an EO Orange County member and CFO of International Rubber Products, Inc.
As an entrepreneur, I have to keep an eye on a lot of things. Whether it’s in America or overseas, tasks can slip through my fingers before I realize they have hit the floor. One of the keys to being a successful international businessperson is to prepare for unexpected surprises.
I learned how to do that the hard way. My company has been conducting business in China for more than six years. Since 2001, our relationship with the Chinese has evolved from outsourcing to joint venture to a wholly-owned foreign enterprise. Our international business was going great until we encountered a big – and expensive – surprise.
We were embezzled approximately US$250,000 by our American plant manager. He lived in China for more than five years and stole from us every chance he had. In one instance, he purchased a company car for US$10,000 and invoiced the company for US$20,000. That same car cost approximately US$30,000.
We thought we were saving money, but we trusted the wrong guy. As we learned more about the situation and began to closely monitor our foreign investments, we realized these errors resulted from our lack of attention. Because we were focusing too much time and energy on domestic issues, we discovered our performance abroad had been deteriorating. We addressed these issues, garnered a better understanding of our international relations and made over-arching changes.
Next time I prepare to conduct global business, I will make certain I’m as prepared as possible. That type of planning is priceless.
The embezzlement opened our eyes. Now we visit our overseas facility monthly and conduct face-to-face goal-setting, problem-solving and performance-measuring meetings. Doing this can prevent future embezzlement. We can also continue to build our relationship with our international management team. Their performance has increased, and so has our understanding of one another, our appreciation of mutual differences and our common goals.