Understanding international markets
Emerging Markets

The audience listens intently to theories of building business in emerging markets. Photo by Craig Bailey

June 9, 2009

On June 4, Northeastern’s new Center for Emerging Markets hosted a symposium on helping businesses expand their reach into China, India and other developing nations, eliciting ideas from corporate leaders and university experts on finding and building markets abroad.

Titled Capitalizing on Emerging Market Opportunities, the symposium was the first one sponsored by the Center for Emerging Markets. Center director and Distinguished Professor of International Business Ravi Ramamurti, who organized and hosted the event at the O’Bryant African American Institute’s Cabral Center, says Northeastern is the perfect meeting ground for such discussions, given its expertise in international business.

“The innovation happening in markets in India and China will transform many industries,” Ramamurti says. “These countries offer very large pools of incredible talent that U.S. companies can tap into to remain globally competitive.

“For Northeastern,” says Ramamurti, “growth in international business opportunities ties in perfectly with the strong research occurring on our campus. The world is going in the direction in which our capabilities lie.”

At the conference, representatives from major companies, including Liberty Mutual International, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Staples, discussed the challenges their organizations faced as they established a presence in overseas markets.

Opportunities abound in business sectors ranging from insurance and bioscience to office-product supply, said panelists Joe Hamilton, executive vice president and chief strategy and business-development officer at Liberty Mutual International; Shiraz Ladiwala, vice president and general manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Asia-Pacific; and Lukas Ruecker, vice president of emerging markets at Staples.

After 13 years of aggressive pursuit of international markets, Hamilton said he has learned that each market is different, and global success requires an adherence to the dictates of a particular marketplace.

At Liberty Mutual, international business, based largely in Latin America, now accounts for $9 billion in revenue, or 24 percent of revenue totals, Hamilton said.

Ladiwala said Thermo Fisher Scientific, a $10 billion operation, has discovered several keys to international success, including finding and using local talent, and adapting to Asian culture while maintaining Western practices.

Introducing Staples into 27 countries was a feat of near-constant adaptation, Ruecker said. He described setting up shop in cities that grew so rapidly over the course of just months that they looked nothing like they had at the outset.

“In these cities, markets that take years to change in the U.S. change in months,” he said.

Yet, Ruecker noted, infrastructural capacity in many regions has a long way to go to catch up to America’s. “I did see a Staples delivery made by ox cart,” he said, and also remembered a time while giving a talk in India that the electricity went off and on five times.

In addition to understanding and respecting cultural differences, panelists reported, businesses must also know their marketplaces thoroughly, including what price structures they will support. Representatives from EMC, Pfizer and the Tata Group also spoke.

As doors open around the globe, Ramamurti says, the Center for Emerging Markets hopes to help faculty understand and future business leaders succeed in the new landscape.

“Emerging economies represent very important opportunities and challenges for U.S. companies,” he says. “This symposium gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore that with senior executives who have many years of experience in emerging markets.”

For more information, please contact Susan Salk at 617-373-5446 or at s.salk@neu.edu.

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