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On the Value of Intercultural Competence in International Business: The Case of Thomson Reuters

Presentation title slide is the property of Steve McDonald, Thomson Reuters.

This past Wednesday (April 12th), I had the opportunity of attending another Global Business Leadership Seminar through the School of Business at the University of Connecticut.

For this particular seminar, UConn's Thomas J. Dodd Research Center hosted Steve McDonald, Vice President and Head of Market Development, Risk, Americas at Thomson Reuters.

McDonald gave us a very quick - but comprehensive - overview of Thomson Reuters (NYSE:TRI). I knew Thomson Reuters was quite a major financial intelligence firm, but I was awestruck by the magnitude of its global presence and the versatility exhibited in all the services and products they provide. Anything from the major legal database that is Westlaw, to the plethora of domestic and international intelligence databases provided to more than 100 of the planet's governments.

However, what struck me the most about Thomson Reuters is how - based on what Steve McDonald shared with us- they understand the value of non-technical skills in international business. Steve McDonald spoke plenty and with confidence about the value of intercultural competence. Although Intercultural Competence is an ever-evolving term, which the presenter never directly mentioned, McDonald went over in his presentation on what is essentially the major aspects of what being interculturally competent entails; that being an understanding of basic cultural norms in a given region/group, a familiarity with the region's history and geography, a willingness to set aside our preconceived and innate notions and norms, and more importantly, a willingness to dive into another culture. Of course, McDonald argued, having a knowledge of the region's languages helps a lot too; but even if a translator is a necessity, a degree of intercultural competence can still be achieved.

Indeed, intercultural competence, although heavily spoken of through theoretical means by scholars, is quite practical on a personal and company/organization level.

I could write a separate post on the virtues of intercultural competence at the individual level, but for now, I will only write on the value it adds to organizations - both corporate and non-corporate.

Organizations are built and expanded on their ability to establish, develop, and profit off connections and relationships. In the not-so-distant past, only major organizations had access to global avenues, and thus the demand and need for global connections were so great, that it would supersede the need for intercultural competence - a major organization could get away with just a bare-bones understanding of the mutually-specified goals in an established relationship with a foreign entity.

I would argue that is not the case anymore. Humanity's ever-increasing global interconnectedness is now made available to more individuals and organizations through venues like the internet and major innovations and expansions on continent-to-continent transportation, etc. Organizations now face competition when it comes to securing relationships - sometimes exclusive partnerships - with entities abroad. This is where a company with interculturally competent representatives stands at the realization of a significant advantage. This is due to the fact that, at the end of the day, when an organization of any kind is dealing with another organization, they are doing so by interacting with their representatives - humans (for now...). The human factor is still present; a factor that can be leveraged through intercultural competence by allowing for better multimodal communication, forms of understanding, and appreciation and respect for each other's cultures and values.

Any organization would be investing time and money in a wisely manner, if they were to establish intercultural competence training for their respective employees, representatives, researchers, etc.

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