Musings, Thoughts & Commentaries
Coexistence & Commerce, written in 1970 by Samuel Pisar, was a book I used to understand theory just before I was assigned to Eastern Europe to implement a business plan. I'd been working on my MBA in International Business and had proposed my graduate dissertation topic as: “Business Structure for a US Tire Company in Eastern Europe.” My Professor rejected my thesis because in his view it wasn't possible for US companies to do business in Eastern Europe. After appealing to the Dean of the University of Akron by saying, “But that will actually be my job at Firestone,” my thesis was approved and I finished it before the end of 1971. I wrote the last part while staying in a cabana by the pool at the Athens Hilton—I had already taken up my assignment as Field Representative for Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, based in Vienna. When I was offered the position, the countries I was responsible for were Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and “miscellaneous accounts.” I asked what “miscellaneous accounts” meant and was informed: “Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany and the USSR.” I asked that these countries be individually listed as my responsibility and that I would make a marketing plan for each one. I was told, OK, but “It is not possible for US companies to do business in Eastern Europe.”
I started in Czechoslovakia. In my tool kit I had several tools: direct export, barter, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, license, tech agreements—and whatever else I could think of. Over the next seven years I created and implemented strategies to do business in all the countries assigned to me.
What I learned—and later taught those who would take my place or work for me—was not to sell what you have but what your target market needs. To create a business plan, the first step is boots-on-the-ground. Wikipedia and Google are great tools, but I think one needs to smell the earth, listen to radio and watch TV in the local language, listen to people you meet in bars and learn to tell at least one dirty joke in the local language.
In Czechoslovakia, the import monopoly for automotive components was Motokov in Prague. I knocked on their door and was courteously received by a confused Director. He was curious. My job was to sell tires. Motokov needed to import tires that were not made in Eastern Europe—by law they had to trade within COMECON for anything made in those countries.
I asked what Czechoslovakia wanted to export and was told: furs and pelts, mink, lynx, otter, beaver, fox and various animal hides, things like that. I said let’s see what we can do and went back to Vienna.
Firestone Spain made the tire sizes for mining, material handling and specialty uses needed by Czechoslovakia. Yugoslavia had bilateral trade agreements with Czechoslovakia, Firestone Switzerland had a consignment stock of tires managed by the Firestone agent Univerzal in Belgrade.
I arranged for tires to be shipped from Spain to Prague. Yugoslavia bartered furs for tires with Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakia, shipped furs to Switzerland and Switzerland paid Spain; all legal and ethical.
Is it time to resurrect concepts like Commerce and Coexistence? Détente? Maybe the new word for the old theory is Trumponomics?
Tom Anthony is a West Point Graduate and combat veteran who spent his professional civilian career in global business all over the world. He has lived and worked in Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Iraq, Israel, and throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Anthony also lived in Mindanao for seven years.
Copyright 2017 Tom Anthony.