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How to learn Italian… without going to school

It’s needless to say that childhood experiences shape a significant part of our adult persona, but they also help to build some of the skills and attributes that we carry with us during our working life.

While in pre-elementary (equivalent to kindergarten in Australia) and then elementary school (primary school), I, like many of my peers, revered television for its ability to entertain, educate and simply provide an escape from everyday reality. However, in Albania where I grew up, the State-run channel was pretty dry on children’s programming, with limited variety, laughably amateurish sets and substandard directing, which had little appeal to my youthful imagination. Like many others at the time, I turned to Italian TV for entertainment because it featured many cartoons for children.

The geographical proximity of the two countries (Albania is only 40 miles across the Adriatic Sea from Italy) allowed us to receive Italian broadcasts with a simple medium-wave receiver. From age five onwards I was watching cartoons on Italian TV. I would wake up at 6am along with my brother to watch Anna Dai Capelli Rossi, Heidi, Power Rangers and Sailor Moon, which were all featured in Italian. Enraptured by the stories and delighted by the colourful images, I naturally started to interpret what was being said and my understanding of Italian improved day by day. As I grew a bit older, I progressed to watching a TV series called Amico Mio and even developed a crush on the actor who was about my age! At ten I was able to fully converse in Italian, and have been fluent in the language since then.

I went on to improve my language skills, taking Italian courses in university, where I learned to read and write besides speaking. It’s a skill that came in handy: my first job at 16 was working in an Italian bakery in Toronto. I took a Modern Italian Culture course at university in Canada and shared a house with five Italian girls for a few months in regional Victoria, when I moved to Australia. Funnily enough, I have only once set foot on Italian soil (while visiting a friend in Rome, and just for two days), nevertheless those language skills I acquired from Italian television were my trampoline to the wider world.

Tons of research demonstrates that our behaviour as adults stems from what we have experienced during our childhood. If you are afraid of dogs, it’s probably something you can trace back to your younger days. If you speak Italian in a Micky Mouse voice, you probably grew up somewhere along the Mediterranean.

What about you? Is there anything you have learned in an unconventional way?

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When filling a CEO position seems like a call out to Mars

How do you find a CEO to head up a privately owned organisation, operating from a remote part of a former Eastern Bloc country, where there is no local entity, no information about the organisation in English and the Directors and the Owners do not speak your language?

For a TRANSEARCH consultant, it’s another exciting opportunity. In fact, early in the process we had to retain a local linguist with technical and sector knowledge to ensure we communicated effectively.

Here are my 6 Top Strategies for securing an executive for a parent company from a rare region:

Have respect for the client’s homegrown reputation, differing work practices and local regulatory standards.

Cultural and language barriers are sometimes the least of a client’s challenges: when they start mapping out audacious targets for their new hire, take time to allow them a reality check as you start sharing the local market realities.

Global accreditations and reputation is one thing, but building a local presence and distribution for products or services is another. As you’re learning about their region, help them understand a little about yours. In this case my client, a major international player with just over 50% market share in the sector in their own country, was seeking to expand their business in the Asia Pacific region. With a strong presence in Europe, they had recently launched in North America and were looking for a base in Sydney or Melbourne. Locally they would be up against established competitors with sizeable market shares.

Set realistic time frames. In this instance, searching the APAC region for a CEO with demonstrable startup experience in sectors supplying specialist FMCG products through omnichannel distribution routes was never going to be a simple task.

Attention to detail and high levels of candidate care will ultimately pay off.

Risk management is always a high priority in executive appointments and the new executive will need further support through the onboarding period and building their local team post hire.

Complicated by communication difficulties, I was fortunate that a few of our client’s senior executives had an intermediate level of English and a translator was available for our discussions. Over the course of my research for the assignment, I developed a deep understanding of the client, their business and its culture. On a broader scale, I was immersed in the business culture of another country, learning firsthand about how it thinks, works, behaves professionally and measures success.

Following this appointment, we continue to meet with the client and the CEO; I am pleased to hear their market entry initiatives are going well. We are already discussing the next mandate!

Have you procured goods or services internationally, provided or sought professional services across language and cultural boundaries or supplied emerging export markets? What are some of the challenges you experience in conducting international business in the not so obvious global markets?

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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