Business in the North America vs. Europe with Carole Rissmann

LS International

Navigating your way in a new business culture can be difficult, on this episode we speak with Carole Rissmann about her experiences working in the US and Europe.  Carole has a 20 year success record at Beiersdorf, where she led strategically and operationally top-ranked and Iconic global skincare brands like NIVEA and Eucerin. Her last role was as VP marketing for Beiersdorf in the US.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Business culture and how this is defined
  • The types of profiles which are hired in each region
  • How living and working in diverse environment effects your problem solving skills, creativity and leadership style
  • Carole’s 3 tips on being successful in any new  business culture

Lauren: Hi, I am Lauren Stiebing and welcome to the episode of the career success podcast. Today we are joined by Carole Rissmann, and we will be discussing the similarities and differences of working across North America and Europe.
Carole has been engaging with various cultures starting from the end of her studies and the beginning of her marketing career at Reckitt and Colman in the UK and then, her 20 years of success record at Beiersdorf in Europe and North America, where she led strategically and operationally top-ranked and Iconic global skincare brands like NIVEA and Eucerin. Her last role was as VP marketing for Beiersdorf in the US. Throughout her work experience, she developed her ability to breach cultural and business differences between countries and in particular between Europe and North America. Carole, that you for joining me today.

Carole: Yeah, it’s my pleasure Lauren.

Lauren: So, one thing that I’ve learned from partnering with different companies all around the world is that there are diverse business norms depending on which country and region that you’re working in. From your observation what effect does culture have on the way of doing business?

Carole: Yeah, I think it has a great deal of it, of impact. I mean company culture is criminally, if not essentially defined by the people who are working in the company and leading the company. So, depending on who may be funding the company or where it was funded, and whether this is still very present in the company, then the business culture will be very different. People that look at their values through their education, their environments, and some experience they make over space through their life and all these can be very different. So, I mean obviously there’s also some general traits that are coming to people living one country, sharing the same history, and this will also impact the way of doing business and definitely a different level of organization.
If I looked at some of the impact, I’ve observed for example is probably on the company values sorry, some of the hierarchical behaviour, the way to approach business of course, maybe how priorities are being sets, the communication style in the company or even the type of people that are recruited in some of the roles as well, this is also influenced by the culture, so lots of areas in the business that can be affected by the culture.

Lauren: Sure, and I know that you’ve held leadership positions in the US and Europe, what do you think are some of the key differences when it comes to doing business in each of those regions?

Carole: Yeah, and it’s definitely few examples I could think of. It’s also clear to say that it’s not only just differences between North America and Europe but also within European countries, or more even within the U.S itself. I mean its complex out there when you deal with people. Whatever my example or thinking are, is more generalization based on my experience and observation, absolutely not scientific just observation and I also think that on both finding these values to both side, I would say within those differences; there is no right or wrong and I think that’s acknowledging or recognizing those [cultural] differences actually can help to do business forward more quickly or in a different way I would say.
Probably, the first example that we named it’s an experience that maybe European and maybe German even more we say tend to focus on understanding why a solution to a problem might not work. So, trying to fix that problem and spend the time to really digging into why that solution is not working because it did seem to be the right solution at the time. So, really trying to focus on that specific solution. Actually,North America is slightly different, more Americans in particular. I think they are a bit more open to move more quickly into a different solution; if one first one doesn’t work, you get another opportunity, take a chance somewhere else. So, it’s not really about giving you the original solution for more you straighting probably strong resilience in the country I find.

Lauren: Okay.

Carole: But maybe a second experience is slightly different it’s made, it’s more focused on how organization look at skills and competences into people and probably the UK here is similar to North America, I would say and if you look for example on like how on the recruiting side, I think this is a general openness, to look more at the skills and competences of someone, versus maybe just a subject of a master degree or a previous industry experience, so I’ll give you an example. So for example, you haven’t studied marketing or business but you study history and I think you have a certain sense for accuracy but also probably develop a certain capability to analyze, understand, correlate some facts and behaviour of the past and connect them to some other events that impact history basically and that’s a great skill if you want to develop a business strategy basically, being able to make those correlation in this connection of events and this cannot approach in the business is very interesting because it focuses more on the transfer of competences and can bring very powerful mix of people in teams, so a team from different backgrounds that can share different ideas, and have a different way of looking at problem basically.
I think this perspective also is in the difference of development of people maybe, in the people development. I think that perspective… I think to take into account for and how it affects the people development. I think in North America, there is more focus in developing further and fully leverage the competences of the people where they are actually talented in. In Europe , it’s more about, I feel, trying to fill in gaps, so people might have very strong competence and skills, but maybe some others not so developed and the focus is more into filling those gaps. So in that sense, I think in Europe maybe there’s more… and again, this is very much a generalization but there is more maybe focusing trying to make people more or less equal I would say, and in the US, it’s more into focusing on other differences and leveraging those differences in the organization.

Lauren: Okay. So, focusing more on their strengths, on their key strengths.

Carole: Correct, yeah

Lauren: And really exploiting their strengths instead of trying to make them in a specific profile for example.

Carole: Correct, correct and probably in an organization, I would say you probably need both. I mean that that would be my personal opinion, and planning the right balance between those two, those two ways of doing is it’s could be very powerful, I think.

Lauren: Okay. I mean how of all of your experiences and comparing and contrasting and also adjusting to new environments yourself, how did that affect your leadership style?

Carole: Yeah, I mean you can find a lot of research showing that if someone’s being internationally exposed or can identify with more than one nationality, they usually better problem-solver or display more creativity. I choose to really believe that I check the way I’m looking at the business or the business challenges and I tend not to look at it. I believe in just from one angle; I have probably better capabilities to look at it from different angles but also to influence it in a different way probably. I mean an analogy you could take is a little bit when you take a picture with your phone for example, and when you can change the colour, the style and therefore the final outcome by using various filters and that would be similar I would say by being exposed to different culture in your leadership style. You can adapt it according to the outcome that you want to have, as well, based on those different filters that you require through your experience but I think most importantly, I think being amongst people of different cultures I think it has developed sub-skill sets and it definitely developed in me, I think a more collaborative leadership style, I think.

Lauren: Okay, alright. And so, I mean what three tips would you tell others when they are doing business in different countries and with people from different backgrounds?

Carole: Yeah, I mean obviously here we’ve generalized a little bit in the regions but every country has definitely some culture, background, a different set of codes; so I would say, even if there are some general similarities in region, it’s … I mean, you have to do your homework and some time a cultural training might be useful but if I really… really have to narrow it down to three. I would say be curious and ask questions. There are lots to discover from people, listen to people and hear them and listen to them as well and be flexible. I think there’s never one way of thinking or doing the something, there are multiple ways, and then you’re better able to make a decision if you have a multiple options, I would say, or multiple perspectives. And then again, I mean we maybe just exposed in our cultural environment; I mean it has always been eye-opening to me and there’s always a lot to learn from others; not just professionally, also personally.

Lauren: Yes, well I agree and I think that when you’re working with different people from different backgrounds and different markets, I think getting tips is great but I think the experience learning firsthand at least for myself works best because things, especially in this world are changing very rapidly, and that also affects the day to day life and you just have to get in there and as you said speak with people, meet with them, get to know them because you’ll never learn too many things before you get there if you know what I mean?

Carole: No. Absolutely and you pick, you know whatever thing is relevant to you, or whatever works for you, but I think it makes you aware of differences as well and other thinking, and other values and it’s just in enriching basically.

Lauren: Well Carole, thank you so much for joining us today.

Carole: Thank you for having me.

Lauren: I really appreciate it and I hope our listeners have enjoyed as well?

Carole: Yeah, thank you, very much.