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Lokvani Talks To Dr. Zareen Karani Araoz

Ranjani Saigal

Dr. Zareen Karani Araoz is President of Managing Across Cultures, a consulting firm, specializing in developing Senior Executives of MNCs (like SIEMENS, Yahoo, TCS, Cognizant, DuPont and others), who lead global collaborations, build cross-border teams (specially Indo-US teams) and manage cultural transitions—and helping them and their teams excel. She has consulted in 20+ countries, particularly Western Europe, the US and India. She is on the Senior Leadership Coaching Cadre of Dell, Intel, Microsoft, John Deere, American Express and many others. She has pioneered as the founder of a Master’s Program specializing in Cross-cultural Management, and has been the Director of a Management School in India. She was invited to be part of President Obama’s Executive Business Mission to India last year, and has received an NRI Award.

Can you tell us a little about your company ?

Managing Across Cultures is a pioneering Cross-border Management Training, Coaching and Consulting firm, that has been acknowledged for some critical ways it has helped companies, specially those entering or collaborating with India (like DuPont, Cummins, HP, Dell, AT&T, Polaroid, SIEMENS, AOL, Glaxo, Yahoo, Cargotec, Sovereign Bank and many others) or Indian companies going global or coming to the US (like TCS, Essel Propack and Cognizant). It was the first Cross-cultural Management firm established in India in 1982, and then in Boston in 1985.

We have helped 100s of companies and 1000s of professionals in over 25 countries to make effective transitions, identify their people issues across cultures, to dramatically enhance the collaboration of their cross-border teams and to coach and develop global leaders take to identify their own aspirations and achieve their professional objectives. We also coach corporate Leaders to excel as they lead their global teams.

What motivated you to create a business in a rather unusual field?

In 1963 I had gone on an International Exchange Program to Sweden and the UK, with no orientation from the Exchange organization. But my father arranged for a program for us to learn about our Indian culture and the countries we were visiting. The following year, my brother and I ran the first all-India orientation program for the Exchange group. Then when I came to the US in 1978, I started cultural orientation programs on the University of Denver campus for international students, and did my Doctoral dissertation in that area of cultural challenges faced when entering the US. I then taught at the School for International Training in Vermont, and also led their cultural orientations efforts, and taught Cross-cultural Communication in their Intercultural Management Program. In 1982 I returned to India and started my own consultancy. I saw the "intercultural" differences (perceptions arising from differing cultural filters) that caused so many misunderstandings, delays, tensions and inefficiencies in the workplace even in an “all-Indian” corporate culture. I had also worked as a German Interpreter for Kirloskar's and did more cultural than language translation for the German Engineers in India. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to begin my consultancy helping JN Marshalls in Pune and then Air India, Tatas and 23 other Indian corporations who felt that an intercultural assessment of their organization and their teams with the cross-cultural management training that followed really shed light on and helped some of their critical people and team issues. I was also doing a great deal of Coaching in the early 80s, without it being called that, as it is today!

I continued my consultancy with MNCs when I came to the US, even when I was a Professor, focusing on Global and Multicultural Teams, Global Collaborations, Developing Global Leaders, and orienting people about “Doing Business in…” (different cultures), with a special emphasis on India, but working on several continents.

And now, in today's marketplace and the rise of MNCs in India, and Indian companies going global, this is the most critical, and often most neglected area that can make or break the success of a team, a leader or a corporation in today's marketplace. We have helped many Country Managers, Indian Leaders and many cross-border teams be more successful and aim for excellence.

At what stage of a company's entry into a new country do they use your services? Is it right at the beginning or later?

"Enlightened" companies (like DuPont, Tatas and others) have utilized our services while they have considered a new venture, jv or foreign acquisition, and we have helped them in ensuring a culturally appropriate business strategy and provided the training needed to help make these ventures successful.

Some utilize us just before a Senior Executive or Country Manager is about to be sent to another country. Many of my assignments have started out in this way, and then the CEO or Country Manager sees how much more we can help him with. This leads to assistance in helping them develop the kind of culture and values they want in their organization or venture in the new country. We also help them in assessing the impact they have had, identifying how they are perceived in the new culture, and assisting them in Team Building, as well as assistance in trouble-shooting their people issues.

Others call us when they want to enhance the working relationship of their global teams, or to introduce a specific change or a different mind-set (e.g. Innovation) into their organization.

Today, I am called on the most  when High Potential Leaders are identified, and the Company needs help in supporting these leaders "be the best they can be" through Global Leadership Coaching. We help them adapt to the new global directions and support the current and changing aspirations of the organization.

I am on the Senior Leadership Coaching Panels of Dell, Intel, John Deere, Microsoft, American Express and others.

We also do a lot of assessment of people issues and the organizational culture needed to support them. And I continue to be seen as a Resource to facilitate the effective working of global teams.

What major issues should a US company keep in mind as they move to India?

US companies need to understand that India is changing and that the current dynamic Indian Leaders have very different expectations in collaborations than they did 10 years ago. It all depends on what kind of company, in which state etc., but in general, I would advise them to realize that Relationships really matter and lead to better results and collaborations, and that Culture matters---Learn about it! E.g. The importance of Hierarchy, the Paternal expectations from your boss, merging the personal and professional and many other values of working.

Have you worked with Indian companies expanding to the US? What major cultural issues do they need to consider as they enter the US?

I have worked with a lot if Indian and European companies expanding in the US (TCS, Cognizant, Essel Propack, Novartis., SIEMENS and others).

They need to understand the US focus on Results, the importance of keeping commitments, the need for brevity and time-consciousness, the importance of a non-hierarchical approach and the separation of personal and professional issues, amongst many others, including ways of communicating in the work setting. They also need to often understand the candidness, integrity and critical importance of keeping commitments in the US culture.

What special challenges or opportunities do see as a woman entrepreneur?

I see many opportunities, but do not connect them with being a woman entrepreneur. I do see that being a woman entrepreneur can pose many challenges, especially in some Indian Associations, that might be male-dominated, and where female voices or competencies are harder to get acknowledged.

However, I think being a woman is helps us have a better intuition about people and situations, more effective networking skills, a better ability to communicate and to work with teams, and seeing creative solutions to complex situations, and the awareness to take people issues seriously and encourage employees in ways that motivate.

What are some of the highlights of your career?

*Being invited to brief an US Ambassador to India before he took office
*Being invited to be a Keynote Speaker on “Culture and Conflict” at the UN NGO General Assembly
*Being invited to be part of President Obama’s Business Delegation to India on his 2010 visit there
* Being elected (by members in 62 countries) to be International President of the Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research.
* Being invited to be President of the Rotary Club of Cambridge, MA
*Being invited as a Keynote Speaker at the International Heart Transplant Surgeons Conference in Germany
* Being invited to be a Keynote Speaker at the enormous Petroleum Dealers Conference
*Founding the first and pioneering Master’s Program in Intercultural Relations at Lesley University, educating cross-cultural trainers
* Being invited to be the Director of a Management School in Pune, India
* NASSCOM sponsoring my workshops on “Going Global” in 4 cities in India
*Being invited to Bali by UNESCO to address their Peace Conference on aspects of Culture and Peace
*Interculturalist of the Year Award by Youth For Understanding.

Besides the above, I have had the pleasure of being invited to address groups, international conferences or teams in 25+ countries, in the area of Doing Business with India, Global teams or Global Leaders.

Any message to our readers?

Yes. To all who are running a business or part of it, I would advise: Give priority to identifying your people/ team issues, before they hurt your business, especially if you have any global, multicultural or cross-border ventures. It is empowering and people are inspired to give their best when they receive training and can understand their colleagues and their communication better. Also, I would encourage all leaders and aspiring leaders to seriously consider being coached, to “be the best they can be”, as they lead their ventures to success. Indians tend to believe “coaching” is if you are lacking something, while in the US, it is to develop High potentials to enhance their skills even further. Finally, do utilize only professional cross-cultural trainers, with substantive work experience in and with the cultures you are interested in.

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