How I Got Started with International Business Development

 In Building Successful Partner Channels, Business Model Management, Entering Foreign Markets, Featured

Opportunities present themselves all the time. Picking the winning ones is difficult, but if you go for those that are fun to do, then it doesn’t matter so much if you should fail.

My first flirt with international business happened in July 1979 when I, by chance, joined a consortium that was invited to bid for building and running hospital kitchens in At Taif in Saudi Arabia. Together with two other experts (I was by no means an expert, but no one other than me knew that) I spent a week on location in Jeddah and At Taif, Saudi Arabia, doing the research. Back in Copenhagen, my job was to coordinate the design of the conceptual solution and to write the formal proposal that was picked up by a courier a week later.

We didn’t win the project, but we didn’t have any out-of-pocket expenses either. The local consortium partner covered the costs associated with travelling to and staying in Saudi Arabia. Although the customer chose another supplier, they were so pleased with our work, that they invited us to bid for other projects. By then, I had moved on to the software industry, but it had taught me some valuable lessons.

The value proposition

The value the customer or business partner is looking for may not be what you think at first glance and coincidences play a crucial role in everything. Opportunities present themselves all the time. Picking the winning ones is difficult, but if you go for those that are fun to do, then it doesn’t matter so much if you should fail.

The project was long before the Internet made the world transparent. In this case, our Saudi Arabian partner found us through the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Copenhagen.

My brother, Jørgen Bech, pose for a picture as we take a break just after Mekka on our daily trip from Jeddah to At Taif.

A Saudi Arabian contractor (our partner) suddenly lost their foreign supplier for a project for which they were prequalified. They urgently needed a new partner to deliver products and knowhow and had asked the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help identify candidates. Someone at their Copenhagen Embassy recommended talking to my brother, and then he, in turn, called me. I knew nothing about building or running hospital kitchens, but I could speak decent English and I knew how to write. We then found a company that were experts in the subject matter.

When the representatives from the Saudi Arabian company came to Copenhagen a week later, our team of experts was in place.

Doing field research for the proposal.

The value we could provide was not our expertise in building hospital kitchens. I am sure all the bidding vendors could prove they had done that before. The value was our swift response, that we were prepared to go to Saudi Arabia on short notice and our ability to produce a proposal within two weeks. That was what our local partner needed.

Back in 1979, my dream was not building and running hospital kitchens in Saudi Arabia. I was working as an economist for the Danish government, and I took two weeks’ vacation to help my brother with the project. Had we won the business we could also have delivered, but it was the project adventure that drove us.

I am confident that this project changed the course of my working life. I didn’t know then that this was international business development on a shoestring, but I knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living.

This post is an excerpt from my book Going Global on a Shoestring.

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