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Introduction to the World Trade Organization

This report provides a brief introduction to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”), the preeminent multilateral initiative focusing on establishing procedures for opening international trade.  The report describes some of the main WTO agreements and the current status of negotiations to further reduce barriers to free trade.


Founder’s Fatigue – Identifying and Handling It

While the original founders will always be known for their roles in identifying the idea for a new venture and packaging that idea into a business model suitable for investment support and attraction of other required resources there is some truth to the proposition that businesses that enjoy long-term successes actually have two or more groups of founders that make their mark at different stages of development.  An obvious example is the point where the founders add outsiders to the executive team, either voluntarily or at the insistence of investors.  While much is made of the adversarial relationship between founders and the “professional managers” the newcomers can contribute expertise that takes the firm in new and better directions and can bring a fresh and objective perspective to the strengths and weakness of the strategies selected by the initial founders.

A “new” team of founders is particularly necessary when the original trailblazers “hit the wall” and begin to struggle with key long-term decisions and day-to-day operations.  Starting a new business is hard work and like most things that require intense effort and long hours the persons involved are at risk for growing fatigued and stale.  Fatigue generally sets in gradually and the signs are often difficult to find; however, a a recent post on the CincyTech blog provided a nice overview of some of the symptoms that something is going on.

Ignoring symptoms of “founder fatigue” can have dire consequences.  For example, if a founder fails to acknowledge negative feedback on products and services those items will start to drift farther and farther away from what the market is looking for and eventually the market will turn elsewhere for solutions.  In addition, a founder who fails to take honest criticism seriously begins to lose the trust of managers and employees as they begin to worry about whether the bad news will eventually overwhelm the business and destroy the dreams that were so much a part of the initial excitement associated with the firm.  Flat metrics can be a sign to investors that the founder has reached the limits of his or her skill set as a manager and that a new CEO from outside needs to be brought in to change the trajectory of firm growth.  Such a change may happen quickly once the evidence is uncovered since investors are often short on patience and take on portfolio companies with a limited time horizon.  Finally, troubles with building internal and external relationships will eventually stifle growth initiatives and founders need to understand that what seemed to work at the beginning is not going to be adequate when the company is growing quickly.  In some cases this means changing, and often reducing, the roles of employees and/or professional advisors who provided great support for the founder during the early days.  Such transitions can be painful and it may be best to bring someone new in to handle sensitive restructuring issues. 

Founders are unlikely to admit to fatigue on their own and this means that someone, such as an investor or a trusted advisor, needs to keep an eye on how the founders are coping with the day-to-day stress of running the business.  Financial statements and other formal reports are obviously important tools in the process; however, setting aside time for regular, clear communication on a face-to-face basis is an essential diagnostic tool.  During these meetings founders should be encouraged to talk about problems and issues that are causing stress for them and which may impair the progress of the company.  When problems and issues are put on the table it becomes easier to have a candid conversation about the best way for the founder to continue to contribute to the firm.  Sometimes a change at the top of the organizational structure is the best path to take and in those situations the founder will at least have a good understand of how he or she was being affected by the pressures of leading the firm.  In other cases, just having someone to talk with is enough for the founder to emerge revitalized and better equipped to fend off the symptoms of fatigue and continue at the helm. 


Minimum Wage & Overtime Pay Policies

Companies need to exercise caution when dealing with the Fair Labor Standards Act and its rules regarding minimum wage and overtime pay.  Companies should develop and use one or more checklists that address key issues associated with wage and hour law compliance and should also create policies and procedures to be sure that FLSA requirements are satisfied.  This report includes a number of tools that companies can use include a sample overtime policy.


Leadership Styles and Practices

Leadership styles and practices are extremely important inputs into the performance and satisfaction of any organization’s human resources and there are a number of alternative theories regarding the driving forces behind leadership and the strategies that leaders should adopt in order to be effective.  A non-exhaustive list of examples would include trait theories, which are based on the belief that leadership is based on individual attributes or traits; situational and contingency theories, promoted by Fiedler (Fiedler Contingency Model), Vroom (Vroom-Yetton Decision Model), House (Path-Goal Theory) and Hersey and Blanchard (Situational Leadership Model); and transactional and transformational theories, explained by Burns and Bass among others.  This report provides a brief introduction to the complex topic of leadership styles and practices including discussions of how leadership roles and activities vary at each level of the organizational hierarchy; the core roles and activities of all leaders, regardless of their level; and “leadership styles”.


A Few Tips for Doing Business in Asia

Recently I had an opportunity to participate in a program on Doing Business in Asia for West Legal Ed Center.  During that program we discussed the following "tips" for doing business in that exciting and diverse area of the world:

1.         Don’t US values into your philosophy of doing business – you will fail because we are too aggressive and direct.  Always be thought, respectful and humble and take time to stop talking and just listen intently to what is being presented by prospective Asian business partners.

2.         Enlist someone who understands the people and relationships. Do not imagine you understand the culture – there are levels of subtlety and depth that you are unlikely to comprehend.  Ask that person to help you prepare your presentation including the choice of media and any other tools that we make it easier for your counterparts to understand.

3.         Work patiently and respectfully towards achieving trust in your relationships.  Be prepared for prolonged and patient negotiations, where Yes often means No, and No usually means maybe.  Provide ways for your opposite number to suggest alternatives to your proposals without unnecessary conflict or a feeling of being defeated.  Also be prepared for numerous trips and meetings along the way to reaching a “deal”.  Once mutual trust is achieved, you will succeed.

4.         Plan your meetings carefully with an insider who knows and understands the people, the relationships, and the culture.  Make sure that meetings match attendees at the same level within their organizations and at a level that is appropriate to make progress toward a business relationship.  Send your best people and don’t assume anything about anyone at a meeting—the quietest and least assuming person might be the one who wields the power and authority within his or her team.

5.         Hire locally.  Make sure that you have staffers who speak the language since customers are far more inclined to trust native language speakers.

6.         Know and respect the unique requirements of each market.  For example, the Japanese market in particular requires respect, patience and a third generation Japanese born citizen in the deal.

7.         Know and understand the business and resource environment in the area on which you are focusing.  For example, the Hong Kong corridor has loads of distribution, factories, production space, and resources; while China as a whole is an untapped market.

8.         You really can’t go into every Asian market at one time and using the same entry strategy.  I’ve seen it suggested that you should tier your markets into three levels: Tier #1, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan (most likely to buy); Tier #2, Thailand, Philippines, China, India, Malaysia (may buy); Tier #3, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma (cannot afford it).

9.         When looking for customers in Tier 2 and 3 markets, focus initially on multinationals since they have much greater experience with global standards of conduct and international trade practices.

10.       Build awareness through advertising prior to entering the marketplace, and make sure you hire a quality reseller/distributor for the tier #2 markets.  Also, don’t forget the existence and importance of regional markets with Asian countries.  China, for example, really isn’t a single market due to substantial differences between North, South, East and West and rural and urban.