Planes, Trains & Entrepreneurs: Words of Wisdom from International CEOs
It’s been about a year and a half since I realized I had not left the country in seven years. Coincidentally, I had that moment of awareness on the very same day that Perfect Search moved into our new (and perfect!) office. Starting a new chapter of my life and my business was clearly on my mind that day.
Since that day, I’ve been blessed with travel opportunities to Dubai, Nicaragua, Panama, Argentina, and Mexico. I was able to set up meetings with local entrepreneurs and CEOs in each of these amazing countries.
I’m so grateful for these encounters because every single person I met offered me invaluable insight into how other environments shape leaders and what these leaders prioritize in their own lives. I also got to gain feedback about my own journey from individuals who typically have run businesses for much longer than I have.
I want to share some of the lessons I’ve picked up from my meetings with international entrepreneurs—plus some pearls of wisdom about traveling that you won’t want to miss.
The United States moves quickly
In Buenos Aires, Argentina I had a few meetings with a young entrepreneur who was building an app that can be used at sporting events. One of the things that stuck with me most from our conversations was his statement on how fast the U.S. moves in all aspects of life. After mulling over this idea for a while, I would have to agree.
American organizations like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, and the Chicago-based online lending company Avant became billion dollar entities in a matter of years. We scale fast.
This Argentinean entrepreneur also marveled over how fast Americans date. Apps like Tinder and Happn make this possible. Delivery apps like Uber Eats and (my personal favorite) Sprig also make it possible to get food brought to us in a matter of minutes, with just a few taps of your thumb.
Speed can be fantastic for growth and competition. But sometimes there’s nothing wrong with taking the time to breathe, step back, and evaluate your progress. And once you finish reflecting, you can get an awesome lunch delivered to your doorstep. Win-win.
The importance of family ties
In every meeting, I made it a point to bring up my 4 pillars of happiness because I wanted feedback on my post. And in every meeting, it became clear my second pillar—friends and family—was also a priority for these foreign business leaders.
During a lunch meeting with the CEO of a public company in Panama, he introduced me to his wife and daughter who were dining in the same restaurant. It was so apparent that his close family was a priority over his work. He also messaged me after our wonderful meeting, stating that I would always have a family and a home to visit in Panama.
This was hands-down the warmest follow-up message I’ve ever received. Not only did this CEO focus on his strong family relationships, but he also forged strong and personal business relationships as well. I’ve always valued the human element in business, and he only reinforced my belief that it’s key to success.
I met another CEO in Puerto Rico at a coffee shop. After chatting for about an hour, he invited me to his home for dinner and to meet his wife and children. This trend of generosity and openness during my meetings with international CEOs was something I never expected—and I suspect it’s something that the U.S. culture lacks.
The emphasis on a personal touch
Many of my international meetings were scheduled by a member of our sales team. This practice is commonplace in America, but it does lack a personal touch. While I was traveling, two CEOs in Nicaragua told me that this was not their preferred approach.
Instead, they choose to email each other directly to communicate and schedule meetings. In fact, they even said that they tend to ignore emails from assistants or others in a given organization. I definitely see their point and I respect them for this attitude. Again, the emphasis on the personal and the human element is key.
Language is vital
After studying Spanish for 6 years in junior high and high school, I achieved a 1 (out of 5) on the Advanced Placement Spanish exam. That score proved that I knew everything I needed to know about Spanish. Sarcasm intended. Or, “sarcasmo” if you will. According to Google, that’s sarcasm in Spanish.
Now, years later, I wish I strengthened—or at least maintained—my Spanish by immersing myself in environments that required me to improve my speaking ability. I especially regretted this during my travels to Spanish-speaking countries. However, it’s never too late.
I’m committed to developing my rusty Spanish with the free app Duolingo. This awesome site was founded by Luis von Ahn, a brilliant expert in crowdsourcing and the creator of the captcha. Duolingo’s goal is to teach people new languages and to translate the web—all for free. I really admire von Ahn and I highly recommend that you check out his inspiring Ted Talk on online collaboration.
The travel tips I’ve picked up along the way
After diving back into traveling after a seven-year hiatus, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Now, I have a lot of great stories to tell—and wisdom to share. Here are a few gems that I wish someone had told me:
- International flight times are typically on a 24-hour clock. Be wary of this or else you might miss your flight. Here’s a totally fictional, completely hypothetical example of something that’s definitely never happened to me: You have a 3:00 flight to Abu Dhabi. You wake up at 9 AM to check the status of your flight. Because you forgot about the whole 24-hour clock thing, you realize that you thought your afternoon flight was actually at 3 AM, because an afternoon flight would’ve been 15:00. Whoops.
- If after you arrive in Mexico City and you’re handed immigration paperwork, it’s best to hold onto it. Even if you don’t like paper. You’ll thank me later.
- Always keep your international roaming for data off unless it’s an emergency. Don’t forget to call your phone provider and let them know you’ll be traveling in case you have a lot of emergencies.
- Do a full city tour on one of the first days when traveling to a new place. It’s easy to get caught up in meetings and forget to check out the best sites. You don’t want to rush and have to squeeze in too much on your last day.
- Pack light. Trust me—you really don’t need all that stuff. Plus, you’ll have even more room to take home souvenirs.
Have you learned about business from international entrepreneurs? Do you have any traveling words of wisdom of your own? We’d love to hear them. Tweet us @Perfect_Search.
Ajay Pattani is a lifelong resident of Chicagoland and is fiercely passionate about his white wine. If he could be a spokesperson for any product, it would have to be white wine. Ajay says if he could be good at one thing, it would be reading minds. If you could read his now, he’d most likely be thinking about white wine.