The Joy and Despair of the Overseas Management Roadshow

May 17, 2018

Matt Conger

"Looks like the market is having a brutal day today, all of your screens show red."

I rue the day I uttered that phrase. It was during an attempt at small talk with a Chinese institutional investor, whose office had a monitor showing the performance in the markets that day. Unbeknownst to me, in China, red is used to show gains and green is used to show losses. Yahoo Finance, and the West in general, is the opposite. What I expected to be a throwaway comment ended up revealing my lack of cross-cultural awareness.

(Don't believe me? Check out Baidu Finance's page covering the Dow versus Yahoo's page).

For nearly 10 years, I've been involved in some type of overseas roadshows. Back in 2008, I was a junior Associate at a private equity firm that had two types of overseas roadshows: visiting global LPs where our fund was being analyzed, and visiting international companies where we got to analyze them. Since 2014, my firm has often facilitated management teams going overseas who want to hire translators and interpreters.

Having committed my share of faux pas, here are a few things anyone embarking on these trips should keep in mind:

1. Pamper yourself (or treat your client) on that first morning.

One of the best experience I ever had was from a broker accompanying us on a Seoul roadshow. He booked us for a hot shave at the hotel on the first morning of the trip. It was a relatively minor expense in the scheme of business travel, and it was so much better than the typical "let's meet for breakfast and game plan".

2. Have no shame in napping.

While being driven between meetings, I noticed my boss would recharge by dozing off. It feels weird to catch zzz's in front of your boss, but once you do it once, you'll realize both of you are better off for this. And if you're being escorted around by a broker, taking a nap will relieve pressure from them to constantly feel they have to engage with you. Note: this only applies when there is jet lag involved. Shame definitely exists if you haven't travelled far from home!

3. Everyone knows IR people are polished.

If you're an investor going on a due diligence roadshow, try to get meetings with more than IR, as the story from above (the CEO) and/or below (the front-line managers) will always be more raw.

4. When it comes to business dinners and lunches, Chinese always wins.

Consider two scenarios: you visit China and you host someone from China. In both cases, it's inevitable that Chinese food will get served. If you visit China, the pride of the country's culinary history is such that you will inevitably be taken out for Chinese food. Perhaps because of that same pride, if you are hosting someone from China in an international food mecca like New York, you're still better off taking your visitors (of a certain background) to eat Chinese food. This may change as the current 80后 and 海归 generation in China become business leaders.

5. Take a legit translator.

I'm not just saying this because I founded a translation company that specializes in business meetings. I've been in meetings with poor translation or when a translator really should have been used. Do yourself (and your overseas business partner with a tenuous grasp of English) a favor and hire someone who has not just the language skills, but the industry knowledge and professionalism, to make your meeting a success.

6. Ask a local to Google your company.

We all Google ourselves, and if you're a CEO, you probably Google your company too. When you execute a Google search, it's adapted to your geography and your browsing history. Take the time when overseas to have a local execute similar searches and see what comes up. You probably won't discover anything new per se, but you may be surprised what shows up at the top of the results. Doing a Baidu search for my company, for example, reveals our somewhat embarrassing old brand-name as the #2 result!

7. Embrace the photo op.

Something about overseas travel can turn 50-year-olds into teenagers when it comes to getting photos of themselves. As with the napping comment earlier, just embrace it. Offer help with photos if you're hosting, and show no shame asking for photos if you're the one traveling