Gilbert Croze: "Companies are more than ever branching out; we need to take into account cultural differences"

  • Gilbert Croze
Interview
Published last month

The American professional etiquette bears no secret for Gilbert Croze. Building on his thirty years experience in professional dealings, the French man, who started as an engineer, has even co-written a book on this subject. After a training course at Stanford, Gilbert Croze was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Matra Aerospace Inc. in Washington. Back in France, he specialises in intercultural management and has trained executives from some of the most prominent French companies.

Tell us about your experience abroad.

I have lived in the USA for eight years and have also been on various missions in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, South-Africa and Brazil. I was chosen to launch an American branch of the French company for which I was working in Washington. The challenge was appealing, and the USA had always fascinated my family.

You started as an engineer, and now you’re specialised in intercultural management. What made you change career orientation?

My training at Stanford has helped me move on from engineering roles into more managerial positions. During my stay in the USA, as CEO of the branch, I was also responsible for explaining to the French executives how Americans work and vice-versa. Back in France, I started working on my book enumerating the 12 unwritten rules governing the American workplace. After that, I started training French executives on the intercultural differences before they move to the USA.

Why is this intercultural management so important?

Companies are more than ever branching out. In this globalised environment, more and more staff, customers, and partners are of foreign origins. Both for business and human resource, we need to take into account the cultural differences to be able to make the most of everyone’s ability, optimise team spirit and avoid the little discomfort that a difference in customs could give rise to.

What must one always keep in mind when about to go abroad for a job or to study, or when negotiating with foreign partners?

One must absolutely develop intercultural intelligence and be open and accepting of novelty and difference. Avoid at all cost any bias, ethnocentrism and arrogance. Instead, open up, be curious and respect all the procedures, especially when it comes to security. You can even ask questions about business codes. It’s best, however, to keep clear of controversial topics like religion and politics.

Particularly in the USA, what are the setbacks one can face during the adaptation period?

One can quickly become frustrated by formalities that seem never to end. Keep going, and it will all sort itself out even if you feel like it won’t. Also, Americans might seem super open and friendly, but it does not mean that you will become intimate friends. They compartmentalise their public and their private lives.

More specifically, how does the business etiquette in the United-States differ from that of France?

Working late is more often seen as a lack of efficiency instead of hard work or ambition. In the States, there’s a time for work and a time for everything else. Americans tend to be monochromatic: one task at a time. But they tend to focus on work and avoid disrupting co-workers.

Being on time to meetings is being late. And meetings are usually a time for enactment and not brainstorming. Americans are also very quick with emails- one should answer promptly even if it is just to acknowledge receipt before you can provide further information.

However, Americans are very positive and motivate each other at work.

In everyday life, what, in American culture could be disorienting?

Little things like going to work with trainers and only wearing formal footwear once in the office, getting used to the information signs, parking spaces or obligatory tipping in restaurants.

What would you advise to someone about to move or who has just moved to the USA?

The first 100 days are for logistics: accommodation, driving licence, banking, memberships, etc. Once these are sorted, you can move on to social integration like meeting your neighbours, getting registered in clubs or societies. You should hold a first appraisal after six months. Be worried if you have not made any American friends yet, you might end up only mingling with expats.

What did you like the most about the US?

The pragmatism that makes everything so much easier. The work relations are more straightforward, without being too rough. Also, Americans are optimistic and have a can-do attitude.

What is one thing you would have done differently if you had to start all over again?

I, maybe, would have sought to be trained in intercultural relations before moving and I would have done my Stanford training earlier during my expatriation. But there’s also coming back to your home country: I might have started planning that earlier.