When I graduated from Columbia Business School 25 years ago, I interviewed with a number of international banks and chose to work at Citi. I’ve been with the company ever since, and now I’m running the Global Commercial Bank in Latin America. I took the job because I wanted to work in different parts of the world: I spent 1 year in New York and then was in Spain, where I’m from, for 12 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been in Mexico.
I cover 22 countries, and of course, every market has some differences. For me, the most important thing about working internationally is to be flexible: Respect the people and the differences between countries and cultures, and adapt to each country’s way of doing business, rather than expecting the country to adapt to you. Spend time understanding the local market and getting to know the people, and then you can become effective.
A common mistake some people make is thinking that because they know the language they can do business in that country. Language, although relevant, is not the critical ingredient. Many other things are even more critical, such as understanding the legal system, the key players and what moves the country or its people.
I think it’s important to keep learning. I was only at CBS for two years but the experience gave me a new perspective on international business. Since then, I’ve benefited from interacting with people from various industries and backgrounds, and the people I’ve met through CBS’s Alumni Club of Mexico have played a big part in expanding my world.
I’ve always thought that what happens at universities is important and that business education should not be confined to the two years you pursue your MBA. In business, it’s easy to get so focused on what’s going on around you that it’s easy to lose track of other things. That’s why it’s refreshing to hear about other methods and practices, including ideas from the world of academia, and then to try to apply some of those ideas to my work.
Jose Maria Uriquiza Gonzalez is the club leader of the Alumni Club of Mexico.