From identifying targets not currently for sale, to delivering turnkey projects, Relecom & Partners supports French companies with their international expansion projects, thanks to its strong presence in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Qatar and sub-Saharan Africa. Founder Pierre-Marie Relecom spoke to Leaders League about the importance of companies paying close attention to cultural differences when conducting business overseas.
Leaders league. You launched Relecom & Partners in 2007. What was your inspiration?
I had a family history in emerging countries and upon leaving university I travelled extensively. As I did, I intuitively looked at the suitability of countries as points of entry into regional markets in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. I quickly found that it was no simple matter, as between each country – even those under the ‘Latin’ catch-all banner – there are significant differences and cultural pitfalls to avoid.
In France, when it comes to doing business internationally, we have a tendency to be too formal, which can be interpreted as arrogance, and we sometimes forget the importance of building a rapport. I spend my time persuading company executives of the need to avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach when game-planning for these economies.
How do you do this?
You have to approach each case with humility, really listen to those in power, really take the time to get to know your counterparts in these countries by talking about things other than business. Getting to know contacts in foreign countries via what I like to call ‘barbecue’ networking. I suggest that directors do this with their counterparts: loosen up, break bread, smoke a hookah pipe, have a beer, go for a run… anything that helps strengthen ties and oil the gears of business. And bosses need to a) be genuine about this and b) not expect it to pay immediate dividends. It may take years before your actions bear fruit, but in the end, more often than not, it will eventually help close a deal. Putting in the time in a country like India is essential, but can we really afford to be circumspect about a country of 1.3 billion potential customers? The same goes for Indonesia and its 270 million inhabitants and $1.5 trillion infrastructure deficit.
"I spend my time persuading company executives of the need to avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach"
What role, specifically, do you have?
My role consists of fine-tuning, in the most efficient way possible, our clients’ strategies and working closely with them on executing these strategies. I identify companies that I think may be of interest to the client, whether or not they are for sale. My talent lies in identifying the dreams and difficulties of clients before they even know they have them and, by doing so, helping them construct an innovative project together with Relecom. In this way, once objections arise they can easily be surmounted.
Of the 39 companies purchased by clients of ours, 37 were initially not for sale. We also make non-solicited offers in the infrastructure/utilities sectors, in partnership with various consortia, offers that include a structured financing aspect.
Your firm also engages in litigation.
We are not lawyers. That said, we sometimes resort to lawyers in order to find win-win solutions for clients. We are called in when litigation has already been underway and has cost untold sums in legal fees. Relecom & Partners is usually able to find a way forward in a few short months. One mustn’t forget that, depending on the country, the laws applying to locals are different from those foreigners are subjected to.
What are the main difficulties encountered when owners take their companies international?
They are cultural, financial, competitive and linguistic. Business-people, wherever they are, need to stop thinking of their home country as the center of the world. Financing this type of expansion is often difficult, but we must be disruptive and find alternative sources of funding. In order to finance projects in Africa, we look to raise funding in South Africa and the Middle East, for example. For Asia, we look to Singapore. Ultra- competitive and rapid, these financing channels are indispensable when it comes to the business of making non-solicited offers. Compliance is a also big issue and eliminating corruption risk is a major challenge, which we do by going straight to the end decision-maker – this approach has become Relecom’s calling card over the years.