Directory Free Newsletter Contact Log in

European-American Topics - Business - Stephen D. McLaughlin

Interview with Stephen D. McLaughlin, CEO of Global Market Insights and author of several articles focused on helping U.S. businesses expand successfully into Europe. The interview was conducted at a conference about GMI’s success with expansion of client businesses abroad.
Posted July 31, 2007

   Stephen D. McLaughlin


    Let's start off by you telling us a little bit about GMI and what the company is all about.  

    Steve McLaughlin: GMI stands for Global Market Insights, a Luxembourg consultingcompany, which helps U.S. clients who are already in the European market or who are considering the great possibilities over here.  

    How do you help U.S. companies expand into Europe?

    Steve McLaughlin:  We do this through two unique characteristics: our skill set of both internal and external staff helps us restructure and refocus our clients to better serve the European marketplace. In addition I have also ensured that all of our people have solid understandings of both European and American business practices.

    Let’s say I have a midsized company that I want to expand into
Europe. How do I get the process started? 

    Steve McLaughlin:  The first thing we would do is take a good look at the product you are selling from a market research/intelligence point of view.  To do this we would have a combination of in-house talent on the financial side, while reaching out to our European network of researchers for the specifics of the product. We would then be in a good position to tell you which products are the best positioned to do well here.  This seems like a standard approach but it is not; the field is always moving with the latest example being the big swings in the dollar/euro exchange rate.  This would be the first step.

    So once GMI has done that, what sort of challenges can I expect to come up during my expansion? 

    Steve McLaughlin: Boy does that depend! Each case is obviously very different but let me hit on some common challenges we have seen. The big one is the differences between all of the different countries. This is a common market, yet at the same time it is not. The biggest issues to face will be languages and regulations. For example: if you are in the IT field with a product that involves customer interface via a computer the different languages can cause programming issues — German is a language that can test some software limits. As for regulations, this is a big issue in the financial industry where regulations can vary widely across borders. GMI's advantage is that we know how to find the answers to the product’s specific problems through the contacts we have built up.

    You mentioned earlier something about the differences between U.S. and European business practices. Is this really a sticky issue? And if so, what are some of the things to look out for?

    Steve McLaughlin: Believe it or not, one of the biggest issues we have seen is the stereotypes that exist on each side of the Atlantic. France, for example, can frequently get an undeservedly bad reputation in the U.S. because of the news we see about strikes, etc. It paints an untrue image of a country that U.S. companies should avoid when in fact the French have an amazing creativity that they apply to business. On the other side, Europeans can think we are pushy in the way we push proposals and in so doing misunderstand the value of speed and priorities which U.S. business learned in the past twenty years. To answer your original question this does NOT have to be a sticky issue if you focus on fundamentals — delivering a good product is the key here.

    I read in an article you wrote recently that one of the major challenges some U.S. companies face in their expansions is staffing their overseas offices. Can you elaborate on that? 

    Steve McLaughlin: This has been a big issue for some of our clients and, to be frank, was something I devoted a great deal of time to when growing my own business — more than you might imagine. The key issue here is finding the right mix of skill sets and nationalities, with two issues key on the latter. First, if you are a small to medium sized company many of your employees will interact with your U.S. offices and clients — make sure you get Europeans who understand the U.S. as it will be a lot harder to find Americans with European experience in some parts of thecountry. The second issue faces larger companies. If you hire a multinational workforce then you need to understand that there will be a tremendous tendency for the workers to segregate themselves along national lines from day one — this is not the ideal way to approach team building! This can be dealt with but you need to be aware of the issue.

    I know that another issue with staffing overseas — just like in the U.S. — is hiring the right, qualified people for the job. I hear that this is not always an easy task in Europe due to privacy laws. Can you give us an idea of how these laws work, and how GMI can help?  

    Steve McLaughlin:  This is a good point. Privacy laws in Europe are very strict in some areas while lax (by our standards) in others. For example, European universities are very strict on the information they divulge on their students, to the point that we would think the students don't care whether or not they find jobs. The laws are historically based and Europeans take them very seriously and for good reasons when you understand the history. GMI, through our experiences in the European marketplace, has learned how to find the talent that U.S. companies need across a wide variety of skill sets, to include which nationalities are best suited for certain companies — this is a big generalization that we obviously don't always stick to, but it has helped us move quicker on servicing some client needs. This is in many ways an executive search type function, which is an industry where we have a strong background — this is an easy fit for us.  For example, one of our manufacturing clients needed a senior executive to run their international sales.  In this case we moved forward with two key underlying facts we knew from our knowledge of the European market:  the client’s product was the key selling point and the new executive would need to mesh with the unique corporate culture of the client.  We therefore searched for someone who both understood the industry and who had a broad exposure to the U.S. In this case we recommended an American.  This took some convincing of the client (who wanted a European) but we found the right person through our U.S. resources.  The point for those who are interested in the European market is that we knew the product was the key to the sale — there was no need to restrict the search to just Europeans.  

    There is a tendency to think of the European Union as essentially the only "safe" place for U.S. companies to expand to. Is this true? And if not, can you give us an example of an expansion you have helped outside of the EU? 

    Steve McLaughlin: This is by no means true and I can think of possibilities in each region of the world. Let's use Latin America for this example. Latin America has several advantages, led by geography and the various free trade agreements, which exist throughout the region. In Latin America, U.S. products have a reputation for being the gold standard across a wide variety of industries; there are many reasons which we can discuss another time. In one case we helped a client in the manufacturing industry team up with a local Latin American company for a joint venture. We found the local company and knew that the mixture of local distribution networks and U.S. state of the art technology would work. 

    I know that GMI is involved with helping U.S. based investors find the right companies to put their money in. Can you tell our readers some of the ways you do this? 

    Steve McLaughlin: We have a client in the venture capital industry that is always looking for both investors and companies in which to invest. In our case the focus is on the latter although we do some work in the former. When looking for companies needing early stage investment we have a variety of ways to help, but focus on two key areas. The first is our knowledge of which industry fairs are the best to frequent and the second is knowing which universities produce the talent that, once you know the ins and outs of the market, will lead you to the right companies. Lastly we have a network of consultants who spot trends for us. As an example, we know that certain Belgian and German universities are field leaders in certain IT sectors. To state the obvious, the Internet allows many academics in the same field to regularly communicate with their peers around the world. We then used our European contacts to get ground truth on what was happening around the world in this specific sector, and found a company needing early stage investment that was not even in Europe. Knowing the needs of our Venture Capital client we put the two together for a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

    Can you give our readers an idea of some of the currents trends that bear watching? 

    Steve McLaughlin: The European venture capital industry is, to be blunt, trying to catch up with the U.S. in some areas. Sweden and the Scandinavia area in general are the leaders in this industry, and you can tell by that region's focus on technology — look at Nokia for example. The biggest trends in Europe are efforts to modernize the financing side of the industry, which has been dominated by banks. The money is here; we just have to build up the culture of creating the right structures for investors like those existing in the U.S.

    Can you tell us a bit about what you do in the Precision Manufacturing industry and what the opportunities are there? 

    Steve McLaughlin: We have excellent and long-standing relationships with several U.S. companies in this industry. In this area we bring three things to the table: knowledge of the local market for direct sales, consulting help to restructure some of our clients functions to actually increase sales; I am especially proud of this because we took an industry (consulting) that has traditionally involved cost saving and instead increased the sales. The third skill set we bring is our market research/intelligence capability — we know how to spot trends in an industry where products can change almost daily. If we can do it for our existing clients we can do it for new ones. The best example of this skill set in action was GMI helping a client restructure their internal organization to bring the engineering and manufacturing people closer to the clients. The reason for this simple — we knew our client’s product was well-built and would appeal to European quality requirements that were important for this particular product. This had the intended result and the client has increased sales. 

    And is there a major need in the European market place for Precision products? 

    Steve McLaughlin: Absolutely. The quality, which is traditionally associated with the precision manufacturing industry, goes a long way in Europe which has always placed a premium on good quality products. In addition, this is a dynamic marketplace that is evolving as new countries join the EU. Don't forget about the exchange rate movements  constantly changing the definition of what is profitable. 

    If you needed to pick just one main way that GMI could help me and my company get a foothold in Europe, what would it be? 

    Steve McLaughlin: The best thing we can do is give you a unique insight into how your product can sell in places you had not previously thought of. Think of us as Europeans who speak your language. 

    If you want to learn more about Steve McLaughlin click here

© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited