Anti-Americanism is a potent phenomenon in the world, and business executives as much as political leaders need to appreciate its significance and deal with its consequences. First, I discuss the etiology of anti-Americanism, its genesis and sources; then I prescribe antidotes to its poison.
There is nothing so strange about anti-Americanism. On the one hand, its cause is the clash between American idealism, infused with naivety and arrogance, and on the other, the natural nature of all peoples to seek honor for themselves, to have pride in their countries and to assert their national independence. All peoples are rightly proud of their own nations and cultures and can come quite naturally to resent other nations and cultures that may seem in some way superior (whether economically or militarily). Such resentment is amplified when
Nationalism is pivotal here. In general, people do not resist foreign intervention when it rescues them from other foreigners but can come to begrudge such help when it rescues them from equally evil domestic tyranny. Thus the French people universally appreciated the American liberation of
An anti-American demonstration organized by university students in an Asian country is illustrative. One student leader was particularly virulent in his criticism of
This true story, one of my all-time favorites, personifies
Following are eight principles that executives can consider in dealing with anti-Americanism:
1. Take Anti-Americanism Seriously. Understand the roots of the problem and recognize it’s not going away. Whether or not you think anti- Americanism is justified is not the point. Expect it and adapt to it.
2. Discern Proper Public Posture. Each company has its own market position, its distinct image and style, and it is the articulation between these company-specific characteristics, and the nature and degree of anti-Americanism in each country, that drives proper strategy. Consumer product companies and industrials have systematic differences, yet since anti-American public pressure can affect a government’s capacity to buy American, even nonconsumer goods, these differences may not be significant.
3. Reflect Local Tastes and Sensitivities. It seems a clichÃ© to advise American companies to adapt their products and services to local interests, but there is no better way to begin. Consider something as simple as different body dimensions for clothes and divergent appetites for foods. There are, however, no simple formulas. Customers can be conflicted; they may like an American lifestyle but at the same time they may feel uncomfortable, unpatriotic, liking it too much. In advertisements, mix international and local faces.
4. Localize Structure and People. A company cannot counter anti- Americanism if all of its leadership is American. More important, it makes good business sense to develop local managers. Diversity of people provides diversity of thinking, which makes the company more robust in dealing with unexpected contingencies. A key question: What is the process and the locus of decision making in the foreign country? If most decisions must go back to
5. Stress True Partnership. First, take your company’s best international practices and adapt them to local conditions. Then, reverse direction and discern how local experiences can enhance the international company. That’s the essence of true partnership.
6. Craft a Consistent Public Image. In its ads,
7. Warning: Do Not Condescend or Patronize. People smell insincerity. If you put on a show to sell a public image, it won’t work. Only if you genuinely feel the partnership with your foreign customers and employees will your tone reflect it. It is more how a company thinks than what a company does that determines its true internationalism.
8. Inoculate Your Company. The medical analogy is a good one. By injecting into the body something like the real disease, the body will develop immunological defenses to protect it against the real disease. The analogy works by arguing that American companies operating internationally should take anti- Americanism as a serious threat be – fore it arises, preparing its corporate body to withstand the attack. Anti- Americanism is a wild card that can suddenly overturn a long history of patient success. Only those companies that see anti-Americanism for the threat that it is can survive such onslaught.
There is a tectonic shift among nations, and Americans must recognize that every nation has every right to provide a good standard of living for its people, and that if these nations feel restricted from attaining this worthy goal, our world will see no end of trouble. The consequences are clear:
As for Americans who feel threatened by the rise of other nations, I can only say “we had better get used to it.” The impact is not avoidable and it is not uniform. Some people will prosper; others will suffer. American jobs will be lost, but rather than retreating into self-defeating protectionism and isolationism, we should adapt by developing new kinds of jobs and by caring for those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves displaced. As for foreigners who rejoice when they see
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker and corporate strategist, is senior adviser at Citigroup. He is co-editor-in-chief of