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In 2010 — six years after starting his company — Darron Burke decided to expand Burke Brands into Asia. But Burke knew he needed a reliable employee on the ground in Asia to take his Miami-based coffee growing and roasting company to the next level as an international business.
“It’s just a fast-growing market in general,” he says. “We needed someone to help bridge the gap between our two cultures, someone who understood how to effectively communicate protocol and to set standards for us overseas.”
Burke eventually hired a South Korean businessman and says it was a great decision for his company. Today, Burke also employs 20 people in Miami and the company earns annual revenues between $10 million and $15 million.
Before hiring the businessman in Seoul, Burke visited him in his native country, performed a background check and talked to acquaintances. Since then, Burke has increased the number of international employees in Seoul to six. In fact, his first foray into expanding internationally went so well that he’s preparing to repeat the process in Puerto Rico.
Here are some of the lessons Burke learned along the way:
Burke: Over the years, you hear some real horror stories about hiring people and not being able to fire them because if you fire them you have to give them a year’s severance pay. It’s a lot of very complex and challenging rules to kind of negotiate through.
Burke: It’s critical. You’ve got to have good people on the ground. You’ve got to have someone who understands the local culture and the laws and is able to navigate through some of those challenges.
Burke: It’s not easy. It’s a lot of cultural issues. It goes way beyond communication. I mean, this is an important point. I’ve been dealing across cultures with the Latin culture, because most of our coffee comes from Latin America. And even when the words are perfectly understood, the intention is not always understood as well. A different culture has a totally different paradigm, different values. It’s very important to take that into consideration when you’re making decisions.
Burke: We have a niche business. It requires high-quality raw materials. It’s not your commercial coffee. When I meet farmers or people in the chain of distribution who are from another culture, especially in Latin America, and I try to explain that higher-quality element, it’s very hard for them to understand why we would spend more money to produce a better product.
Burke: Because they are often more familiar with the benefits of economies of scale gained from mass production, I try to illustrate the bigger picture, and emphasize our value proposition and how it results in a higher-quality coffee that allows us to out-sell the larger multinational brands.
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