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Negotiating the cultural maze

By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As any modern business executive knows, the hardest part of working outside your own country can be negotiating the maze of codes and values that govern work -- as well as life -- in that culture.

And, as many businesspeople have learned to their cost in the past, despite London's pre-eminence as a European business center, there can often be few people more mysterious than the British.

To help executives learn the dos and don'ts of the culture, a leading business school in the British capital has set up a series of events to teach overseas luminaries more about the culture.

The London Program, a two-day event which took place at the Cass Business School late last year and will be repeated this March, is part of a wider trend of culturally-based courses offered by schools around the globe.

For example, the Tippie School of Management at the University of Iowa, offered a special initiation course for new students from overseas countries last year, bringing in an etiquette expert to teach them, for example, the correct cutlery use during each course of a business lunch.

"Because so many of our students come from so many different countries, they come with significant differences in their cultural backgrounds, especially in areas like etiquette," explained Gary Gaeth, associate dean of the Tippie School.

The Cass program takes business executives, as well as a smattering of foreign diplomats, through much of English and British culture, everything from the way the country is governed to how its people tend to view themselves.

Government and culture

At the first event, academics including history professor-turned television star Dr. David Starkey led the group through a potted history of the British state, its cultural make-up and society.

A group of serving lawmakers gave their views on the current political climate, while senior journalists gave an overview of the media.

On a more business-focused level, other experts led the students through things like the way global financial markets work in London, the country's competition policy and corporate governance issues.

Additionally, they had some guidance on that most delicate of subjects -- the national character.

Kate Fox, author of a well-regarded book called Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior, gave them an insight into notion of "Englishness."

"There are hundreds of unwritten social rules that we English obey without thinking -- but that to foreigners can be confusing and often infuriating," she noted.

"The English sense of humor alone can be a minefield for foreign executives trying to do business here. I tried to provide some insight into our bizarre quirks, habits and reflex reactions."

Students also went on visits to the Houses of Parliament and financial centers, and attended a series of dinners.

One attendee said afterwards he found the course "useful and stimulating."

"It created a great synergy and flow so one came away with both the sense of the idiosyncrasies of the market and how to deal with them," he added.

The enigmatic British: how to decode a business culture.


FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006



Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.


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