Posted on 1/28/2015

Mistakes, mishaps & making friends abroad: stories about going global

Noel Nevshehir

Noel Nevshehir, Automation Alley’s director of international business services, discusses Automation Alley’s trade mission program, some of the biggest mistakes companies make when stepping into exporting for the first time and how individuals can educate themselves on business customs abroad. 

Q: What is the value of going on a trade mission with Automation Alley as opposed to going alone?

Noel Nevshehir: The most significant value that our trade missions offer to company participants is that they deliver measurable results. To date, our missions have generated $428 million in new export sales while creating or supporting 2,378 high-value added and high-paying jobs in our region. 

Another value when traveling as a group on an Automation Alley trade mission versus going it alone is that we take care of all of the details associated with organizing and planning the mission before, during and once you return home. This includes booking flights, reserving hotel rooms, processing visa applications, coordinating internal transportation, arranging embassy business briefings and receptions, and much more. 

Most importantly, we arrange in-country matchmaking meetings for trade mission participants, where they meet directly with potential buyers and end users of their products, services and technologies. These prospective business partners have been vetted by U.S. embassy staff and other third-party organizations that we work with to ensure you meet with reputable foreign companies that are sincerely interested in doing business with our participants. 

Another benefit of traveling on our missions is that we limit participation to 10 companies, which ensures that each receives individual attention from our staff traveling with them overseas. Our all-inclusive missions are extremely cost-competitive, and companies may qualify for funding that can be applied toward the cost of the mission.

However intangible, one of the most overlooked advantages of joining our trade missions is that for an entire week you are traveling with a group of like-minded business executives with whom you can compare and contrast your daily experiences and informally discuss your observations in terms of what worked and didn’t while overseas. In many cases, we have witnessed deals being done between the mission participants themselves.

Q: What is the biggest mistake companies make when stepping into exporting for the first time?

Noel Nevshehir: In many cases, a lack of due diligence or failure to develop a meaningful export strategy causes companies to crash on take-off. First and foremost, companies must develop an international business plan that roadmaps their global goals, strategies and deliverables. To that end, they need to seek out public and private-sector organizations that can enhance their global competitiveness and help them to sidestep some of the common hurdles they will inevitably face when expanding overseas for the first time.   

Other common mistakes include poor market assessment, neglecting to do a background check on prospective buyers, supply chain management issues and a lack of cultural understanding.

But these missteps can be averted if you prepare yourself accordingly. Read and attend conferences on exporting, especially if they feature case studies by international business experts. A great source of reference for small-to-medium enterprises is “A Basic Guide to Exporting” published by the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It provides a step-by-step guide to becoming a successful exporter. Also visit, that contains a wealth of information on doing business overseas.   

But the biggest mistake of all is that many companies are not taking advantage of the export opportunities around the world. Did you know 95.5 percent of the world’s total population resides outside of the U.S.? Similarly, 81.8 percent of the world’s total purchasing power today stretches beyond our nation’s borders. Translated, the future success of any business largely depends upon diversifying its market(s) globally.

Q: In your time with Automation Alley, what is the most interesting story about one of our trade mission participants as far as how we were able to help them succeed on a global level?

Noel Nevshehir: I have an extremely rewarding and satisfying job because I get to witness firsthand the entire process of an export deal being consummated — from a member company’s initial meeting with a prospective buyer overseas to the actual closing of the sale down the road. 

The most interesting story — and there are many — comes in the form of a general observation that I’ve made leading Automation Alley trade missions around the world. Initially the mission participants are really reserved and tentative, not knowing what to expect as our flight departs from Detroit Metro Airport. But after one or two days of being together as a group, a certain dynamic occurs whereby the entire delegation comes together as one, thanks in large part to the fact that we are sharing a common experience and helping one another pull through it successfully. At dinner every night, everyone opens up and shares their daily experiences and observations, and the participants become great friends as a result. In fact, many of them end up doing business with one another when they return to the U.S. Their only regret is that they did not participate in one of our missions sooner. 

Q: Do you have any advice for doing business with companies from other cultures? How do you educate yourself on their customs and avoid offending people? Do you have examples of some common business practices in other countries that might not apply in the U.S.? 

Noel Nevshehir: I have committed every cultural faux pas known to man, in spite of how hard I try to study the cultural idiosyncrasies and common business practices of the country I am visiting. But so long as you are humble and show deep respect to your hosts, they are extremely forgiving.

For example, last month I was in a meeting with government and business leaders in Saudi Arabia, and despite knowing better, I reflexively crossed my legs, which revealed the soles of my shoes — an insult in Arab culture because the shoe is considered dirty, especially given that the foot is the lowest part of the body. 

Another example is when we led a mission to China and our bus broke down with two flat tires in the middle of nowhere. It was cold and getting dark when a farmer approached us and offered shelter in her hut. Somebody on the mission received white flowers for her birthday that day, and she was about to give them to the farmer as a way to thank her for inviting us into her home. I reminded the mission participant that white flowers denote death in Chinese culture, so we ended up giving the farmer a U.S.-China friendship lapel pin and a picture book of Michigan instead.    

The best source of reference on cultural understanding is “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands” by Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway. The book provides cultural overviews and information about negotiating strategies and protocol when doing business in more than 60 countries. 

Interested in joining an Automation Alley trade mission? Contact 248-457-3283 or email

About the Author

Noel Nevshehir | Automation Alley

As director of Automation Alley’s International Business Services, Noel’s responsibilities include 
assisting local companies in expanding their markets overseas through global trade and export and helping companies from around the world set up their operations in Michigan.


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