Understanding the importance of business culture

During the past 20 years I have committed myself to understanding the importance of business culture and bridging the gap in various business cultures in order to grow market share along various corridor routes. 

When I first started working on the development of market share in the SADC region, I had a limited understanding of the regional market. It has taken a lot of time and effort to understand how to best operate within the principles and boundaries of business in various countries.  My colleagues and I had to learn to appreciate the importance of how to work together within the region to better grow our business rather than trying to do things on our own. They say ‘two hands are better than one’ – which is a principle I have learnt to abide by as we have developed our market share in the SADC region.

The first lesson I have learnt, is that the concept of ‘time is money’, which relates to the importance of efficiency in business, definitely differs amongst various cultures as you cross boundaries from one country to another. During my first trip to Ndola, Zambia, many moons ago, I had to change foreign currency. When I arrived at the bank, I was informed that they couldn’t exchange any currency until they got the latest exchange rate from Lusaka. It was a bit of a train smash, as I was only able to convert the money many hours later. This delay affected my schedule. Had I known about this inefficiency, I could have avoided it. Today  Ndola has made progress in this area. ATMs can be found almost everywhere and you can withdraw local currency at any time of the day.

An important lesson in business culture is the business relationship you develop with your partner. To develop a strong relationship it is vital to understand your partner in business better. As we are continuously looking at new opportunities to grow business in the SADC region and beyond, our first step is to learn and understand the business culture of our new partners. This effort helps us build the foundation of a long, lasting relationship.  As my brother has always told me: “It is not how well you write or speak – it is how well you convey the message and how well the other person (recipient) understands your message - that’s important”.  This is a valuable lesson which I learnt at a very early age and have always tried to apply in business.

These wonderful lessons on understanding various business cultures have assisted us in laying a strong foundation, which has enabled us over time to build a strong brand within the SADC region.  As we continue our growth, it is important that we reflect on how we can learn from each other, respect each organisation’s business culture and combine our efforts to develop our business together.


Johny M. Smith is currently the chief executive officer of the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG), a Public Private Partnership (PPP) of transport and logistics stakeholders who jointly work towards developing the various Corridor routes through the Port of Walvis Bay, and facilitating fast, safe, reliable and efficient transport along these routes. He has more than 25 years' commercial experience in the fields of telecommunications, land and sea transportation. He holds a B Comm degree and MBA. He serves as a Commissioner of the National Planning Commission and is director of other Boards as well as chairman of ACMA, which is an alliance for all corridor management Institutions in Africa.