Reals in Brazil or Roubles in Russia?

Jun 22 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

With their eyes firmly focused on the U.S and Western Europe, senior managers in Britain are woefully ignorant about emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, to the extent of not even being able to name their currencies.

The staggering insularity of many British directors has been revealed in a global poll of more than 800 senior executives by BT.

It found some nine out of 10 directors were unable to name the currencies of Brazil or China, despite recognising that they are among the countries now most likely to reshape the global economy of the future.

A third of directors were similarly ignorant about South Africa and Russia.

Just as worrying, 14 per cent of UK directors believed vodka was the main product of Russia, rather than, in reality, its massive exports of fuel, energy, metals, machinery, chemicals and oils.

And a tenth were adamant tea was the primary product of India, whereas its main exports are in fact textiles, gems and jewellery, chemicals, engineering goods and leather.

Yet nearly two thirds also believed that being able to work with the emerging economies of the "BRICS" nations was critical if their organisation was to succeed in the long term.

Tim Smart, chief executive of BT Global Services in the UK, said: "It is encouraging that businesses recognise the prospects that emerging markets will offer in the near future.

"But the survey suggests many business leaders may not be fully embracing these opportunities. In terms of talent, experience and technology, the UK has the foundations for collaboration in place, but UK businesses need to learn more about BRICS if they want to reap the rewards," he warned.

Three quarters of UK directors believed organisations in the "developed" world were better equipped technologically to work internationally than those in BRICS, whereas this may not always be the case, as Smart pointed out.

"BT's experience is that the BRICS nations are already equipped to make an impact on the global stage. They have shown agility and speed in adopting new collaborative tools and technologies Ė quicker, in many cases, than in the U.S or Europe," he said.

"There are huge opportunities for collaboration in and with BRICS; successful cooperation between organisations in the West and BRICS businesses will be a sign globalisation has come of age," he added.

Nearly four out of five UK directors believed the necessary information and communications technology was readily available to allow their businesses to work effectively with those in BRICS.

Yet the study also found UK directors perceived data security to be the main barrier to effective collaboration with businesses in all of these countries, followed by different legislation and/or regulations and political interference.

"Determining winning strategies for global business requires a strong idea of what is going on in BRICS countries, and how they will affect your organisation," said Smart.

"UK executives have the systems in place to work with BRICS but the study suggests some are not completely taking advantage of these. In terms of infrastructure and people, I believe Britain is well equipped to compete in the globalised economy, but we must collaborate better and smarter in the BRICS markets in order to fully exploit this," he added.

Among other findings, the survey found that nearly a third of British directors felt India to be the most comfortable BRICS economy with which to do business, perhaps unsurprising considering the historic links between the two countries.

Second was South Africa, on 29 per cent, followed closely by China on 28 per cent.

A third rated Brazil as the least comfortable BRICS economy in which to do business.

UK companies with revenues exceeding $1bn were currently the most active within the BRICS economies, said the survey, with financial and professional services firms (63 per cent) the most likely to be penetrating these markets.