Transatlantic networking for success

Trust, but verify


Photo: Arne Ristesund / Bergensavisen
Norwegian-born Erik Steigen is a successful entrepreneur in the entertainment industry and a founding member of NorCham USA. He serves as president of the Los Angeles chapter.

Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs once famously said: “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” This quote has been proved accurate again and again and can be applied not only to a business viewed in isolation but also to the need for a network around a business to succeed.

The United States is a huge market to conquer for any international business with an exceptional product or service. And yes, having an exceptional product or service before trying to enter the U.S. market is essential. If you offer something that already exists here and you can’t compete on quality, design, effectivity, convenience, or price, you may want to reconsider.

There are many Norwegian businesses that are doing quite well in the United States, from the giants Equinor and Kongsberg to specialized family businesses, such as the furniture company Vestre. Each business has different needs. For most, many questions arise when considering whether to enter a new market. Some of the key factors for deciding on whether to enter the U.S. market, may be understood through these nine points:

  1. Desirability: Is my product or service something the American customers want or need?
  2. Viability: Will my product or service be profitable in this market?
  3. Feasibility: Do we have a product or service that can be created with new or existing technology?
  4. Competition: Who are my competitors, and how are they doing?
  5. Location: Where do I set up shop in the United States, and do I manufacture locally or in Norway?
  6. Workforce: Do I hire locally or bring Norwegian employees over to the United States?
  7. Startup costs: What are the costs associated with doing business in the United States?
  8. Raising capital: How do I go about finding investors?
  9. Business culture: How do Americans do business compared to what we are used to from Norway?

Most of these questions must be answered by the business itself. However, having a national network with a local presence where one can learn from other Norwegian companies’ experiences and be connected to Norwegians who have worked in the private sector in the United States for decades can make a big difference.

NorCham is a new national business network with local expertise launched this summer across the United States. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., NorCham USA collaborates closely with the Norwegian Embassy, the consulate generals in New York and San Francisco, Innovation Norway, and with large and small Norwegian companies doing business in the United States. NorCham has feet on the ground with local membership chapters organizing local events and meetings built on decades of experience from Norwegian entrepreneurs and business professionals. NorCham has a forward-leaning democratic structure and a national strategy based on local expertise. NorCham is vast and expansive.

Aligning with a local network is especially important when it comes to understanding business culture. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan famously quoted the Russian proverb “trust, but verify” after signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union’s leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. In many ways, “trust, but verify” is the best approach to North American business culture.

In the United States, there is an openness when it comes to finding project partners and business partners, and there is a willingness to trust that is driven by the ambition to get something done.  Word of mouth has significant value here.  If you meet with someone based on a referral from another person that both parties trust, the meeting automatically progresses and very often ends with a handshake and an action plan to have the lawyers draft an agreement.

Americans like written agreements. Here, a written agreement has one main function: to address what happens if things don’t work out. It is the “trust, but verify” philosophy.  By outlining the rights and obligations of each party and a path to take upon breach or expiration of the contract, both parties feel confident in starting a business relationship. The final agreement is the result of negotiations between the parties’ lawyers, based on their respective clients’ instructions, to finalize an agreement that is the most favorable that the other party would agree to.

When trying to do business with Norwegian companies and individuals, my experience is that the approach can be quite different. There seems to be an expectation from the Norwegian side that the initial draft of the agreement they are presented with is as good as it is going to get. “Send me your contract for review,” a Norwegian might say, and then their lawyer advises them not to sign rather than prepare comments and changes as a starting point for negotiations. By not understanding how to negotiate, these companies either miss out on an opportunity by declining instead of negotiating, or they end up signing something they shouldn’t have signed.

To have a partner in NorCham not only helps you navigate uncharted waters, but it allows your company to expand its business network and learn from the experiences of other professionals. Each NorCham chapter has many connections in both the private and public sectors that can be very valuable. You can meet potential business associates and be introduced to companies, organizations, and even potential customers and clients that may help excel your business. I encourage you to learn more about NorCham by visiting Trust me, you will not regret it. But, of course, verify for yourself.

This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.