We had the opportunity to steal Jean Pierre Coene for a short interview, just after he was nominated for the price of Best Business Book of the year.

Celia: Bonjour Jean-Pierre, you are an itim consultant and you are also now a writer, can you tell us a little more about yourself.

Jean Pierre: At the age of 25, I had known different “little jobs” which where the equivalent of my studies. I started my own business from scratch: office supplies distribution in offices. My main activity was to push doors after doors, convincing people that, although young and beginners, we supplied a good service. At the age of 30 the partner bought my shares and I went to my paper supplier- a French paper mill called Clairefontaine, and convince them I was the man they need in Belgium to growth the business. This proved to be the chance of my live: I stayed 35 years in the company, doing approximately the same as before: pushing doors to convince people…all over the world.

C: When did you personally run into the topic of culture?

JP: I was totally ignorant about culture, and I have encountered a few disastrous situations. I was lucky to commit my first big mistake in the UK. Lucky, because the British have a free speech as far as business is concerned, and they told me openly “Young man, that’s not the way to do it here, you know….”

That is how I discover that, although I was gifted in my business, I was missing one element: knowledge about culture. I asked my French top management to buy me a training with Itim International ; that was more than 20 years ago! They did it reluctantly: it proved to be the best investment they have ever made on me. I successfully applied the Hofstede model for the rest of my carrier.

C: What is your connection with itim? When did you join the network?

JP: After 35 years in paper business, I felt it was time to change air, and I ask to join itim International. After serious study time, I was accepted, and I am proud to be part of that exclusive club of specialists.

C: So, last year you published a book in French: “Negotiation International” and which is, let’s be honest, not following the traditional codes of culture books. Could you explain to us what was your aim when you started working on the project? How did it all start? What is the book about?

JP: I wrote a book I would have loved to read when I was 30 and in charge of the “Export market”. I was very competent in my product, very competent in sales techniques in my own country, but I missed a “good tool” to go abroad.

With this book, a competent person in his own country will become an “appropriate partner” all over the world.

C: How is it constructed? Why is it different?

JP: A BtoB conversation goes through 6 traditional steps which goes from “take contact” to “clinch the deal”.

I have analyzed those 6 steps in the different regions of the world. In such a way, a sales person can “navigate” through it and find instantly the pertinent information.

C: In your opinion how are Belgium companies doing when it comes to using culture strategically? What kind of advice would you give to companies?

JP: Belgium companies are doing very well in some countries, and poorly in the rest of the world. Belgian products are usually outstandingly good and innovative, and could be exported in much more countries than they are now.

The Belgian have a poor image of themselves, and often lack confidence. One often heard at TV or radio the expression: “we, the little Belgians….” Having a ridicule vision of ourselves, especially confronted with international big icons.

But it is gradually changing now, several clever companies ask me to work with the management to change that approach.

C: How do you see the future of culture as a tool, to what extend is culture an inextricable element for everyday, successful negotiations?

JP: You know, to start doing business together, one have to establish some sort of trust. In negotiation, I prefer to use the word EMPATHY. You trust someone the day you realized he understands you so well that he can put himself in your shoes. From that point on you know he will anticipate your needs, your enquiries, and your problems. And very naturally, you – as partner – will try to do the same for him.

How can you expect to reach that point if you don’t know the fundamentals of his culture? And that is the beauty of the Hofstede model: in one training, you got it all!

C: The book Négociation International did it change for you?

JP: At the age of 62, I discover a new pleasure: transmit my know-how to youngsters. Teach and train is my life nowadays.

C: Are you planning a new book?

JP: My book was written in French addressing the French and Belgian market, now with itim colleagues, I am working on the translation for different markets: Italian, Brazilian, English, Spanish, Dutch, South American…

C: Thank you Jean-Pierre, the book is available on Amazon after the link. Négociation Internationale

Jean Pierre Coene is a Belgian consultant who joined the itim network in 2010. His training and coaching help people become more successful in their business negotiations and more effective across cultures.