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General Clark on Small Businesses Investing Overseas

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By Kita McCord

After General Clark’s opening keynote speech during the Global Impact Economy Forum hosted by the US State Department’s Global Partnerships Initiative and Georgetown University’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative, we spent a few minutes with him to hear more about his views on what small businesses need to expand overseas.

“Let’s say you are a small business in Arkansas that makes machine tool parts, and you would like to set up operations abroad to use local materials.  So, how do you do it?” – Gen. Wesley Clark 

GSEI: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. We really enjoyed your keynote. Would you be able to elaborate a bit more and tell us what you think are the three biggest challenges facing small businesses looking to invest overseas?

Gen Clark: The first is market intelligence and understanding the environment. There are over 200 countries, and issues are different in each. Let’s say you are a small business in Arkansas that makes machine tool parts, and you would like to set up operations abroad to use local materials.  So, how do you do it? You need to assemble lawyers, a team who you trust, because having that information accessible is a big deal. In this scenario, the advantage is in favor of large businesses. They have people to get this, it’s easy for them. When you are a small business, let’s call it a $30,000 investment. That’s a lot of money. Businesses need help.

Second is assistance from the State Department. Not about the market intelligence but for assistance when I need an appointment to see so-and-so or need help to get the law fixed for me.

Third is leverage in the contracting and anticorruption practice. You know something smells bad in the contracting when the president’s brother is in the bid. You’ve invested a couple million and then the president’s relative wins the bid.

GSEI: Are we at a disadvantage because of strong anti-corruption policies?

Gen. Clark: It’s a disadvantage that could become a strength if a small businesses can’t afford corruption anyway. Corruption tilts in favor of big businesses. It’s incredibly corrosive.  Once corruption runs through an economy, it’s like acid. They keep upping the fee, because if the bribe starts at $10,000, then someone thinks they can ask for $20,000, and if they get that, then they up it again.

GSEI: What are you hoping is gained from this conference?

Gen. Clark: (He looks around and points to the small groups of people conversing.) That’s it. See the networking that goes on? Networking is good and effective. People are getting together. I hope there is a better understanding of government programs by the private sector. Likewise, I hope there is a better understanding by the public sector of what the private sector needs.

GSEI: What advice do you have for MBAs? Where are we most needed?

Gen. Clark: The biggest need is in America. There is a great opportunity here. There is a better legal environment and less corruption at home.

In the Cold War, we got an advantage by sending US corporations abroad. Today, people all over the world speak English and are smart and we are competing with them for jobs in their countries. The US is under- and un-employed. You can make a lot of change here.