Best Practices for Operating in Challenging Markets: Lessons from James Smith

If you want to stand out in a competitive or challenging market, you need to have a team that can think on their feet. The ability to adapt becomes even more essential when operating across countries, given cultural and workplace differences.


During a one-year secondment in Afghanistan in 2012, James Smith, Group Parts Manager, was tasked with building up a team for their fast-growing parts business and recognized two requirements for operating well in challenging markets:


  1. Challenging markets require creative solutions
  2. Forward-think your challenges


Challenging markets require creative solutions


When James’ team was responsible for initially getting parts into Afghanistan, one of the bigger hurdles faced was increasing technician fluency in Ford parts to ensure the right pieces were reaching the right places. There were no words for Ford parts in the Dari language, so the team had to come up with alternative solutions.


They built up an efficient system using symbols, colors and pictorials for different Ford parts. Soon after, RMA Automotive’s technicians in Afghanistan were all fluent in Ford parts.


Achieving this took flexibility and coordination on multiple ends – the leadership team needed to

come up with a new approach to the issue at hand, the team in Thailand needed to create

learning materials and technicians in Afghanistan required the flexibility to adopt a new language.


Forward-think your challenges


Thinking ahead requires an intimate understanding of what’s happening in the local market. James highlights speaking to people on the ground.


Looking at the parts business’ long-term goals in Afghanistan, James knew he needed to build a strong local team. He found his team by asking those at RMA Automotive in Afghanistan to point him to local talent.


œYou have to look at the long-term vision for your business, James states. œBuild a skill-set in the local environment. As the business grows, your talent will develop their skills and grow into senior positions. It’s about moving people in the right direction. 


James helped establish a team built to last – many talents are still with the company today.

Creative solutions and the ability to think ahead won’t do your business much good if you don’t understand your customers, James stresses. Knowing your customers’ particular needs comes first and foremost, especially in challenging markets.