Project Management Institute

Changing cultures




Joseph Madden, office director of energy project management, Westphalian, Istanbul, Turkey

BORN AND EDUCATED IN THE UNITED STATES, Joseph Madden started his career managing projects for a subcontractor to a major U.S. telecom company.

So there was a cultural learning curve when Mr. Madden relocated to Istanbul, Turkey to work as office director for Westphalian, a U.S.-based energy development firm focused on renewable energy projects in emerging markets. Mr. Madden initiates and develops projects across Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, navigating not only the map, but also varying political and cultural nuances.

How do you identify opportunities and get to know the business culture in a new market?

I live by a quote by U.S. business magnate T. Boone Pickens: “Fundamentals make the market.” Take a country like Kazakhstan that's growing and needs energy, or one like Turkey that imports 90 percent of its energy. The fundamentals are there; right away you know that the market is in need of energy.

Then I vet the local players. I look into who are the energy developers; who has the connections with decision-makers and the government; and who has the experience with engineering, procurement and construction (EPC).

“Now I go in casually and say, ‘Okay, this is the project we want to develop with you. But first, let's get to know each other and see if we can work together.’”

The third step is crucial: I fly there. I spend time there and really look at the market before moving forward with a project. I typically like to walk around and spend time in local cafés. I also take casual stock of their electric systems—if it's consistent or how developed electrical grid lines seem to be. A lot of people go to a country and they don't leave the hotel, or they're shuttled around in a car the whole time. So they're not really trying to understand what's going on from the ground up. I try to get a feel for local life.

Is there a condition in an emerging market that would prevent you from developing a project?

Political instability. When you're doing business in a country that's dealing with political crisis after political crisis, it can be very difficult.

One example is Egypt. We're very optimistic about Egypt as a market, but the country currently has political problems. I recently made the call to postpone a 100-megawatt solar project for an industrial facility in Sinai, Egypt. They were going through their constitutional vote and we didn't know who would be the new government ministers and stakeholders. You have to be able to do that—put things on hold. And while I've never had to say, “We're done with this market,” that button is always there for me to push. If I get the sense that the political situation is rapidly spiraling out of control, then I'll push it.

What challenges do you face working across various borders?

When you run into problems, they're more so on the cultural level, not on the bureaucratic one. That is, you're always going to run into regulatory issues. That's why bureaucrats exist, and you deal with it.

The potential for problems arises from dealing with the business culture and mentality. U.S. team members and stakeholders have a very can-do attitude. I don't mean to suggest we have it all figured out, but we tend to have a very optimistic, hands-on style of management.

When you deal with a peer project manager in Kazakhstan or Turkey, they tend to have more of an “I delegate” attitude. So you have to build a team consensus—the idea that everyone is in this, that we can get past all the hurdles and finish the project if we work together.


Small Talk

Best professional advice you've received?

I've never actually received good career advice. I've learned from my own failures.

The one skill every aspiring project manager should hone is___.

Patience. Things are never going to move at the pace you want them to move.

What's your dream travel destination?

Santiago, Chile. I really like the culture. It's very easy to do business there, and it's a beautiful country.

How do you build that consensus?

By building rapport. When I got to Turkey, I had lots of meetings where we would drink a lot of tea. At first I was getting really frustrated. I kept thinking, ‘Why are we having so many meetings? Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.’ Then I realized it was about establishing trust. The project team, sponsors and stakeholders want to know who you are. In many ways, you become part of the family—the corporate family.

So now that's my style. For example, if I'm going to work in Kazakhstan or Romania, I want to get to know whom I'm working with, whether it's government ministers or people on the EPC side, or both. I want to build a rapport with them.

How do you ensure tasks and responsibilities don't fall through the cracks?

Meetings with the entire project team are critical, but they can also morph into a collective waste of time. I try to limit project team meetings by holding one preliminary team meeting, in which I delegate everyone's roles and responsibilities and ensure that all team members understand their role and their teammates’ roles. And of course, that meeting also provides a forum to voice any concerns about the timeline and benchmarks I've set.

From that point, I schedule individual meetings with each project team member to outline what I expect from them—biweekly progress reports, EPC assessments, financial reviews, etc. Doing so also lets me gauge the workload I'm delegating to each team member.

Once we reach the project's halfway point, I hold another team meeting to review our progress. But again, if at all possible, I only like to have two or maybe three project team meetings over the course of a project. I think it's far more efficient to meet one-on-one. PM

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