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Cuba: A Realistic Strategy

Aug. 5, 2015
As the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba begins after nearly 55 years of near isolation, former IW senior editor John McClenahen outlines a strategy for achieving significant bilateral trade and investment.

First, let’s start with what Cuba is not. Cuba is not Russia, China, or the Soviet Union of 40 years ago. Cuba is not Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Cuba is not Vietnam. Cuba is not North Korea.

Second, 2015 is not 1961. The world of 2015 is dramatically different economically, politically, and socially. For better or worse—and I believe for the better—information technology continues to accelerate the exchange of data, enables a whole world to watch as events unfold, and makes possible the sharing of values, if not their mutual acceptance.

Third, the future of Cuba is not predestined, economically, politically, or socially.

How then for American manufacturers to approach Cuba in the context of difference and uncertainty? The practical, if somewhat ironic answer, is by following some tried and true principles, principles that involve asking several basic questions.

First, how does Cuba fit into your strategic business objectives? If Cuba is going to be your company’s “market of the month” don’t bother with it. You’ll waste time and a lot of money.

Second, how well do you and your company understand Cuba’s history and culture—and how willing are you to adapt to its particular preferences now and in the future?

Third, do you envision Cuba as a stand-alone market—or do you see it, now or in the future, as an integral part of a Caribbean, Latin American, or global business presence?

Fourth, from what you already know about Cuba as a marketplace, are any of your existing products and associated services likely to appeal to Cuban customers?

Fifth, if necessary are you willing to adapt or create products and services to respond to the demands of Cuban markets?

Sixth, go back to the first question and ask these questions: Can our company afford to provide products and services in the long term? If not now, perhaps in the future? By export from the United States or a Caribbean country? In a joint venture with a Cuban company? Only through a 100%-owned investment?

These questions may sound premature. They are not. Granted, within government and among manufacturers terms of economic and financial normalization have yet to be written, absorbed, and perhaps re-written. The process will take time—perhaps more than some manufacturing executives would like. However, company executives and managers willing to start asking critical strategic questions now—and asking them again and again as circumstances change—will find time to be on their side.

This is another of a series of occasional essays by John S. McClenahen, an award-winning writer who for four decades covered international economics, public policy, and management principles for IndustryWeek and who retired as a senior editor in 2006.

About the Author

John McClenahen | Former Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

 John S. McClenahen, is an occasional essayist on the Web site of IndustryWeek, the executive management publication from which he retired in 2006. He began his journalism career as a broadcast journalist at Westinghouse Broadcasting’s KYW in Cleveland, Ohio. In May 1967, he joined Penton Media Inc. in Cleveland and in September 1967 was transferred to Washington, DC, the base from which for nearly 40 years he wrote primarily about national and international economics and politics, and corporate social responsibility.
      McClenahen, a native of Ohio now residing in Maryland, is an award-winning writer and photographer. He is the author of three books of poetry, most recently An Unexpected Poet (2013), and several books of photographs, including Black, White, and Shades of Grey (2014). He also is the author of a children’s book, Henry at His Beach (2014).
      His photograph “Provincetown: Fog Rising 2004” was selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2011 juried exhibition Artists at Work and displayed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June until October 2011. Five of his photographs are in the collection of St. Lawrence University and displayed on campus in Canton, New York.
      John McClenahen’s essay “Incorporating America: Whitman in Context” was designated one of the five best works published in The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies during the twelve-year editorship of R. Barry Leavis of Rollins College. John McClenahen’s several journalism prizes include the coveted Jesse H. Neal Award. He also is the author of the commemorative poem “Upon 50 Years,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Wolfson College Cambridge, and appearing in “The Wolfson Review.”
      John McClenahen received a B.A. (English with a minor in government) from St. Lawrence University, an M.A., (English) from Western Reserve University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where he also pursued doctoral studies. At St. Lawrence University, he was elected to academic honor societies in English and government and to Omicron Delta Kappa, the University’s highest undergraduate honor. John McClenahen was a participant in the 32nd Annual Wharton Seminars for Journalists at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During the Easter Term of the 1986 academic year, John McClenahen was the first American to hold a prestigious Press Fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
      John McClenahen has served on the Editorial Board of Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and was co-founder and first editor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown. He has been a volunteer researcher on the William Steinway Diary Project at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has been an assistant professorial lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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