What Does 'Immigrant Mentality' Really Mean?
Immigrant mentality, once a negative term, has been reclaimed by Cuban-American business entrepreneur Glenn Llopis to describe the unique perspective and qualities that those from immigrant backgrounds bring to the world of business.
Llopis argues that the key psychological differences that those from immigrant demonstrate in their attitudes to both life and work underpin their natural aptitude for success. Furthermore, Llopis argues, anybody can learn and implement these traits. Llopis identifies six key behaviours that those from an immigrant background are likely to embody. He argues that these traits are developed in childhood and remain part of the individual's make-up throughout life.
Arguably the US itself, along with many other continental American countries, has been built by immigrants. The diversity of cultures across both North and South America are thanks to a long history of immigration and integration. Immigrant mentality is partly the basis of the “American Dream” and, as such, is a key ingredient for success.
In terms of business success, Llopis backs up his argument with some impressive statistics, including the 2011 study by the Partnership for New American Economy which demonstrated that 76 percent of patents were issued to companies with at least one non-US born investor. With an increasingly global marketplace, and workforce, Llopis argues that the best strategy for success in the 21st century is the “immigrant mindset”. So what, exactly, are those core traits?
Wired for Opportunity
Immigrants have no choice, when arriving in a new country, to search for opportunities in every direction. In many cases it's much harder as an immigrant to move seamlessly into a career of choice. According to Llopis this fosters a unique ability to see opportunities where others may not, a theory backed up by the example of eBay's founder Pierre Morad Omidyar. Omidyar was born in France to parents of Iranian origin giving him a “double-immigrant” background. He originally worked for an Apple subsidiary but developed the concept of eBay in his spare time. On an early version of the site, “Auction Web”, it was the sale of a broken Laser Pointer that demonstrated to Omidyar that there was a market for just about anything – and he pursued the opportunity with historic results.
Stay on Your Toes
Many people, though not all, from immigrant families have experienced sudden change and crisis in their home countries. Llopis argues that this fosters a keen sense of being able to predict change and react accordingly. Immigrant mentality in this sense is all about the ability to manage developing crises in their earliest stages. As Indra Noori, CEO of PepsiCo put it in a 2011 interview for Business Insider “I have an immigrant mentality, which is that the job can be taken away at any time, so make sure you earn it every day”. Using this principle to manage business on a day to day level can allow you to stay one step ahead of the competition and compliments the first trait identified by Llopis.
Passion and Potential Unleashed
Passion is an essential ingredient in success and is a personality trait that is wired into the immigrant mentality. Perhaps behind this passion is the urgent need to survive is a passion to survive. Starting with “nothing” is a common experience for immigrants and in this case “nothing” can even include a lack of communication skills, in terms of language. Take the example of Christian Gheorghe who arrived in the US at the tender age of 23. In his home country he'd studied engineering but in his spare time indulged his passion for computing and electronics. On arrival in the US the first employment he could find was working as an unskilled labourer on a construction site while working in his spare time as a Limo driver. Still passionate about computing, his first break came when talking to one of his Limo passengers, who urgently needed a programmer. A long story follows but Gheorghe never strayed far from his passion for computing and by 2010 was a Silicon Valley CEO. For many immigrants, the spur to move to a new country is the opportunity it can afford to follow their passion. For those who do so, success is most often the result.
Entrepreneurial at Heart
One of the core qualities of the successful individual has to be the entrepreneurial attitude. This is naturally fostered by the experience of the immigrant. For those uprooted (either by force or voluntarily) from their homeland an early need to survive creates a character willing and able to build relationships quickly, advance money-making opportunities and build links and partnerships. For most immigrant families lacking these skills would lead to failure and for those from immigrant backgrounds these traits are instilled from an early age. Knowing how to sell (if only yourself) and continuously needing to reinvent yourself are skills that many business people need to learn early in their careers. Those with immigrant backgrounds tend to have these skills naturally, giving them a serious edge in both life and business. An excellent example is Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. Brin's early childhood as a Jew in Soviet Russia and his family's subsequent move to the US taught him at the start of his life how to deal with alienation, seize opportunities and adapt himself to rapidly changing circumstances – and left the rest of us with a new verb.
There is a strong tradition, or belief, in many Western cultures that in business it's everyone for themselves. One noticeable characteristic about successful individuals from immigrant backgrounds is that they often take a very different angle on life. Immigrant families and cultural groups often succeed through collaboration and by putting the needs of those around them first. Collaborative partnerships or “win-win” negotiating have become key business buzzwords in recent years but they embody values that those from immigrant backgrounds seem to have intrinsically built into their character. Omidyar, mentioned above, and his wife Pamela have stated that they intend to give all but one per cent of their fortune to charity in the next 20 years, while IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad targeted child labour exploitation long before social responsibility became fashionable (or a necessity) for any company.
Forget a “profit today” mentality; another key characteristic of many successful immigrant entrepreneurs is the family element to their business and success. Family businesses, in general, demonstrate a core principle of building lasting success and this may be down to their natural need for long term strategies. Today, approximately one third of firms on the Fortune 500 list are family-run companies and have been established for several generations. For lasting success, Llopis argues adopting the principles of the family run business is the sure fire recipe for success.