Manoli Savvenas, left, and Valerie Savvenas, talk with customer Frank Shinn about repairing a broken necklace at Manoli's Jewelers. Manoli Savvenas says conducting business in the Ozarks is more fruitful than in his native Greece.
Karen E. Culp
For jeweler Manoli Savvenas, running a business in the United States is much easier than in his native Greece.
“Here, if you work just as hard, you can become more economically free,” said Savvenas, who with his wife Valerie owns Manoli’s Jewelers, 2700 S. Glenstone Ave.
In Greece, lack of economic and political stability meant “everyone was worried about tomorrow,” he said. People were afraid to spend too much, because the government leadership could change radically and affect their financial situation.
“There was always worry about revolution or that the regime was going to change,” he said.
In business locally for more than 33 years, Savvenas calls himself a “Greek hillbilly” and considers the area his adopted home.
While Savvenas found the Ozarks business climate an improvement compared to his home country, there can be challenges for businesspeople who come here from abroad.
Yolanda Lorge, president of GrupoLatinoamericano, a Springfield-based Latin American resource group, said the United States’ more stringent rules are often the biggest challenge for business owners relocating from Mexico, Central America or another part of Latin America is the United States’ regulatory environment, Lorge said.
“There are so many regulations,” she said. “In their country, they have some, but not that many.”
Having to keep up with various taxes, hire an accountant or attorney and other professionals sometimes proves to be more difficult than this group of entrepreneurs expected.
“Many of them, they didn’t go to business school,” she said.
Like all entrepreneurs, international transplants face concerns such as controlling expenses, hiring the right people and knowing how to manage them.
“Just knowing the trade and having some savings is not enough,” Lorge said, noting that often, business owners need more savings than anticipated and must develop some management skills.
Then, there are potential communication barriers, as some business owners who are relatively new to the U.S. may not yet be fluent in English. Even if they know conversational English well, business English is a whole other matter, Lorge said.
And sometimes, there are market misperceptions.
“A couple in Carthage opened a grocery store, and they filled it with products from Mexico,” Lorge said. “Then they wondered why business was so slow. Well, most of the Hispanics in Carthage come from Guatemala and El Salvador. Don’t just assume that everyone is going to be Mexican.”
For Tai Li, an independent architectural consultant originally from China and now working in Springfield, key differences are in the business structure and the decision-making process. He describes the U.S. as having a mature business structure in which several executives at the top of an organization may be involved in the decision-making process. But he said that’s not how it works in China.
“The power concentration is with one person at the top, and everybody follows the boss,” Li said. “The decision-maker is one person, and everyone else is not involved in the decision.”
If that decision-maker does not approve the plan for a building or other structure, then that decision stands, while in the U.S., there would likely be more compromise.
“Over there, they work from the top down,” said Li, an international project consultant for Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc. and Asia sales representative for Tracker Marine Group/Bass Pro.
Li, who has been in the U.S. for 16 years, said he prefers the U.S. mode of business but adds that China’s business community is still developing, as is the business infrastructure. As a result, things may move much more quickly in China.
“In the United States, they have already figured out a way to do business and everybody pretty much follows that,” Li said. “In China, because they are still building the infrastructure, there is more an attitude of ‘Let’s try it.’”
No matter the differences in business practices, both Li and Savvenas say the local business community has been receptive to them, and they enjoy life here in the Ozarks.
“They are wonderful,” Savvenas said of his Ozarks customers. “When I came here, they welcomed me with open arms.”[[In-content Ad]]