I'm chilling out in wintry Vienna this week, home to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and where boutique cafés can be found at almost every street corner.
There's probably nothing more Viennese than to sit in a cozy little café, tucked away in a small side street, sipping a warm cup of coffee as you watch the world go by.
Imagine my surprise then when I caught the first glimpse of a Starbucks icon here. As I strolled through the city center and shopping district this afternoon, I must have walked past at least five Starbucks outlets.
Why would something that so strongly represents a culture so far removed from the European city be found here? And while each local café in Vienna has its own unique character, there's nothing exclusive about an American icon that has come to symbolize the essence of commercialization.
It's almost an abomination, I thought to myself as I walked past the fifth Starbucks café. Surely the locals wouldn't dream of having their cuppa, or melange as they call it here, at the American franchise? But, surprisingly, every outlet was well patronized. Somehow, the Viennese have accepted a culture that would otherwise be deemed absolutely un-European.
And why not, some may ask. Franchise or not, ultimately, Starbucks is still really about providing the one thing that the Viennese love--coffee.
Their brewing methods may differ, and the coffee beans may even be from different continents. But, local or not, the cafés share one common singular objective to brew the best cup of caffeinated beverage for their customers.
It got me thinking about a lunch conversation with an industry contact some months back. Her MNC had acquired a company a year ago and some employees from the other firm were transferred to her office. She described how difficult it was to get along with some of her new colleagues because of the different working culture between the two companies, so much so that it was sometimes tough to get things done around the office.
It struck me then that corporate culture can indeed be a real business challenge in mergers and acquisitions. I had read, and written about it often enough, but it never really struck me as a tangible business problem.
When companies do decide to form a union, they must remember to address any disparity in corporate cultures just as they focus on ironing out technology overlaps and product integration. This will prove increasingly critical as the industry continues to consolidate in the current economic climate.
And just as the local cafés and Starbucks now co-exist to fuel the Viennese coffee-drinking culture, so too must employees from two merged companies learn to co-exist to better serve their customers.