It’s just been reported that a US maintenance crew made a hash of repairing a nuke.

It’s been a tough week for our chums across the pond. As well as bodging the nuke job, they also lost one of their top of the range, laser-guided anti-tank missiles. They sent it back from Spain on an Air France jet, but instead of Florida, it ended up in Cuba. Serves them right for trying to save on the postage.

You wouldn’t want to be sat near that fella in first class.

Mind you, it would be more interesting than some of the people I’ve met. Take James, our friend trying to bring the e-cigar industry to Cuba. As much business vision as a packet of pretzels and the personality to match.

Many businesses fail long before they start. But it’s not the lack of investment, ideas or potential that mean they come a cropper.

No, it’s the mindset of the people in charge. What works in one environment might be totally inappropriate in another. Cuba is a perfect example. Piling in with an arrogant belief in your business model without attempting to understand the local context is a recipe for disaster.

Just ask Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian. He and two colleagues were held for three years in Cuba having been convicted for corruption. Of course, he denied the charges of sweetening deals with holidays, TVs and casino chips for a Cuban delegation to Niagara Falls.

Look folks, I don’t know the guy. But words sometime speak very very loudly.  So when he says “If there’s a traffic light that’s red, everybody passes. Now that I am passing you say, hold on a second, you can’t do that” it tells me two things:

One, anyone who believes that ‘the crime is getting caught’ doesn’t deserve to be in business. You’re gambling with peoples’ livelihoods and giving all proper businessmen a bad name.

Two, he didn’t understand Cubans are a savvy, proud and wise people who don’t like being taken for fools.

If you don’t have access to meaningful data to develop a feel for the nuances and subtleties of working in Cuba my advice is get out, before you lose everything.

Money, liberty and reputation. Everything.

Nowhere is it more important to work alongside the people; to shape the business environment and create value in Cuban terms.  Understand-Invest-Grow-Generate-repeat. That’s the way to tap into Cuba’s potential right now. Encouraging scale will lead to more inward investment for the benefit of Cubans and stakeholders alike.

I’m not the only one saying this. Business leaders around the globe are taking Cuba seriously (sorry, James, I’m not including you). Cuba and America are working on improving the telecoms and internet infrastructure for “economic and social development” and we learned only yesterday that fibre optic home broadband is coming to Cuba at last thanks to the Chinese.

In other words, there’s a great big business opportunity wearing a Cuban heel for anyone thoughtful and creative enough to have a go.

But it all starts with understanding what’s in front of you. And if what’s in front of you is a nuke – you better bloody well understand what you’re doing!


Written by David Lenigas