I have worked all over the world. One of the best things about this has been the perspective to experience the quirks and differences in doing business in different cities, regions and countries. Working in New York vs. Boston is entirely different, let alone Paris (France, not Texas) vs. Nashville.
One of my many, many flaws is that I always forget a new city will work differently until I make my first big faux pas. For example, I wish I'd had the foresight to ask how to build trust and comraderie in France - or increased my liver capacity before working in the U.K.
We moved to Nashville for personal reasons: sunshine, a thriving athletics scene, and the food - oh the food! However, there were business reasons too, which many of my Northeast and European friends hadn't understood. In fact, they thought we were a little crazy. But you should know: Nashville is, in fact, becoming a destination for corporations and entrepreneurs alike. Multi-national companies like HCA, Dell, and UBS have headquarters or major hubs here.
In addition, Mayor Megan Barry (female mayor - hooray!) has been creating jobs and departments to make Tennessee more attractive to start-ups and small businesses. In the past seven years the Nashville region has added 170,000 jobs (>20% growth), now putting it in the top ten U.S. metro areas.
With all this change happening in my own life and in my new city, I took a different approach than I had in the past. I dove headfirst into the city, but I shifted my mindset to allow me to learn about my new surroundings and the people in it. I embarked to answer the question: How does Nashville work? The city, its people, and its business environment?
I've been surprised that only four months in, I can identify characteristics of doing business in this city that feel quite distinct from other places I've lived and worked.
Here are three things I've learned about working in Nashville, if you'd like to know...
1. The city has the resources, intelligence, and aptitude of a big city but operates like a small town. Just one month into my time here, I couldn't believe how transparent the networks were. I felt like I could look across the city and see the invisible lines of people's and businesses' connections. On top of that, the city physically felt small. I'd run into people I'd met just once or twice all over town. Just last week, a new connection warned me, "Be careful who you sleep with here - figuratively and literally."
Networks are important everywhere, but being connected to people is the surefire way to get things done and meet others here - in a different way than the Northeast or foreign cities in which I've worked. (My friend Trish's advice for meeting people has been a lifesaver; I have totally embraced my weird self).
2. God is an important part of people's lives and professions. Before we moved, we were warned by a local that acquaintances' opening question would be, "Which church do you attend?" While I haven't had this experience while living in the "hipster" arrondisement, I can see where he was coming from.
What has shocked me though- is how often people openly refer back to a business idea that God inspired in them; religious books that help them persevere in their work; and a couple people I've worked with have even graciously said to me, "I feel like God put you in my life right now."
Although you're more likely to find me on my meditation pouf than in church, I really enjoy the idea that there's something out there intervening in our lives (including business). I find it sweet, reassuring, and fascinating.
3. Lastly, people are huggers! If you're coming in for an embrace, and I look like a deer in headlights, it's not you, it's me.
I've observed that done properly, here's what a business interaction in Nashville should look like:
Opening of meeting #1: handshake.
Closing of (successful) meeting #1: hug.
Instead, if you're watching me, I say goodbye to my new acquaintance and stick my hand out for a closing shake. Then, the other person takes a half step back, opens his / her arms just wider than body width with a little shrug and proclaims, "I'm a hugger!"
Clearly, I still have a long way to go before declaring myself a Southerner. But I'm working on it!
What else have you noticed about doing business Nashville? Educate me, please!
Image from Nashville Guru