When Cultures Collide
Jeffrey P. Shay
University of Montana
In early December 1994, Patrick Dowd, a 30-year-old management consultant, stared out his ofﬁce window at the snowy Ithaca, New York, landscape. Dowd reﬂected on his recent phone conversation with Jim Johnson, general manager of the 95-room West Indies Yacht Club Resort (WIYCR), located in the British Virgin Islands. Johnson sounded desperate to pull the resort out of its apparent tailspin and noted three primary areas of concern. First, expatriate manager turnover was beginning to become problematic. In the past 2 years, the resort had hired and then failed to retain three expatriate waterfront directors and three expatriate food and beverage directors. Second, although the resort had not initiated a formal guest feedback program, Johnson estimated that guest complaints had increased from 10 per week to more than 30 per week over the past 2 years. The complaints were usually given by guests to staff at the front desk, written down, and passed on to Johnson; usually, they were centered on the deteriorating level of service provided by local British Virgin Islands’ employees. Many repeat guests claimed, “The staff just doesn’t seem as motivated as it used to be.” Third, there appeared to be an increasing level of tension between expatriate and local staff members. In the past, expatriates and locals seemingly found it natural to work side by side; now a noticeable gap between these groups appeared to be growing.
Johnson had come to know Dowd and his reputation for being one of the few expatriate management consultants in the region who seemed to have a real grasp on what it took to manage effectively in the Caribbean. The two had become better acquainted in 1993 when the world-renowned sailing school that Dowd was working for, Tradewind Ventures, was contracted to develop new family-focused programs to be offered by the resort. Through this experience, Dowd gained in-depth knowledge of the resort. Dowd’s reputation and knowledge of the resort prompted Johnson’s call to see if Dowd would be interested in working as a participant
This case was prepared as a basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective management. All individuals and events are real but the name of the company and its managers and staff have been disguised at the request of the organization. The case beneﬁted from the suggestions of several anonymous reviewers from the Case Research Journal. The author also wishes to acknowledge the company’s management for their assistance in gathering data for the case. Copyright © 2001 by the Case Research Journal and Jeffrey P. Shay.
This document is authorized for use by Bharat Rawat, from 2/22/2013 to 5/1/2013, in the course: MBA BUS 712 - Sandulo (Spring 2013), Simon Fraser University. Any unauthorized use or reproduction of this document is strictly prohibited.
case research journal • volume 21 • issue 3 • summer 2001
observer at the resort to determine the underlying reasons behind his three major concerns. Johnson requested that Dowd work at the resort during three Christmas holiday weeks to observe resort staff during the peak season. Dowd would then present an analysis of his observations and make recommendations regarding what actions could be taken to improve the situation. Although Dowd had never provided consulting in this speciﬁc area (i.e., an analysis of the cultural inﬂuences on the behavior of workers in the Caribbean), he gladly accepted the challenge: It coincided with his personal experience in the region and recent courses on cross-cultural management that he had taken at Cornell University. Dowd moved over to his bookcase and pulled books, brochures, and other information off the shelf and began reading. He was departing for the British Virgin Islands in 1 week and wanted to get a head start on his background research.
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS’...