by Simon Black
The first time I met Steven Seagal, it was in the lobby of a posh hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.
He came downstairs sharply dressed, complete with his yellow-tinged ‘Tony Stark’ sunglasses, ready to hit the nightclubs for the evening.
My friend Adam introduced us. Steven bowed to me, and, slightly puzzled, I bowed back, unsure if we were saying hello or preparing to engage in ritualistic combat.
Fortunately it was the former, and Steven left shortly after for one night in Bangkok.
He was in town shooting a movie my friend Adam was producing. Adam has a really wonderful business, as a matter of fact.
His production company is based in Thailand where EVERYTHING is cheaper. So they’re able to produce films for a fraction of the cost of a western production budget.
But at the same time, his Thai crews are highly talented– sound engineers, camera operators, makeup artists… they’re excellent. So Adam’s company is able to achieve excellent production quality but pay almost nothing for it.
I went to their set last week when I was in Thailand; they had taken over one of Bangkok’s most prominent train stations to shoot a few scenes with a well-known Western actor, and I found the professionalism of the crew to be extremely impressive.
It’s not difficult for Adam to enlist Hollywood stars to come to Thailand for a few weeks of shooting. People generally adore Thailand and relish any opportunity to spend time in the country.
But perhaps best of all, he’s one of just a handful of companies doing this.
If he were in Hollywood, he’d be competing against countless other production companies, paying exorbitant prices for everything, and constantly battling with unions.
But in Thailand he’s an industry leader with a great business model; as an example, Adam explained to me on the set last week that the movie had been pre-sold to a major international distributor.
In other words, there was already a built-in profit before they had even started production.
This is a pretty big departure from most films, which dump enormous amounts of money into production with no guarantee of commercial success at the box office.
So my friend has carved out a pretty great niche for himself.
And to me, his story is a great example of some of the many benefits of going abroad.
Being overseas often unlocks some very rich, wonderful experiences you’d never enjoy otherwise– different cultures, language proficiency, lower cost of living, etc.
But from a business perspective, being abroad can often lead to much greater commercial success, much faster, and with less risk.
I would include myself in that category; the agriculture business I founded here in Chile a few years ago has already grown to become one of the top producers in the world in its industry.
And there’s just no way I would have been able to achieve the same thing had I started the company in North America or Europe.
My colleagues in the United States who are in the same industry pay 10x to 50x more for an acre of land in California or Washington State than what we paid down here in Chile.
Their labor costs are easily 10x higher. Their regulatory burden is insane.
And yet, because we sell a product with a global market, we generate the same amount of revenue in Chile as they do in the United States.
This means that our start-up costs are lower, our risk is lower, and our long-term profitability is much higher.
The same lesson applies to investing– which is something you can take advantage of without ever leaving your living room.
While most western markets are teetering on all-time highs with investors paying near-record multiples for every dollar of a company’s average long-term earnings, there are overlooked pockets of value all over the world where patient investors can buy shares of high quality companies at major discounts.
Even something as mundane as banking can often be better, safer, and more profitable overseas.
Depositors in Europe and the United States, for example, suffer from pitifully low interest rates in their bank accounts (which in some cases are even NEGATIVE).
Yet there are some banking systems overseas that are extremely well capitalized, liquid, guaranteed by a solvent, cash-rich government or insurance fund… and pay interest rates in the mid to high single digits.
However few people ever consider the prospect of doing business, banking, or investing abroad.
That’s because– especially in North America and Europe– people often grow up with a certain sense of exceptionalism.
It’s almost a prized cultural value in the West for people to believe that their country is the best at everything… so they deliberately close themselves off to any opportunity beyond their own borders.
This might be a nice idea when it comes to sports. Everyone wants to cheer for their home country’s national team.
But this type of thinking has no place in business or finance.
The world is a big place, and there are a LOT of options out there.
Think about where you live right now– most likely you didn’t end up there by accident.
You probably carefully considered a number of different housing options, even different cities, balancing job prospects, the local school system, proximity to other family members, etc. before finally deciding on where you would settle and raise your family.
You can go through the same analysis when it comes to your business, your savings, and your investments: when you weigh all the different factors, where is the BEST place for them to call home?
If you open your mind to the entire world, the answer just might surprise you.