The audience is leaving the conference room where they attended a panel discussion on how to do business in the United States.
Most of the people in the audience are European entrepreneurs and business owners of small and medium enterprises. They all want to start doing business in the world’s biggest economy.
I’m staying behind to see if I can have a word with Tom Thorelli, one of the speakers.
Tom is owner and partner of a law firm based in Chicago. He is based in Paris, because almost all his clients are small to medium size European companies doing business in the United States. He helps them minimize their exposure to legal risk while doing business in the U.S.
“Sure I have some time to talk,” Tom replies, “shoot.”
“Definitely,” Tom starts off, “being born from American-Swedish parents, living and working in Paris made me understand European business culture. Combining this with my American background, it was almost a no-brainer to decide to create my firm helping European companies to set up business across the Atlantic.”
“I started with companies in Sweden and France, and then other parts of Europe followed through the years.”
“What would you say is one of the main aspects to take into consideration when setting up business in the U.S.?” I ask.
“Anticipation,” Tom answers.
“I like when lawyers are to the point,” I think to myself, hoping Tom will elaborate on his answer.
“Anticipation,” Tom repeats, “because what’s important is being able to anticipate legal issues in the U.S. and take action in a preventive manner in order to minimize the risk of those issues becoming a problem.”
“Protecting Intellectual Property… registering trademarks… preparing the first draft of distribution contracts,” Tom says, while counting on his fingers.
“It takes a lot to get a company off the ground to compete in the majors,” Tom says with a smile. “For a European company to become successful in the U.S. in the long term, it needs to have its feet on the ground, and have people working for them full-time. This applies whether they are people coming over from the European company, or Americans with the right profile.”
“Judging the current political climate, will it become more difficult to start a business in the U.S. in the coming few years?” I ask.
“In the U.S., business is business and politics is politics,” Tom says.
“Generally, politics does not have a lot of impact on the ways in which a company runs its business. So probably there won’t be big changes.”
“However, one impact — the current administration wants foreign companies to be physically present in the U.S., instead of just shipping products there. That might have an impact on the timing when foreign companies decide to set up ‘shop’ in the U.S.”
“Do you see many entrepreneurs who set up business in the US, also set up business in other countries?” I ask.
“Thirty years ago, the United States was interesting for business from a European perspective, but it was mostly a secondary market.”
“For Sweden for example, Germany was the number one market, and that was similar for other European countries.
“But that has changed.”
“Today, the U.S. has bypassed Germany in the eyes of many European companies.”
Tom pauses and says, “If they don’t have a sufficient budget… or if they don’t have the time to do the follow up and make the business a success, I caution them on entering the U.S..”
“Then… well, it’s going to be very hard.”
“So in short, if you don’t make the U.S. a primary market for your products, then it’s better to stay away. It will save you time, money and a lot of energy.”
“But if you are prepared to invest time and money — if you have a niche product or service and can find the right partners — then the U.S. can be a great market for you.“
“To close, what valuable tip would you like to share with us?”
“You’ve got to be prepared to spend money and time to hold the course for the long term. Go big, or stay home!”
One of the speakers is Tom Thorelli, who has been active as a lawyer for over 30 years and has helped many European companies minimize their legal risk when setting up their business in the United States.
I enter the conference room and see Tom talk to people from the U.S. Embassy. Tom is tall and lean, and he’s wearing a dark suit. He listens attentively and, when he speaks, he speaks using his hands. “There must be some Italian influence here,” I think to myself.
“What is very important to understand, is if you want to do business in the U.S… it’s Go Big, or Stay Home. You have got to be determined to be successful.”
“In the U.S. a contract is not a piece of paper that maybe gets looked at in the future. If there is any kind of a problem… the first thing an American will do, is go through the contract. The contract means everything!”
“The conclusion is, get a lawyer before you start doing business in the United States.”
“We recommend setting up a company in the U.S. — sooner rather than later — and opening an American bank account. Americans like to do business with American companies and pay to American bank accounts.”
Tom finishes his presentation sharing advice, tips and tricks of doing business in the U.S.
“Interesting stuff,” I think to myself. Let’s see if I can ask him some specific questions on the way out.