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International expansion for young and fast-growing companies is a tricky proposition for a variety of reasons. Uncertainty surrounding revenue, profitability and market position can lead to conflicting priorities between management and board members. Furthermore, responsibility for managing rapid growth is rarely evenly distributed within an organization, and certain teams such as HR, finance and legal may be understaffed and overwhelmed by the administrative burdens associated with international expansion. Regardless of company size or profile, an organization generally decides to expand its international footprint for one or more of the four following reasons.

Forbes Magazine

“Don’t assume things work like in the U.S. and don’t take anything for granted.” - Larry Harding

That clear-eyed bit of advice came from a CEO at a consumer goods company, in response to a survey we conducted on the topic of global expansion. The survey, done in partnership with CFO Research, asked senior executives at small- and mid-sized businesses about the opportunities and challenges of opening overseas offices. Nearly 90% of the respondents were already operating overseas (the rest were considering expansion), and nearly two-thirds (65%) expected to be increasing their global footprint within a year of taking the survey.

Your firm doesn’t have to be sending people to work on deep-water oil rigs or in terrorist hot-spots to expose itself to legal and ethical risks when expanding overseas. In fact, you're more likely to find yourself dealing with more mundane threats, like food poisoning. Events like these serve as the most potent reminders of an international business’s duty of care to the employees it sends overseas.