Priscila Montana was only a child when she and her family left Buenos Aires and moved to the United States. But the awkwardness she felt at the time and her struggle to fit in are experiences that have never left her. Now, as founder and CEO of Cultural Awareness International Inc., Montana makes it easier for others who are making an international transition—and for companies entering new global markets. Launched 21 years ago, Dallas-based CAI provides destination services and intercultural training. This may mean everything from helping U.S. executives prepare for a meeting with clients in China to coaching on simple international differences, like what it takes to get a driver’s license in Germany.
“My idea was to develop a very specialized, high-end, hands-on cross-cultural training company for expatriates going abroad, or for businesspeople who needed to know how to cross borders successfully,” Montana says.
After living with her family in both America and Europe for a number of years, Montana became a U.S. citizen a few years after graduating from Boston University. She earned a masters degree in counseling and education from the University of North Texas, then developed the concept of CAI. She felt there would be a demand for international assimilation consulting, due to the growing number of corporations that were going global. And she was right.
CAI now has 12 multilingual employees and more than 250 global affiliates and partners. The company operates or has clients in most countries around the world, with a focus on India, China, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
But there has been demand for the company’s services stateside, too. For example, when Dr Pepper Snapple Group relocated its R&D center from Connecticut to Plano in 2008, CAI helped arrange orientation visits that included the typical tours of schools and neighborhoods, as well as experiences that were tailored to employees’ special interests, such as a visit to a model airplane club in McKinney.
“It is this type of detail that makes CAI such a great partner,” says Ivan Thompson, vice president of human resources at Dr Pepper Snapple.
The beverage company retained more than 50 percent of the talent in its relocating R&D team, well above the typical 15 percent retention rate, Thompson says.
Despite her hectic schedule, Montana says she finds her work very rewarding. “Nothing gives me greater pleasure than witnessing the value that we are able to bring to people struggling to work effectively in the global marketplace,” she says.