Q&A: Helping small business expand locally and globally

If you ask Brent Rondon why Pittsburgh is on the world map, he’ll tell you it’s because of the Marcellus Shale.

“When you go overseas and they learn you are from Pittsburgh, they will come to you and only ask you about the Marcellus Shale gas,” he said. “It's a big area for us.” 

Mr. Rondon, 52, is the manager of global business programs at the Small Business Development Center at Duquesne University, where he helps small businesses in southwestern Pennsylvania with international business development, export promotion and global trading. Some of the businesses he has been working with are in the oil and gas industry.

Shale gas continues to be a topic of discussion in the international marketplace. Countries such as China have expressed an interest in fracking technology. Earlier this month, the Mexican Senate expanded its oil and gas sector by approving foreign oil and gas exploration. 

Mr. Rondon said that decision could be a big opportunity for oil and gas companies not only in Pittsburgh, but also across the nation.

“There's some ties already with Mexico that we can take advantage of,” he said. “We have a Pennsylvania business office [Center for Trade Development] in Mexico City, so that guy is always available to help our small, mid-size companies do business in Mexico. 

”That market, I think, is going to be growing big. We have to be ready to answer that call when they come.”

Mr. Rondon moved to the states from Peru when he was 27 to study English at a community college in Harrisburg. Growing up in Peru has helped him understand the differences between the way developed countries, such as the U.S., and developing countries, such as Mexico, do business. Developing countries still rely on personal contacts as opposed to developed countries that use more of an institutional approach, he said. 

“It is not the same to do business in the U.S. versus doing business internationally,” he said in an e-mail. “There are many differences in the areas of societies, legal environment, government structures, type of industries, education levels, metric system, currencies, regulations and cultural issues among many others.”

Mr. Rondon got his master’s degree from the Graduate School of Public International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh in 1995. After that he worked as a researcher for the university’s Center of Latin American studies. He also spent six years as the president of the Latin American Cultural Union, a nonprofit organization created to bridge gaps and enrich the Latin American culture in Pittsburgh.

Q: What are some of the things entrepreneurs that want to start oil and gas businesses should know?

A: In any market, in any business environment, you will find gaps. You have to learn about the industry before you find the gaps. Finding the gaps is the secret of business. Once you find the gap, you fill that gap, you create a niche, and then that’s it. You are the king or queen of that niche. But that only comes after you experience the industry. Those who are new, who want to start something, I would say maybe work for somebody in the industry, learn about it, and then start seeing or talk to people about the gaps.

Q: What is one thing you wished you knew when you first came to the states?

A: I think to learn. Not only to learn the new concepts but to really understand and take it seriously. You have to really understand that you are no longer living in your country, you’re living in a different society, and it has consequences. They always talk about “English language, oh, the English language”… it’s not just the English language. It’s more the type of society you’re getting into. The legal issues, financial issues, the independent versus dependent concepts … it’s powerful. It’s a big learning curve.

Now, in this position, I really try to help the newcomers. You have to change hats completely and understand what you’re getting into. It takes a while for them to understand that.

Q: Do you consider the glass of water half full or half empty and why?

A: Always half full. Life in general is full of possibilities, full of energy, full of opportunities. I came from a developing country where I would say 80 percent is a poor population. You could see right there with your eyes this poverty and how people make it and how people focus on more simple things to survive. They found happiness in sharing, placing value in other things that aren't necessarily material things. I see now life is full because of that.

Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1269. Twitter: @PG_Czebiniak

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