Accent is intrinsic to a person's sense of self, akin to their religion or ethnicity (truly). Asking people to change their sense of self for you is a lot.
Imagine I said I couldn't relate to a business person because they were just too, say, Chinese and so I suggest they take lessons to act more Canadian to fit my liking. Yikes.
Then imagine I said that in an nationally syndicated magazine as a role model to young foreign-sounding entrepreneurs. Double yikes.
After criticizing you, I guess owe you a different perspective. The real question I suggest in a business context is "were my expectations met?" Did they clearly explain their idea? Build rapport? Answer my questions? Direct the conversation? Organize a plan? It doesn't matter how foreign they sounded if I got what I wanted.
Accents aren't really important. They vary wildly even in the United States. Is Steve Ballmer's heavy New England accent germane to his leadership's successes and failures? Or did Ross Perot's Texas accent matter when building EDS? Or Scott Thompson's Boston accent matter when turning around PayPal?
Conversely, it's easy to find successful tech CEOs with "strong foreign accents" such as Sridhar Vembu (ZOHO) or Rashmi Sinha (Slideshare) or Mikkel Svane (Zendesk) or Tobias Luetke (Shopify).
On the other hand, of course clarity does matter. Consider Todd Bradley who was passed over for German-accented Leo Apotheker as CEO because (reportedly) he mumbled during presentations (despite running a $41B division of HP)? cf. http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/05/08/500-hp-apotheker/
That's different. You can still be clearly understood with a strong foreign accent. cf. Gandhi. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yMcNubXqc4
I find it best when somebody has an accent that is enjoyable to listen to. I love a nice elegant German accent. Love listening to a good Indian English accent. But some people are struggling with the language and accent so much that it gets very distracting.
I worked a bit with a Pakistani guy and as much as I liked hanging out with him and talking, it was always a struggle for him when he had to stand up and present. It really blocked him. (actually I am guessing that he's also hard to understand in Urdu)
OTOH I know some Germans who have such a good American accent that its disconcerting. This is an uncanny valley effect. You spend a lot of time just listening to them and trying to spot any small errors. ("Yeah, we've been doing this since 4 years...")
If you took the time to learn English and you took the time to learn all the complexities of building a business (technical, legal, financial) and probably also learned how to pitch, use your hands, communicate, then you should take the time to fix an overly strong accent. Its not that hard.
This is a bit of a truism don't you think?
> You can still be clearly understood with a strong foreign accent. cf. Gandhi.
I hesitate to argue on behalf of someone as esteemed as pg, but surely he is using foreign accent to describe the cause of their communication deficiency, rather than painting persons with foreign accents as deficient.
"One quality that's a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent. I'm not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and can't if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you're going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven't gotten rid of their strong accent. I just know it's a strong pattern we've seen."
As I read it, unfortunately, there's nothing in this published interview that says a foreign-accented person failed to communicate or needed to repeat themselves to be understood.
It just says a "strong" foreign accent, with not clear definition of the subjective meaning of "strong".
Then, it goes astray, saying "subtle cues" could be what leads the person to business failure; presumably subtle cues that would be obvious to a native speaker. Further, not being idiomatic (i.e. not a native speaker). Thus, the conclusion is the deficiency is the foreignness, not a functional problem like elocution.
So, then I think it's pretty cutting to say people are "clueless if they haven't gotten rid of their strong accent" (emphasis mine). Since the strong accent is the foreignness, this read to me as saying Americanize which means change your identity.
I contend this is not the best way to make the point. Also, the wrong track since as we have discussed above to death the real problem is the elocution, leadership and business skills, not the foreignness per se.
However, do you think I read the interview (as published) incorrectly? I'm thinking about a cold reader, like a 21-year old woman in Tennessee who moved here with her parents when she was 12 from Sri Lanka thinking of the next big thing.