Archive for April, 2008


volunteer overseas

Monday 28 April, 2008

Continuing on the living/working abroad theme, I read this article by Barbara Rose of the Chicago Tribune, Firms find value in volunteering The thrust of the article is that there is value for the firm as well as the employee to send employees to developing countries for volunteer assignments. I wholeheartedly endorse most opportunities for Americans to pursue the chance to live & work abroad, paid or not. I think what’s interesting is that most of the gains for the employees are in soft skills, yet still substantial. There are ways to further this. Now it’s just big global firms that put together these programs, but big firms are taking increasingly less of the workforce, so smaller firms need to get on board as well. I don’t know how these firms prepared their employees for these experiences-I hope they just didn’t throw them out there, but wouldn’t be surprised if they did. These are great, but in some ways are still quite superficial. They only last for a few months, so you really can’t dig in, learn a language & a culture, & be able to make a long-term difference in either your country or theirs. Maybe they are able to keep in touch afterwards, but it’s still not the same as working there side-by-side. I’m sure it improves employees management skills wherever they go, but it would be better if they were able to apply what they’ve learned about these far-flung businesses & help them grow over a longer period rather than just parachuting in, & then out a couple of months later. The most interesting part about living & working abroad is getting into the heads of the people in the country you visit, learn their values & decision-making, & how they really are different from here. Only then can you really bridge the gap to understanding both sides. These programs also send relatively few people outside the U.S., so they should be expanded so that more companies can be helped & more employees can experience working with businesses in other cultures.


get ahead by going abroad

Wednesday 23 April, 2008

C. Perry Yeatman was featured @ this Chicago Council on Global Affairs event because she wrote a book of the same name. The subtitle of the book is “A woman’s guide to fast-track career success,” but Perry conceded that 70% of the book applies to men as well. For the record, I’m a huge advocate of Americans working abroad. I don’t think there are enough of these opportunities available & I’m continually disappointed @ the small numbers of people who seem to be interested in working abroad. I lived & worked in Germany for 2+ years, 6+ months in Poland, & 6+ months in Sweden. Each was a tremendous learning experience for me & benefited me unmeasurably in my career. Now that I understand you can be successful in ways that are not necessarily American, it opens up many whole new ways of thinking. Here are a few tidbits from Perry’s talk I don’t think you’ll find in her book:

-In Russia, she had to work with her laptop computer literally on her laptop, because they simply didn’t have tables & chairs, & this was for a big American firm

-with free labor mobility in the EU, Europeans are far ahead of Americans in understanding other cultures

-relatively larger American women may have difficulties in Asia where women are typically smaller, which spins out in many cultural differences

-Perry mentioned that most HR departments assume no Americans are interested in working abroad, which I find hard to believe

The only criticisms I have of her book are

-most of the interviewees are women employed by big American firms. There are great learning opportunities in working for foreign firms as well & these cases didn’t seem to be well-represented

-She didn’t mention that most opportunities seem to be with large firms as opposed to small

-She minimized the role of governments in stoutly protecting local jobs by making the process of obtaining & maintaining residence & work permits burdensomely difficult.

Finally, we differ on the importance of language skills. She mentions “There is no real consensus over the importance of possessing language skills of the country to which you’re going”-I disagree. I don’t know if there’s data which supports any consensus, but I believe if you work in a country which speaks a language other than your own, it’s incumbent on you to learn the local language & accommodate them rather than they accommodate you by speaking your language. “If the market you’re going to accommodates English speakers-like most of Europe & Asia…” -many Europeans speak superficial English they learned in elementary school to help out tourists, etc., but many with whom I worked were not comfortable speaking English on a regular basis @ work …”chances are most important transactions will be done through translators, so at a minimum, you can get by.”-She assumes you’re working @ a high level for an American firm, which is not necessarily the case for some ex-pats. Few companies are going to support the use of translators on an ongoing basis to support foreigners who don’t speak the local language. The purpose should never be to get by. If you go anywhere to work & aspire to just get by, don’t embarrass yourself & just stay home. Perry & I discussed this generally a bit & we both agreed that there are different language requirements, depending on your level in the organization, i.e., if you are managing multiple countries, it’s more reasonable to use English as a common language as a common denominator rather than be required to learn multiple languages for the countries you manage. However if you’re in the trenches working with locals, it’s much more important to learn the local language. Perry agreed to an interview with me, so hopefully we can delve into these issues more deeply.


future of foreign correspondents

Tuesday 22 April, 2008

I attended this Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs event The Foreign Correspondent: Connecting Chicago and the World featuring former foreign correspondents John Maxwell Hamilton & Richard C. Longworth. Hamilton recently wrote a book on Edward Price Bell, who was America’s 1st foreign correspondent when he opened the London bureau of the Chicago Daily News in 1900.  Longworth was most recently the Chicago Tribune’s senior foreign correspondent based in London.  A few interesting tidbits which came out of the discussion:

-The Chicago Daily News was a progressive pioneer in the news business, being the 1st to sell newspapers before they were distributed, rather than sell them as they were distributed.

-American newspapers invented interviews as we know them today.

Lessons learned from Hamilton:

-maintaining foreign correspondents is expensive for newspapers, so consequently we’ve lost a lot of them

-technology always enables journalists to work as quickly as possible

-competition keeps both business & writers on their toes

-experts are still required to write for their audiences

-newspaper owners must care about foreign service as a public service for it to survive.

Longworth’s contributions:

-1960’s were the heyday when the $ was strong & Time magazine had a staff of 40 in London

-Bretton Woods & the fall of the $ in 1973 spelled the beginning of the end when the # of Time correspondents dwindled to now 2 in London

-the Chicago Tribune still has a dozen foreign correspondents

-the job is still the same, reporting the world for readers @ home, but fewer publications even try to cover the world anymore.  Now most publications are simply platforms of local content.  Even Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism touts going local to the exclusion of international news.  The result is the American public is becoming less informed & more ignorant of the rest of the world.

My take is publishing is simply following the model of the rest of business & outsourcing the reporting of the news to foreign-based local content providers.  They’re much better educated than they used to be & are now capable of playing that role.   They’re much cheaper than sending over expensive foreign correspondents ex-pats too.  We lose the insight of what’s important/interesting to a US-based audience, but if they report the facts accurately & well, that can be better than a locally-based bias/filter anyway.  Technology is also enabling all sorts of media to provide coverage which wasn’t available prior to the internet era.


foreigners view of intellectual property in the US

Friday 18 April, 2008

The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest in cooperation with Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione held this event: Avoiding US Intellectual Property Pitfalls The event featured a user’s view from the General Counsel of Robert Bosch, 1 of Germany’s largest electronics firms along with 2 attorneys from Brinks, 1 from Chicago & 1 from Detroit (Ann Arbor actually) with the law firm’s view.  Bosch is a prolific patent filer with an average of 14 filings/working day placing them 3rd in the US Patent office & 1st in Germany. Their goal is not to monetize their patent portfolio, rather to simply protect their  core manufacturing base.  Their best example is anti-lock braking systems.  The lawyers admitted intellectual property litigation is more expensive & extreme in the US, but 98% of cases settle.   Patent clearance searches can help an IP user avoid litigation.  IP owners can be sued when accused of infringements on patents, trademarks, & copyrights.  There are new standards for filing:  “justiciable controversy” judged by the “totality of the circumstances.”  They also offered 10 IP red flags, i.e. instances when IP should be secured

1 hiring an employee

2 disclosing information

3 selling product ideas

4 internal product development

5 co-development projects

6 solving customer problems

7 contracting engineering services

8 contracting software services

9 licensing in or out

10 acquiring business operations

The target audience apparently was German members of the GACCOM, but I’m not sure how many/what percentage of the attendees were German lawyers.  I requested copies of the presentations or links to them from the organizers, but have yet to receive them.


UChicago economists are taking over the world 1 country @ a time!

Thursday 17 April, 2008

I caught this article in the Chicago Tribune Chicago grad takes over at Bank of Japan

This obviously is a very important position & it’s remarkable how many University of Chicago economists inhabit such positions. It’s amazing how long Milton Friedman’s extended economic “family tree” extends. It looks like he’s jumping right in & is addressing the G7, talking with the heads of the Fed & European Central Bank, & preventing financial confusion in addition to ensuring financial stability.  Since he’s advocated against bailouts as a result of the 1998 financial crisis, I wonder what Ms. Shirakawa would say about the UK’s bailout of Northern Rock or the US bailout of Bear Stearns?


Dutch entrepreneurs in Chicago

Wednesday 16 April, 2008

The Netherland America Foundation-Dutch Chicago Business Exchange hosted an event featuring a couple of Dutch entrepreneurs who founded businesses in Chicago. Dirk Meuzelaar of Bitfactory & Marcel Birkhoff of Hyva made presentations on their impressions of founding a business here from a Dutch point of view.  Marcel’s presentation is included here: naf-presentation Noteworthy in addition to his presentation:  Marcel started Hyva-US from his apartment in Chicago, pilfering wireless internet access from a neighbor (who still doesn’t know about it), & selling telescopic cylinders off of his pick-up truck.

The presentation was attended mostly by students, from both Erasmus University-Rotterdam School of Management, the Netherlands as well as the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. The Dutch presentation is included here: ppt_presentations_bb What’s interesting here is the differentiation between the Americans as “masculine”-assertive, competitive, ambition, wealth & material possessions; & the Dutch as “feminine”-placing more value on relationships, & quality of life.  This is reflected in resumes/CV’s in that Americans focus on achievement-oriented comparisons in education & grades while the Dutch highlight extra-curricular activities.  In business, another reflection is Americans are perceived as overselling, as the Dutch are thought to undersell.  I agree, but resumes/cv’s worldwide are changing to become more American, & Americans would do well to temper their enthusiasm when selling to foreigners.


Jeffrey Sachs Managing Globalization

Monday 14 April, 2008

I checked out this event sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  There was a good crowd to hear this internationally-acclaimed economist over the lunch hour.

His general point was we’re @ a pivotal time in history where technology is enabling us to do much more, but it’s not sustainable, which will lead to a crash.  He cited numerous economic & population statistics, as economist do (of which I am 1)  which support his statements.  His main suggestion is we need sustainable development to avoid this crash.  I was disappointed that there was no opportunity to pose questions to the speaker.

Here are his 10 suggestions for our next President:

1.  end the Iraq war becasue money spent there can be better spent elsewhere

2.  end the Bush tax cuts

3.  invest in sustainable energy

4.  dispatch a climate envoy to the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China

5.  stop 1/3 of our corn crop going to produce gas (ethanol)

6.  sign the convention on biodiversity

7.  invite African & Middle East leaders to the drylands initiative to address hunger & H2O shortages

8.  reestablish the United Nations Population Fund

9.  reinstitute the Millennium Development goals to get US out of last place @ donating .16% of our income

10.  create a cabinet-level Department for international sustainable development

I became familiar with Jeffrey Sachs when I went to Poland after he suggested economic shock therapy for the country, i.e., don’t waste time with easing in economic changes, rather jump right in, make them, & force people to make 1 radical adjustment instead of making many small incremental changes.  It seemed to work in Poland, so there’s wasn’t much flak against it.

While I understand his arguments for a better world, I think what’s missing is the recognition that things don’t change unless people see a direct benefit for themselves as a result of it.  I’m all for limiting population growth & supporting alternative energies, but until the poor see the gains from agricultural technologies & wind/solar power prices come down, they’re going to keep producing more babies (future farmers) & not buy expensive energy sources.