Archive for April, 2010


German green building conference

Friday 30 April, 2010

The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest sponsored this conference German Green Building Innovation Delegation Conference You can access the presentations that were made & streaming video from the conference through the previously mentioned link.  The event was abbreviated because 1/2 of the visiting delegation from Germany was stranded at home because of the volcanic fallout from Iceland.  Here are a few of the highlights:

The chamber needs to do a better job of informing speakers why they would like them to speak.  The 1st 2 speakers commented at the beginning of their talks that they didn’t know why they were invited to speak.  Perhaps they were being just typically Midwesternly modest, but still, it hurts their credibility a bit.

Durbrow’s (of IIT & formerly Murphy-Jahn) main thrust was that everything green is somewhat overdone, simply because we have too few metrics to measure greenness.

Master questioned whether, despite all of the changes in climate, urbanization, demographics, waste, etc.  “are we making a better world for others?”  Healthy interiors are the wave of the future.  The biggest costs in green building are in operating costs when you’re done, not in the materials going in, i.e. lighting costs.

M. Vesper, of Yello Strom, encouraged firms to make their customers more green.  His firms solutions do that by allowing them to monitor & control their energy consumption on a real-time basis.  Buildings need to be developed to “cycle down” as cars do, just as computers could use a remote start instead of being left on overnight.


google’s global barriers

Wednesday 28 April, 2010

I caught this article by Jessica Guynn in the Chicago Tribune Google faces censorship issues every day, around the world I don’t think there’s a lot of new news here, but because it’s google & global, I feel compelled to comment. Here’s the tool to which the author refers

That other governments, in addition to China’s, censor the internet should be no surprise, especially when 1 is Iran.  Countries that are democracies & censor should be named, but aren’t in the article.  Without knowing what the specific requests to remove content are, it’s difficult to know the scope & scale of the issue.  100+ might be significant, but fewer might not be.  The German government being the 2nd largest requester & the US comes 2 spots behind them is a surprise to me.   I think part of the issue is the technology level available to governments, i.e. that they have to move just as quickly to filter content as google & other providers make it available.  That censorship is growing is simply a matter of governments being able to do it better now than they’ve been able to in the past, as opposed to the intent to censor, which has always been there.

There are American biases at work here as well.  I would bet it’s American consumer groups, academics, & companies that are so alarmed.  I seriously doubt the author’s claim that Google processes 2/3 of the world’s search requests.  If it only gets such a small % (5-10%?) in China, I doubt that that figure is possible.  Americans jumping up & down screaming bloody murder without knowing the context of the situation is not persuasive.

While I agree restrictions on the web are bad in general, turning over personal information about users as part of criminal investigations isn’t always a bad thing.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that these things happen.  The same thing occurs in many other walks of life in these countries & the internet is no different.  Because it was new technology, it had free reign for awhile, but the bureaucrats eventually do catch up.  If we’re going to criticize these governments for censoring the internet, we should be just as vocal when they censor other media, but now I think it’s simply commonly accepted, so it doesn’t get the exposure.


small business exporting

Friday 23 April, 2010

I caught this article by Ann Meyer on the front page of the Chicago Tribune business section Small businesses: Exporting to extend reach which seems to be another lame attempt by a local journalist to write about what’s happening in the world.  Apparently she attended the Illinois Small Business Export Promotion Forum , talked to a few attendees, & wrote about it.  She belabored that exporting is not creating many jobs, but the fact is IT IS producing jobs when few other industry sectors are.

My beefs:  Promark won an Export Achievement Certificate when a customer, the airport in New Delhi, found them on the internet & contacted them.  It’s great that they got the business, but do we really want to support passively waiting for customers to come banging on the door via the internet.  Get proactive rather than passive people.

Dan Brown, adjunct associate professor @ Northwestern & President of Loggerhead Tools, says, promoting exports “looks good as a headline, but it’s not a real executable opportunity.”  Checking the dealer locator on his website, it doesn’t look like Dan’s exporting much.  There’s nothing on his website that would welcome a foreign dealer.  Complaining about fair playing fields will not change the fact that the U.S. is a mature economy with commensurate prices.  Mass-produced products will be made in cheaper locations.  He’s obviously proud that his products are made in the USA, but if you don’t market your products to all the world rather than just to the good old US of A, the rest of the world probably won’t seek you out.

I even question the wisdom of depending on a cheap dollar to sell American products.  Meyer cites Sawmill Hydraulics product’s being priced 30-50% lower than global competitors, which is great, but when the dollar starts to appreciate, how will they be successful?  Besides, eventually someone in a low-cost country will copy it, (with or without violating  intellectual property protections), & sell it for less, & Sawmill will have to depend on something other than price to sell.

I’m getting sick & tired of people who don’t know what they’re talking about quoting “experts” & publishing articles in mainstream media which lead the public astray.  Somebody please show me a company that puts together a plan, pursues the best-qualified partners &/or customers, & takes a long-term view.  From the looks of the websites of these firms, if I were a foreign buyer, I’d question how much attention they would pay to me.  There is a danger in promoting America too much.  I think it better to promote products to the world rather than just 1 country.


invest in south eastern europe?

Wednesday 21 April, 2010

I attended this seminar Business and Investment Opportunities in Southeast Europe organized by the SouthEast Europe Chamber of Commerce @ Baker & McKenzie.  The presentations & handouts are on the webpage, so here’s what you can’t find there:

Baker & McKenzie is working on international projects related to infrastructure, logistics, supply chains, & climate change, often in the CIS.  They have no offices in south eastern Europe, but work through partners in those countries.  International client relationships are funneled through the Chicago office.

The state of Illinois exports $200M to the countries of south eastern Europe.  As a student, Mary Roberts navigated Sofia, Bulgaria by going from Dunkin Donuts shop to shop because the map wasn’t in English, but she could recognize the donut shop locations from the icons on the map.

When investing in this region, experience in 1 country is not sufficient in another.  You can acquire 100% in some countries, but real estate is typically more restricted.  Companies can buy land, but citizens of foreign countries cannot.  Don’t scare your local partner with a 100 page legal document, but do choose the legal forum for your contracts.  Art George of Baker McKenzie makes 3 observations:

  1. tax planning is still needed
  2. you still need to do due diligence on corporate compliance, local laws, etc.
  3. typically civil law reigns rather than common law, making HR/labor law a challenge with volumes of sheer paperwork


  • Croatia, Macedonia, & Serbia hope to accede to the EU by 2012-14
  • Wireless networks cover the region, & have relatively well-educated technology workers employed by Microsoft, HP, Oracle, Siemens, etc.
  • The world basketball championships are coming to Turkey in 2010.
  • Religions are mixed:  Bosnia-Herzegovina is 44% Muslim, 33% Christian, 17% Catholic & has welcomed Afghan immigrants. Croatia is 90% Catholic & has sizable Hungarian & Italian populations.  Macedonia is 65% Orthodox, 25% Muslim.  Romania is 90% Orthodox.    Turkey is 98% Muslim.
  • North Africa is close-by & these markets are opening up to them, not just in oil. It’s been a focus of Turkey since 2008 & these exports helped them through the financial crisis.
  • Europeans don’t need residence & work permits here.

islamic law & finance

Friday 16 April, 2010

I lunched & learned with Prof. Jason Kilborn of John Marshall Law School when he discussed UNRAVELING MISPERCEPTIONS AND BUILDING UNDERSTANDING: A BASIC INTRODUCTION TO ISLAMIC LAW AND ISLAMIC FINANCE He declined my invitation to post his presentation here, so here’s a summary:

There are only Islamic lawS, not 1 law.   The 1.6B Muslims in the world are as different as 2.1B Christians & 18M Jews.   Shari’a means the path of life.  Qur’an & Sunna provide the “common law” of Islam.  The Qur’an was revealed by Gabriel to Mohammad over 23 years (610-632) in 114 chapters & 6236 verses,  contains only 500 laws, & can’t be taken literally, so it must be interpreted. Mohammad’s death in 632 left a succession struggle which resulted in a schism between the Shi’ah & Sunni.  Today the Sunni number 1B, & the Shi’ah only 175M, but are a majority in what is now Iraq & Iran.  The difference between the 2 is jurisdiction.  There are 4 Sunni schools of thought:

  1. scholarly preference to avoid “undesirable” results
  2. looking out for the public interest
  3. moderate traditionalist
  4. literal analogy to Qur’an & Sunna

Grand Muftis are commissioned by the state to interpret.  A Grand Mufti in London wrote a 600 page fatwa condemning terrorism & suicide bombings.  Shi’ism sent the 12th infallible Mahdi into hiding to await his triumphant return.  The separation of church & state, & approaches to politics differ.  These religions experienced a revival in the 1960’s because the West supported regimes that were corrupt.  Extreme criminal laws are mitigated by, for example, requirements for 4 witnesses of adultery/fornication.  There are just as many warnings against false accusations as against the transgression itself, because Mohammad’s wife was slandered by another.

Islamic finance is most concerned with eliminating usury, unjust enrichment/social justice & creating fairness in contracts.  Mohammad borrowed from Jewish law by saying “though never any limitation to lending ‘within the family.'”  It provides tricks to work around obstacles with good loans & shared risk, i.e. asset based lending which results in profit from sale of a thing not the loan/use of money.  Cost-plus asset acquisition finance, purchase-resale lending, & currency arbitrage work.  An at-risk partnership draw is not “interest.”  Limited/silent partnerships, partnerships with gradual buyouts, & sale/lease-buybacks are also possible.


sing to me Argentina

Wednesday 14 April, 2010

I had lunch with the Niagara Foundation again, this time featuring Gustavo Martino, Consul General of Argentina in Chicago, who gave a presentation from Prosper AR about investment opportunities in Argentina & economic integration in Latin America. Here are the highlights:

Buenos Aires has a population of 3M of the 10M in the area.  Argentina has 24 states with a population of 40M total with GDP per capita of $14,000 & literacy rate of 90+% (education is provided for free).  GDP grew 8 1/2 % on average 2003-2008.  Argentina’s  exports are up 19% to $82B worth of goods & services & imports are up 29% to $67B worth of the same.  Industrial goods made up 22% while agriculture accounted for 10%.  Argentina is a member of the WTO & a part of the G20.  Foreign direct investment (FDI) is up 50% from 2007 to 2008 & 3-4 % already this year.  Argentina is ranked #9 in greenfield investments.  The country has a low debt ratio as % of GDP, is running current account surpluses in 2009 & 2010, & its reserves are up.  On the human resources front, labor productivity is increasing & Argentina boasts a number of leading researchers & Nobel Prize winners.

On Latin American integration, Mercosur brought together Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, & Uruguay in a common market/customs union, which means they have a common trade policy & external tariff.  The combined market has a population of 241M consumers & GDP of almost $2 Trillion.  Trade among internal partners has increased from 5% to 25%.  They lead an active international agenda leading to Free Trade Agreements with Latin American & other countries like Israel & South Africa.


  • investments, consumption, & exports are all growing
  • the top 3 origins of FDI have changed from France, Italy, & the UK to Brazil, China, & Spain.
  • although historically inflation has been a problem, it is now at a more manageable 8-10%

If you go to Argentina, you must learn to tango.  I requested the presentation from the presenters, but they haven’t sent it to me.


interpret/translate @ US Dept of State

Friday 9 April, 2010

The International Visitors Center of Chicago hosted Matthew Klimow, Director of the Office of  Language Services, & his associate Julien, who flew in from Washington, D.C. Department of State to present Privilege of a Lifetime; Serving at the State Department.  Their focus was mainly on opportunities for those who speak multiple languages & speak/write them well enough to perform those functions professionally.  Klimow heads up the group which provides interpreters (for spoken interpretation) & translators (for written translation) for the diplomats @ the Dept. of State.   He heads a staff of 65 linguists in D.C. & Geneva, CH, & works with 1800 contractors.

He opened by relating the story of a secretive document requested by the President to go to the head of a country with which we have a frosty relationship.  They debated the meaning & intent of each phrase as both art & science.  (Machine translations for this stuff would be comical.)  They were sworn to secrecy, but 2 weeks later the letter was leaked to the New York Times, but regardless, they had accomplished their mission.  They were just working on the START treaty with the Russians.

They do their own testing to fill these positions in Washington.  A security clearance is required.  Not all of these people are US citizens.  There are a number of scholarships & grants available to help build these skills:

The International Visitors Leadership Program needs interpreters throughout the country.  4400 rising star visitors come to the US in this program for 3 weeks.  Nikolas Sarkozy, 300 heads of state, & 40 nobel laureates participated in the past.


  • DOS is always looking for talent, including romance language speakers.  Russian & Chinese are in demand.  Look @ usajobs for jobs, but contracting positions are not there.
  • The Foreign Service Institute teaches DOS employees languages & other international informational programs.
  • President Barak Obama speaks Bahasa Indonesian from his time living in Indonesia.
  • Opportunities exist in US embassies, i.e. of the 900 in Frankfurt (Berlin?), 500 are Germans & 400 are Americans.
  • It’s generally acknowledged Americans do a poor job of learning foreign languages, so the best solution is intense in-country experience.  No formal training is required.  You just need to pass the test.  For example, Julien was able to learn Arabic by living in Morocco.
  • Interpreting & translating require different skill sets.  Interpreters need to be dynamic while translators are typically more bookish, detailed, & precise.