Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’


workplace differences between Chicago & Shanghai

Tuesday 18 December, 2012

World Chicago hosted a delegation from Shanghai for the past 2 months, & as a grand finale, they made a presentation on their comparisons between workplaces in Chicago & Shanghai.  The experienced interns worked primarily in human resources & real estate with firms such as US Cellular, Exelon, the Chicago Public School system, the city of Chicago, Arcelor Mittal, Flying Food Group, & a real estate company or 2.  To sum up Shanghai in a few words, it has a 700 year history & links inland China with the west.  Shanghai has been a sister city of Chicago’s since 1985.

Chicago & Shanghai are similar in that they are both cities of immigrants, which results in a great inflow of new ideas.  Only 3 in the delegation were born in Shanghai.  Ostensibly both cities encourage fair & open markets, have substantial regulations on international business, & are proud of a spirit of innovation.

The 2 cities differ in a number of ways as well, starting with corporate culture.  Those from Shanghai like big offices, with a welcome board for guests, are friendly, reserved, & there is little public praise.  Chicago employees focus on efficiency, walk through open doors, voice their opinions, & have simple relationships, pay for themselves, are independent, & solve their own problems.  Specifically, business management skills differ in HR strategy, lean HR, channel management, succession plans, leadership building, mentoring, feedback, & safety.  Communication methods differ:  Chicagoans prefer e-mail & conference calls.  Shanghai workers like face-to-face conversations, less e-mail, & sharing stories over lunch & dinner.  Diversity is a much bigger issue in the US, in terms of providing fair opportunities regardless, of race, nationality, & gender.  Many from the delegation were employed by state-owned enterprises, of which Chicago has none.  Most employees are represented by trade unions in Shanghai with whom much information is shared & good relationships are collegial, but not in Chicago.  Infrastructure & utilities differ as well.  By the numbers, Shanghai real estate goes for $800/ft2, transportation & food are cheaper, but eating out is more expensive.

The delegation agreed more government support is needed for these programs in the future to fund more exchange programs.

Here are some of the personal impressions of the delegation:

  • 1 took a business trip to Indiana by train, found not taxis @ the rural train station & was very impressed when a woman helped him find his hotel.
  • Specifically in real estate, English is different from Mandarin.  In China, developers are the boss, while in Chicago, it’s all about efficient networks of architects, brokers, etc.
  • Lean HR is more efficient, creates confidence, & inspires employees.  She was impressed when it was raining, a receptionist dropped her off @ the train.
  • Lake Michigan & the Chicago River tour are impressive.
  • Pregnancy is treated differently in Shanghai.  It was open to question if Diversity departments really lead to equal employment opportunities.
  • Airports are going green,  There are more meetings here.

my take on the 2016 Olympics

Wednesday 7 October, 2009

1st of all, hats off to Rio de Janiero, a choice that should have been a surprise to no one. It was a historic decision, naming the 1st Olympic site in South America.

However what did surprise me is Chicago being the 1st out of the running.  On the 1 hand, there is no way you can convince me that the Chicago bid was the worst of the lot & worse than Tokyo’s.  That Chicago received fewer votes than New York did in its bid for the 2012 bid is equally ridiculous, but at least partly indicative of the greater problem.

On the other hand, there are a number of reasons Chicago should have lasted only 1 more round.

  • In  the past American Olympic cities were the choice when the IOC needed/wanted the absolute maximum financial return.  That’s no longer the case.  The IOC believes they can make as much money regardless of where they go, & they might be right.  Regardless, we’ve lost our financial advantage.
  • I pass a good part of the responsibility for the IOC’s decision on to the US Olympic Committee.  There are a number of lingering issues that supposedly were not relevant, but with a secret vote, they most certainly played a role.  2 are particularly important.
  1. 1.  the dispute over distribution of advertising revenues is still unresolved,
  2. 2.  the decision to launch the Olympic TV network, despite IOC objections & rescinded shortly after it was introduced for that reason, did not endear the US choice to IOC voters. New York’s rejection 4 years ago can no longer be blamed on their stadium plan falling through.  The IOC membership has issues with how the USOC works together with the IOC & this needs to be resolved before another US candidate city has a chance.
  • Finally, part of Chicago’s failure is due to at least a small bit of parochialism & insularity.  We assumed it was a rational & reasonable process.  It’s not.  It’s intensely political & we don’t play very well in those circles.  Americans admitted to not knowing how the Olympic system works.  Rio supporters hypothesized that Madrid was the bigger rival because they recognized the political power of Juan Antonio Samarach.  They were correct when Madrid came in 1st after the 1st round.  I fault the US members of the IOC too.  There is much talk of all the back-room bargaining which goes on in these “negotiations.”  Where were the US representatives when this horsetrading was going on?  They certainly didn’t do a very good job.  The Pakistani IOC rep asked about visa issues entering the US, & the response was sloughed off to Pres. Obama, who answered with a vaguely general response which said nothing.  We ignored issues relevant to this constituency which should have been duly addressed.  We missed the boat since this was an issue.

So what can be done?  The IOC/USOC rift needs to be addressed.  The current system begs for more transparency.  Too much money is at stake for there not to be some accountability for each IOC representative’s decision to be divulged.  We could encourage American advertisers to boycott the Olympics, but they won’t do that because they’re global players & can’t risk alienating the rest of the world.

I’m disappointed but not surprised Chicago didn’t win the bid because the Olympics would have been great for the city.  I can’t believe the number of people who couldn’t see the benefits Seoul & Barcelona have enjoyed since they hosted Olympics. If I had to have made a prediction, it would have been for Rio because of the significance of the decision, but I was still rooting for Chicago.


Alderman for & local organizer against the Olympics

Wednesday 16 September, 2009

I attended another Chicago Olympics event, Chicago 2016: The Thrill of Victory or the Agony of Defeat? this time @ the Chicago Historical Museum.  It featured Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, in whose ward much of the development for the Olympics would fall, & Jay Travis, the executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), which represents neighborhoods where much Olympic construction would happen as well.  The handouts included the documents created by The Civic Federation which reviewed the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, which can be found here & the summary here.

Here’s what was said that’s not contained in those documents:

  • the US federal government makes no investments before an Olympic city is named, only afterwards
  • an MOU is not legally binding, but an ordinance is the law
  • Jay is still concerned about displacement, rising prices, long-term employment, & eminent domain issues
  • 1/4-ly reports to the city council will provide transparency
  • the bottom line is the alderman believes that with the financial guarantees & insurance, the finances for the Chicago 2016 Olympics are secure.
  • Q&A resulted in typical Chicago town-hall fashion being reduced to incendiary accusations of the alderman’s husband benefiting from real-estate deals coming out of the Olympics.

What surprises me is that the community organizers fail to recognize the long-term economic benefits gained by hosting the Summer Olympics.  There are risks, & they are correct to have them addressed, but if Chicago can get the Olympics, I don’t think there’s any question it will be good for the city.


what’s a fair immigration strategy?

Tuesday 27 January, 2009

I read with interest this article in the Chicago Tribune magazine by Tom Hundley Return Trip about Poles returning to Poland.  I spent 7 months in Poland at the same time as Hundley, as it was transitioning from communism to capitalism & have tried to keep up with what’s going on there since then.

Poles in America aren’t just fleeing Chicago.  I spent a number of years of my youth in the suburbs of Detroit.  There was what was then a fairly renowned, around Detroit at least, district full of immigrant Poles called Hamtramick.  My step-brother now tells me it’s been overrun by immigrants from other countries.

When I was working in Poland, I came across Poles who lived & worked for years in Chicago who never learned English & really integrated with the greater Chicago community beyond the Polish enclaves.  We used their man-hours at work.  Is that a positive contribution to Chicago?  There’s been talk of a labor shortage as the baby boom generation retires.  Will foreign immigrants fill those gaps?  Polish immigrant Piotr says, “We came to America for better jobs.” He’s seeking the American dream, but is that open to illegal immigrants too?  Is he taking jobs legal workers would take? Generations earlier, the present Polish equivalents were the Germans.  I wonder if the media lamented the stemming of that flow.

Americans didn’t used to need a visa to travel to Brazil, but that has changed in reaction to American policy.  When the US required visas for Brazilians traveling to America, Brazil reciprocated & made the same requirement of Americans & I can’t blame them.  When I travelled to Brazil a few years ago, it was an additional hassle I didn’t want to deal with, but had to.

A number of years ago, I spent 6 months in Stockholm, Sweden & almost found work there.  Technically, I was an illegal immigrant because I was there longer than the 3 months you are granted when you enter the country.  Had I found work, I’m sure getting working papers would have been little problem because Sweden is a small country & needs workers.  Coming to America, the security situation, & these economic times are a pretty different.  In some ways I’d love to return to work in Europe, but most governments there are very protective of local jobs.  That’s 1 part of the global economy that isn’t yet free, open & transparent-it’s simply not possible for workers to flow to wherever they like.  As far as I know, there is no visa reciprocity, so why should we let foreign immigrants work here if we don’t have the same reciprocal opportunities?

I don’t mean to be unsympathetic to immigrants who came here, built families & lives, & might have to return home.  They took a risk when they came here, fully well knowing they might not be able to stay.  Although America was built by immigrant workers, I think in many ways our immigration policy mirrors our labor policies.  We think nothing of throwing thousands of workers out on the streets & now treat immigrants the same way.


Foreign Policy mag’s Global Cities Index event-we’re #8!

Friday 31 October, 2008

Last week I attended the unveiling of the Global Cities Index, which was created by Foreign Policy magazine,  the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, & A.T. Kearney Management Consultants.  What’s novel is including criteria beyond population & business activity to create the index.  Adding human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, & political engagement alter the rankings somewhat.

CCGA President Marshall Bouton opened the luncheon by noting
1-populations in cities exceeded those outside of cities for the 1st time in the world in 2008 (urban>rural)
2-cities are nodes of globalization
3-Chicago is 1 of the most dynamic global cities in the world

Paul Laudicina of A.T. Kearney made a presentation on where the Global Cities Index & where Chicago fits within it.  Here it is: globalcitiesindex

Richard Longworth subbed for Saskia Sasken who was marooned in Singapore & couldn’t return in time to make the luncheon.  He questioned, why is globalization so urban?  Because we (headquarters as nerve centers) have a tendency to concentrate & not scatter (like tasks do).  Technology hasn’t freed us from our sense of place.  We still need face time to connect.  There is no 1 global economy-it’s simply a sum of many interconnected circuits.  People are still required & Chicago is a magnet for 50,000 college graduates every year.  Rather than the city of big shoulders, Chicago is now the city of high foreheads.

Q&A answered:

-Chicago still has obstacles to moving up the rankings.  Media coverage of world events is an issue.  The Chicago Tribune was ranked #23 in this category.  Chicago has a miniscule tourism budget.  We need to get over our inferiority complex & pull locals into the global economy.  Public education & transportation are problems many large cities face.

-given the recent financial crisis, New York will probably fall in the rankings in the future

-Chicago will move up in cultural exchange & political engagement will come by advertising to international travelers who pass through Chicago but seldom stay here.  Providing more foreign language signage for them @ O’Hare would help.

-Chicago needs to develop a personality in the media to present a memorable face to the world.

My $.02:  a friend from Boston was surprised Chicago ranked so high.  My response is these things are calibrated to achieve desired results.  The speakers noted that on an early draft of the index, Paris was ranked low in culture because it had relatively few foreign restaurants.  It was rejiggered to reflect Paris’ higher status in culture.  My point is, these things can be changed to reflect the creators perception of reality.  If this were done by a European organization, I suspect it would have come up with different results.  What is reality?  Take your pick.  Another component to add would be foreign language capability, a reflection of ability to engage with the rest of the world.  American cities would fall, but I think that’s an appropriate reflection of reality.  On the whole, this is a valuable exercise.  It will be interesting to see how this evolves in the future.


Chicago’s olympic obstacles

Tuesday 26 August, 2008

I caught with interest this article Chicago Olympic bidders share Beijing impressions by Kathy Bergen of the Chicago Tribune, which gave Mayor Daley’s & Chicago Olympic bid chairman Patrick Ryan’s observations on what Chicago will have to do to improve its chances of winning the 2016 Summer Games.  Here are mine:

Traffic-if the IOC is going to depend on local “express” ways to get specatators to events, it will take much more than a little education to get them there on time.  They’re a mess & will need a major overhaul to meet international expectations.  Competitor cities are crowded too, but ours are some of the worst in the nation.

Volunteers-There’s no way any other other city will match the sheer number of volunteers Beijing provided.  China is all about throwing masses of people @ problems, & no other country has that population to devote to volunteers.  I think the solution is multilingual ubiquitous technology (ex. wireless & kiosks) which should provide a lot of the information volunteers can, & will remain as valuable assets after the games are done.

Transportation-we had a really good rail system, but it’s pathetically managed, poorly maintained, & woefully underfunded.  It will take more than $ to shore it up.  It needs to be managed much more effectively.  We are competing with world-class public transportation systems, & the CTA looks pathetic by comparison.

Venues-This should be a real advantage for Chicago to show off its marvelous architecture.  Hopefully Chicago can utilize even more athletic facilities than are already planned, such as US Cellular Field, Ryan Field in Evanston, etc.

Residents-it will take a lot more than live sites to involve local residents in the games.  There are tons more tourists here than there were 5-10 years ago, & it looks like they get along OK here, but I think that’s in spite of many residents rather than because of them.  Midwesterners have the reputation of being very nice, which is probably true & helpful, but also very parochial & insular, which doesn’t help when people who speak with funny accents, or even in different foreign languages, ask questions on the streets.


the importance of public transportation

Thursday 21 August, 2008

I find it very interesting that the 1st thing Chicago Mayor Daley investigated in Beijing on his trip to promote the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid was to check out the new public transportation system, as mentioned in this article Transit system is Daley’s first stop in Beijing by Kathy Bergen in the Chicago Tribune. Chicago’s decaying public transportation system has been an embarrassment for quite awhile now & I’m glad it’s coming into focus for the mayor to fix it.

Head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacque Rogue was in Chicago late last fall & spoke to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was during that visit that CTA funding was being debated in Springfield, & the headlines in the papers were not complimentary to the negotiations. If he read the local papers on that trip, I’m sure he was horrified @ how public transportation is being managed in Chicago.

What concerns me as a businessperson is the CTA’s impact upon business, in that if workers can’t plan their commutes to get to work & home on time, significant worker productivity is lost. The CTA’s refusal to publish schedules (& even make them less relevant by saying they’ll run every 4-15 minutes, which essentially means whenever the conductor/driver wants), makes no sense to me. I’m surprised the business community doesn’t express a more vocal opinion on this too. Employers are losing valuable work time when workers aren’t sure when they’ll arrive @ work.

I’ve been on public transportation systems all over the world. I’ve been on buses in small towns in Poland that are more reliable than the buses in Chicago. The CTA’s argument is that you can’t control traffic. My argument is there is no reason to wait for a 1/2 hour for a bus, & then 3 come by in a 3 minute span. That’s an average of a bus arriving every 10 minutes, but doesn’t serve customers whose travel is inconsistent that way. 3 buses every 30 minutes doesn’t move people as effectively as 1 bus every 10 minutes. It’s a management issue. Make a schedule & stick to it. I understand the unions might not want to be held to a schedule, but I’ll choose serving customers over the interests of the unions.

When I was living in Germany, I visited Berlin before the wall came down. The subway in West Berlin rode through stations in East Berlin to get to other West Berlin stations. Which stations do Chicago’s most resemble? The old dilapidated East German ones! Even further, the CTA more resembles systems from old communistic countries with old hub & spoke systems where all lines run through a central point rather than more developed systems where you can travel to multiple destinations within an integrated subway/bus system with a schedule so that you can plan when & where to go. Here, you just have to wing it & hope for the best.

It would be terribly ironic if Chicago loses the bid for the 2016 Olympics because of inferior transportation infrastructure, especially in a city that sells itself to the world based on it’s world-class air & freight connections. We don’t need the glitz that Daley saw in China. We just need a system with a schedule you can count on that works as scheduled.