Archives for posts with tag: International

Over the years, I have often been asked by younger people starting out, what second language should I learn? A great question and one to which I have discovered the correct answer can change over time.

When I was younger and working with Donn Corporation, we had international  businesses in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Scandinavia. Since I was traveling several times a year to these locations, I really wanted to learn a second language. As I have often done when facing a new decision, I thought I would ask the experts what they thought. We had a French President, Chris and a German President Branco. On my next trip to Europe I had the following conversations:

Brad to French guy Chris: Should I learn French or German?

French guy Chris to Brad: Learn German because you can not trust the Germans!

Brad to German guy Branco: Should I learn French or German?

German guy Branco to Brad: Learn French because you can not trust the French!

Now I had created a Real problem. I safely chose Not to learn either language.

In the last two years we have travelled to Switzerland and to Paris and Brussels. The Swiss all speak 5 or 6 languages and excellent English. This year in Paris and Brussels we noted that almost everyone we came in contact with willingly and smoothly spoke English. This was not always the case, especially in Paris, but it is today.

Why do even the reluctant French speak so much English? It is not because they love Americans and certainly not the British all of a sudden. Rather it is because wherever we travelled in Europe we ran into huge groups of tourists from Asia especially China. And how do all these Asian visitors communicate in Europe? In English, of course.

Which leads me back to the question of learning a second language. Americans are lucky and blessed that English has become the international language of both business and leisure. But if a young American asked me today what language should they learn, my answer would be Mandarin, the most spoken of the several Chinese languages.  In the retail and hospitality businesses,  a young person who speaks Mandarin can get a job wherever they want to.

But there is another correct answer to this second language question. Young people around the globe should learn the language of Coding. Coding is what allows us to create and use computer software, use apps on your mobile devices, engage in social media sites like Facebook and to explore the web and visit websites. Technology is the future and Coding is the key to technology.

So that is my final answer, lock it in, learn Coding!

A lot gets written about the importance for young people in business to work or live abroad for a period of time. Years ago, an international assignment was very unusual and not often a good career move due to the uncertainty of what job might be available when you returned to the U.S. Companies often had trouble reintegrating an expatriate or recognizing the increased value of their employee. This was especially true in large firms with rigid job categories and inflexible pay scales. Fortunately this is changing.

Nowadays many of the young professional I advise are looking forward to and planning on an international assignment. This is very possible in the consulting field but also workable in many businesses. The timing can vary but it is often in your late twenties or early thirties after you have made several moves and/or promotions in the domestic business. I always strongly urge these “clients” of mine to push internally to get an international assignment. The young people I know used to lean to Western Europe but now the focus is on Australia or Asia.

Why is this international experience so important? I wrote earlier in my blogs about developing  “an International frame of mind”. This is much easier for many young people outside the U.S. Other countries study English for years and young people long to visit and be educated in our country. We are still a very U.S. centric focused country. But this is changing. And it better change as we are truly a global marketplace.

I was personally fortunate to spend a lot of my earlier years with Donn Corporation working with our businesses outside the U.S. I was often in both Canada and Europe six times in year and every few years in Asia. Many of the experiences I write about in The Business Zoo relate directly to these international involvements and the great people I was fortunate to get to know. Here are a couple examples and stories from the book.

Dining with Europeans. These are some of the most sophisticated people in the world. They have made the art of dining  an essential and integral aspect of both business and life. Much can be learned by mastering their skills.

Learning the nuance of language and words. From Donn’s European Controllers I learned that the word Yes means different things depending on your country and its culture. To the French, Yes meant I heard you and I will consider (not always do) what you said. To the Germans, it meant Yes, I will follow it in great detail and they would then ask a dozen questions to clarify what i meant. The Asian countries bring their own unique cultures to this.

So if you work for an organization where you can get International work, go for it. If you work for an organization that does not have the kind of International involvements that you want , find another organization!

An International State of Mind:

For those of us who are lucky enough to be born, live and work in the United States, thinking globally or Internationally does not come easy. There are a number of reasons for this. The U.S. is one of the largest, most populated and, in the last 100 years, most successful and dominating economic country in the world. There are surveys showing that most Americans believe Columbus’ discovery in 1492, is the most significant event in all of world history. Europeans list the birth of Christ.

We also, as a nation, can name Britain’s William and Kate in a photo but not that lady who currently runs Germany, one of the other major countries of the world. When offered a globe we would have better chance shooting it through a basketball hoop than finding the Indian ocean, Iceland or any country in Africa. The bulk of our news is local and national and only now, with cable, have people accidentally flipped to the UK’s BBC. We often learn about the outside world often because of the media’s endless coverage of natural disasters like Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Or once upon a time, by watching Lance Armstrong ride a bike all over Europe.

And we are blessed with so many great travel choices in the U.S., that travel elsewhere is a distant second. Now many colleges are encouraging a session abroad, which helps. But our almost total use of English for everything, the lack of serious second language studies, and our unwillingness to move to metrics does not help us feel comfortable out there in, the  non-American version of civilization.

Having spent so much time with Europeans doing Lunches and Dinners and occasionally, real business, you learn that they, and probably most of developed Asia, view all this much differently. Most European countries mandate serious language studies. Schools in Sweden require English from first grade through high school. Young people in Europe and Asia all recognize our current and recent past Presidents’ names and pictures. Our athletes like Michael Jordan are known everywhere.

Families also vacation in other counties. Young people look for any excuse to travel outside their own nation and and everyone really wants to visit the U.S. which often means Disney World or New York City.

So how do U.S. business people and companies develop an International state of mind? A state of mind which, with the rapid growth in places like China, may be critical.

In my book, The Business Zoo, we will examine how the private Donn Corporation developed a very successful and wide ranging International business that grew to over 25% of the total company and was very profitable. We will also look at why many larger U.S. firms struggle to be more International. Along the way we will share specific recipes for success and cover some interesting failures as well. You can learn lessons from both.

Young people today going into almost any type of organization or business need to develop an International state of mind. Our world is only getting smaller. And I will guarantee you that young people in the rest of the world, including Chile, are already more global in their views and experiences. It’s a dog eat dog world out there and like in the wild, only the strong and Internationally focused will survive!