I was honored to be part of a panel for a Global Chamber of Commerce gathering yesterday morning discussing the merits of global business in Arizona.
Doug Bruhnke, founder of the Global Chamber of Commerce, did an expert job of using conflict to attract a packed house to discuss the topic.
“If more companies were involved in global business, Arizona would be a lot wealthier… . But ‘global’ is scary. Global means ‘outsourcing’, ‘foreign’, lost jobs, disease, poverty, terrorism, etc… at least that’s what is in most people’s minds.
Global is scary?
My experience working with global brands has always been fascinating and inspiring. Never scary.
For instance, my first experience working on the international stage came 20 years ago as the creative director for Quroum International, a fast-growing electronics firm that sold personal security devices. Quorum was owned by Raymond Hung, a Chinese national who amassed his fortune as the owner of an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) called Applied Electronics in Hong Kong. His OEM made parts for popular consumer product manufacturers, including Samsung, SONY and Toshiba.
During the first weeks of my job, Raymond was visiting from China and called me into his office to get acquainted. Raymond was a formidable character who could be warm, but always a bit intimidating. He was also a devout follower of fungi shui, a Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment. Raymond assessed his people to see if they might attract the good dragon or the bad one, which would affect business positively or negatively.
You didn’t want to be that guy that attracted the bad dragon, because you were gone.
During our conversation, I asked Raymond why he established his global headquarters for Quorum in a remote building near the Deer Valley Airport in North Phoenix when his family and OEM business were rooted in Hong Kong?
Raymond told me that although no one could out-engineer the Chinese, no one could out-market an American. He believed he needed our marketing ingenuity to build Quorum into an international powerhouse for personal security devices that were manufactured by his OEM.
After this comment, Raymond leaned in, and in his very broken English, confided in me, “You know, Paaak, Quorum is my cup of baby.”
I immediately smiled. His mixed metaphor of American colloquialisms was endearing. At that moment, I realized Raymond was just like me; we essentially wanted the same things out of life: health and prosperity. For the first time, I started to empathize with the man.
I apparently passed the initial interview and had the good dragon on my side, because I retained my job. However, he did send his cousin Vincent into my office some weeks later to tell me to get my diastema, the space between my two front teeth, fixed. Vincent said I should close this space because money will fly out of my mouth, and that is not good for someone in my position in Raymond’s company.
Oh, the stories we tell ourselves.
Following my 18-month stint at Quorum, I started my agency Park&Co with my first client, Forever Living Products International, the world’s largest grower, manufacture and distributor of aloe vera-based health and beauty products. I helped create product launches, business training and co-produced the company’s international Super Rally that brought thousands of distributors from more than 140 countries to America for the annual four-day conference.
I keynoted the Rally launch in 2011 with a two-hour session on the power of business storytelling. Nearly 4,000 global professionals packed the conference center in Washington D.C., with my presentation translated real-time in 8 languages and webcast throughout the world to those company representatives who did not earn the trip to America.
What I learned from interacting with these global business professionals while working with FLP for nearly 20 years is that no matter where we come from, we all want the exact same thing:
Safety, health and opportunity for our loved ones.
That’s it. There is no big secret to global business, and nothing “scary” about it. We all share a universal need to empower and enlighten ourselves and those we care about.
I now teach business storytelling in the Executive Masters of Sustainability Leadership program at Arizona State University. Our students come from Japan, Nigeria, Europe, Canada and North America to learn how to become sustainability leaders using the lens of sustainability to advance their social missions further, faster. As part of the program, we spend a week in Amsterdam working with large corporations like KPN, the AT&T of the Netherlands, Philips Electronics, and Flora Holland.
These foreign executives share their sustainability challenges with our EMSL students, and over an afternoon the group comes together through their collective actions to help solve their sustainability problems. I’ve learned that we are all the same people, we just have accents, and sport unique fashions, and have odd traditions.
Even Rob Walton, the chairman of the board of Walmart, and his wife, Melani, who’s generosity has funded the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU that makes EMSL possible, are as down-to-earth international business professional as you can possibly imagine. I have had the honor to interview them for videos on several occasions, and I have been impressed by their commitment to leaving the planet and its people in better condition than how they found it.
So whether your Chinese, Japanese, European, Canadian, American or hail from any other foreign land, we all want the same thing. Nothing scary about that.
What’s scary is when we let our fears and prejudices cloud our thinking and actions, restricting our embrace of global business and the humans at the heart of it.
Yesterday, as I was preparing for this panel discussion, when I came across this meme on Facebook.
This quote from Bill Bullard reminded me of a recent cab ride from Sea-Tac airport to my folk’s home north of Lake Washington in Seattle when the Pakistani driver locked eyes with me in his rearview mirror and asked, “Do you know what every great story starts with?”
I said, “No, what?”
“Empathy,” he replied.
I think we can get around the “scary” nature of global business by having more empathy for those we work with by taking the time to understand and appreciate where they are coming from.
And that’s coming form a guy who still has money following out of his mouth through the diastema I never got filled in.
The Global Chamber of Commerce is doing great work in Arizona, and is expanding quickly throughout North America and the world. A Tokyo chapter will open in early 2016. To learn more about how you get involved and benefit from the Global Chamber, visit their website or call (855) 476-9845.