Clark Broughton, an account executive for the government division of Federal Express, is a regular business traveler to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. He’s also developing valuable career experience as a global expert for his company.
American companies are becoming increasingly more dependent on integrating international sales for economic growth and survival. Department of Commerce statistics show exports of American goods and services rose from 537 billion to more than 1.1 trillion in the past decade alone.
“The cashiers working at Giant, which is owned by Ahold, a Dutch food retailer, may feel they don’t need to know or understand the culture of the company that owns them,” says Richard Linowes, professor of management at American University in Washington, D.C. “[But] as you move up the ladder, at some point you will be dealing with European and Asian markets. It becomes critical for employees to know more about culture and business practices of their owners for career success.”
International experience has become tantamount to corporate career growth. “Virtually every CEO I know has some type of global experience,” concurs Ken Jones, vice president and general manager of Global Integration and Geographic Expansion for Merisant, makers of Equal. “To be competitive, you have to think ‘How does my company fit into the scheme worldwide?’”
It’s a two-fold process of meeting your personal goals within your company and promoting their best interest in another country. The following tips will help you build your global career.
Hone solid basic skills: “Believe it or not, employees forget that you have to be consistent, conscientious, and punctual. Employers have to notice those traits before you can expect them to give you other types of assignments,” says Mark Williams, founder and CEO of The Diversity Channel.
“I always took on extra assignments, but I made sure they were ones I could complete,” says Broughton. “People began to look to me for advice because they knew I was dependable.”
Learn the dynamics of your own company: Query your superiors regarding the direction of your company — its long-range goals, its greatest potential for growth. In Broughton’s case, he followed a hunch that increasing world conflicts would lead to an increase in business within certain areas of his company. “I knew our government would need faster mechanisms to get their supplies to places like the Middle East, and we had a division to do that.” Broughton began volunteering to make overseas sales calls.
Ask for what you want: Be vocal about your aspirations and what steps you’ve taken to reach your goal. Don’t discount any experience. Even a simple overseas vacation could provide a new opportunity, says Ed Flowers, vice president of human resources at Merisant. “Many times I’ve been in meetings and someone says, ‘does anyone know someone who’s been to so and so or is familiar with so and so country?’”
Be clear regarding your company’s support in foreign situations: In America, you are protected by a bevy of laws that don’t apply overseas. Find out your company’s policy regarding race and gender when employees are working overseas. “Get both verbal and written agreements,” advises Williams. “I’ve seen several situations where companies verbally said they would support such issues until they became reality.”
For more information on conducting international business, explore the following Websites: www.diversitychannel.com and www.aboutworkworldwide.com.