International Industry Academic Research Tour: Trip takeaways and final thoughts

Seven academic conferences (plus an additional conference as an advisor for our SMWC leadership club) in three weeks was an exhilarating but exhausting trek involving plenty of content-rich activities but also much waiting for and waiting on trams, trains, shuttles, buses, and planes, which was not fun but necessary.  I was able to visit at least one successful multinational production facility in each city and gained valuable insight to be utilized in future research.  The trip went like this:


The trip reinforced much of what I enjoy about globalization.  Just like each person has his own personality, each conference and each society has its own distinct personality.  While globalization is making us more similar and homogenized, stark differences in these cultures should still be recognized and if nothing else, respected as we increasingly work together across societies and become interconnected in ways that were unimaginable decades ago.

Specifically, with international industrial management becoming more commonplace in our globalized marketplace (such as Ford’s operations in Craiova or Ossur’s facility in Iceland), a one-size fits all nature of managing and leading becomes an antiquated strategy.  Adaptation, constant change and improvement, and a respect for the culture of the employee, the global consumer, and the vast array of company stakeholders must be carefully considered as decisions and long-term strategies are planned.  With the added external challenges of government regulations, currency fluctuations, economic change, etc., global industrial management faces as many challenges as opportunities ahead.

Just because the trip is over doesn’t mean that the output will cease.  I will be reporting back to the TH Human Relations commission, presenting flags from Vienna and Rotterdam to the Downtown TH Rotary club, and providing Masonic education at our next lodge meeting.  This will be in addition to utilizing various bits and pieces of information for subsequent research and publishings.  This works out nicely because after utilizing much of the past several years dedicated to writing and research for these conferences, there are no bullets left in the chamber and the cupboard is bare.  Perhaps most importantly, information and experiences gathered during the trip will be utilized in classes.

In addition, this trip has allowed for further contributions to the SMWC General Studies revision process of which I am a committee member.  The General Studies vision statement states the college’s support for “the development of leaders who acknowledge the importance of diversity, social justice, environmentalism and global awareness” and I would be proud to enhance and further integrate the concepts learned on this trip into the new liberal arts course requirements.

Knowledge from several disciplines was enhanced based on the interactions at the conferences along with the experiential learning.  The site tours and outreach with organizations allowed for much anecdotal insight.  Disciplines enhanced include:

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Micro/MacroEconomics
  • Organizational Change
  • International Management
  • Quality Production
  • Global Marketing
  • Industrial Management
  • Organizational Leadership

I hope that I contributed to the greater good at every conference attended.  There were numerous conference stalwarts who had been consistently involved in that particular conference for many years and had devoted much of their academic pursuits toward their involvement in that conference.  These were the attendees that took part in every aspect of the conference from formal activities to social events, and I hope that I could provide as much value-added as possible to add to their experience.  I must have exchanged business cards with over 100 colleagues.  With so much traveling and scheduling commitments, there wasn’t as much opportunity to fully engage in every conference in an ideal fashion.  However, the insight gained from colleagues was extremely valuable. It would have been fun to accumulate tote bags, pens, and pads of paper with conference logos from each conference, but this would have added too much weight to the luggage.

Things happened very quickly and I wish I could take pictures of everything that passed or occurred, but sometimes the phone was dead, other times it would have been inappropriate, and other times things happened too fast.  It’s would have been fun to put together a collage of the all the local establishments but that’s just not cool.  Those unassuming experiences represented the heart of the trip as they represented a true reflection of the local culture, whereas no one was on their guard and whereas I was nobody that paid a conference fee to be treated as a guest.  I wish I could record the in-depth, heartfelt conversations with everybody I ran across.  These experiences were extremely fulfilling.

An appropriate bookend to this last academic conference was the World Cup final match between Germany and Argentina.  I don’t consider myself a soccer fan but more of a cultural enthusiast.  It was fascinating to watch fans cheer for their favorite teams during the World Cup.  You could tell much about the immigration patterns and cultural backgrounds by the numbers of fans for or against the different teams which were playing.  Appropriately, I returned just in time to watch the Major League All-Star game.

Some cultural takeaways:

  • Don’t discount coins in Europe.  The least common denomination is the 10₵, which is worth about 14₵ to us. They do have copper-looking 5₵ coins but the prices for items are generally are rounded up to the nearest 10₵, and since tax is already included, you don’t end up with lots of small change in your pocket.  They distribute coins in € 1 and € 2, and oftentimes we Americans dismiss the value of pocket change, but over here it adds up.  The € 2 coin is worth about $2.40.  We Americans should do away with the penny and nickel to achieve similar efficiencies.
  • Don’t wear white socks.  Beyond lugging around the big suitcase, white socks give away that we are Americans more than anything else.  Short black socks are worn with sneakers in Europe…above all else, don’t wear white shoes.  It will send a signal to all that you are an American.  I have learned to blend in and have been able to mix with the culture far enough so that they aren’t aware of me being an American until I speak.
  • If you are someone who gets hot easily, Europe will be challenging during the summer.  There are not too many places with air conditioning, and the air conditioning is not turned on high.  Air conditioning is still a luxury and not an automatic convenience over in Europe.  Also, it seems like everybody smokes.  There are some indoor smoking bans at more of the progressive European nations, but even then, smokers fill the roads and entranceways to establishments.  Expect smoke in the air everywhere.
  • People dress in more formal attire, even when traveling.  They tend to see Americans as acting and dressing in a very casual manner.  If you want to blend it, dress in a more formal fashion.
  • The roaming fees tend to add up so keeping a cell phone on at all times is prohibitive.  Using the roaming for various providers would have taken up all of the maximum MB allowed for the monthly international travel packages allowed from AT&T.  I was only able to use the roaming for about 5 minutes every 2 or 3 hours in order to allow texts and especially emails to go through.  Using the google maps tended to also take up valuable MB, so I brought an old fashioned compass and just walked in a certain direction for 30 minutes in some instances and then checked where I was at later on.
  • People think Americans have money and are potentially gullible.  We don’t speak any other languages, whereas Europeans speak multiple languages.  Beware of those that want to hustle and take advantage of us.
  • Work ethic varies from culture to culture.  Depending on unemployment, job security, importance of time, importance of gratuity, and other factors, don’t expect servers and other people to bow down to your every wish.  They usually work on their own clock.
  • Learn a few key words in the local language as a show of respect to the other culture.  “Excuse me”, “sir”, “madam”, “please”, “thank you”, “sorry”, etc. are good ways of connecting in the all-important initial stages of a conversation.  Most of the time, they will recognize that you are an American and will speak English but appreciate you initial consideration and respect.  There is a great app. called iTranslate that works very well and even pronounces the words for you.


Manufacturing loss has been especially detrimental to the economies of traditional blue-collar areas such as mid-size Hoosier towns including Kokomo, Terre Haute, and Anderson.  Unemployment rates in these areas are much higher than the state averages, as brain-drains have shifted many in the workforce to hotbeds of service-sector employment where more opportunity exists such as in Indianapolis or Chicago.   Indiana is the #1 manufacturing state in terms of employment (Manufacturers News, August 2006), and Indiana’s mid-size towns have the biggest at stake when it comes to winning and losing because manufacturing is a hefty chunk of those economies.

The abandoned factories and lost industrial jobs have been partially replaced by manufacturing employment from European-based multinationals which have decided to set up facilities in America.  Parent companies from Europe account for 65% of Indiana’s jobs whose parent company is based internationally (majority-owned U.S. affiliate employment), followed by Asia/Pacific countries (24%) and Canada (6%).   It was extremely valuable to obtain firsthand insights as to what factors allow European industrialists to be domestically successful in today’s increasingly competitive global market.  Each culture and each industrial facility had its own distinct competitive advantages and these factors ultimately lead these companies not only export but also to expand their operations internationally.  Immersing yourself in the culture allows for the gaining of societal subtleties and this applies to production as well.  Organizational culture cannot simply be obtained by examining EU policies and regulations such as local content requirements and this experiential learning will be valuable as it’s utilized for future research.

Lastly, I am very grateful to my loving wife for holding down the fort during this “work” trip.