March 06, 2013
The importance of developing local talent and understanding demographics in order to place the right amount of product in a new market were just two of the points made by a panel of Albion College economics and management alumni to students from Albion and the American College of Greece in Athens during a unique class session Thursday, Feb. 28.
Working in a pilot program through the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA), Albion economics and management professor Vicki Baker has paired her human resources management class with an international management class in Greece. The classes met jointly for a videoconference where questions were asked of Kurt Wiese, '78, an executive director at General Motors, Brian McPheely, '78, the CEO of Pratt Industries, and Jeff Weedman, '75, formerly Vice President for Global Business Development for Procter & Gamble and now serving as a CEO on Loan to launch Cintrifuse, a regional innovation accelerator and venture fund of funds.
"General Motors spends a year to a year and a half assessing a market (before launching into a new territory)," Wiese, who was a member of the second graduating class of Albion's Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management, told students from the combined classes. "On the people side, there is always the tension of how much influence there should be from a central location as opposed to developing local talent that isn't quite as experienced."
Weedman added that while doing laundry is nearly universal, consumer tastes differ.
"We don't try to make a global laundry detergent in Cincinnati, Ohio," Weedman said. "It's finding the sweet spot of leveraging global technology and marrying it with the needs in any location on the planet."
McPheely's company, the world's largest, privately-held 100 percent recycled paper and packaging company, talked about diversification when asked about opportunities in the global marketplace. Pratt Industries, for example, has moved into cans for packaging food and beverages.
While the U.S. economy is slowly emerging from the recession, McPheely also warned the students to avoid confusing economic growth with the unemployment rate.
"A new plant with the same output requires fewer employees," he said.
The three Albion alumni agreed that technology has a role in making it easier to videoconference across the globe, but there are certain things like body language that cannot be measured on a screen.
"Technology is not a surrogate for understanding business in a market," Weedman said. "You want to do business with the people you really know."
Baker and her colleague in Greece have developed three joint projects, with the expectation that students will spend one-third of the course doing teamwork with their peers from the other school.
She noted the collaboration – and in particular, their unit on managing international and virtual work teams – brings an additional professional aspect into the classroom. "In the business world today, the reality is that our students will work with colleagues in different buildings, in different countries, people they'll never see at the office face to face. The more exposure they get to this world, the better they'll do in the long run."
English professor Nels Christiansen is also participating in the GLCA's pilot program, connecting his environmental literature course, Terrorists and Treehuggers, with a writing course at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Christiansen and his partner plan to have students complete shared writing assignments and hold discussion of texts and activities.