Today’s companies operate within a global context and serve diverse, international constituencies. Executives and leaders within these organizations are expected to understand the needs of these communities and respond to them.
According to Mike Wittman, vice president of supply chain at Mars Chocolates, business leaders can gain the soft skills needed for this task by living and working abroad. The experience, he said, could result in “much greater appreciation [of the] value for the diversity of the cultures, and within the culture the diversity of the people [and] the diversity of the market place.”
Wittman went on to say that his continued work abroad gives him “a whole new lens to look at the world.”
Wittman shared his insight with eager MBA students during Wharton’s 2011 Management Conference. He served as part of the panel on the “Importance of Global Experience,” which also featured Wharton alumni Mark Wright, WG’03, director of controlling at BASF Corp., and Oliver Engert, W’86, director at McKinsey & Co. Witold J. Henisz, HOM’05, the Deloitte & Touche Associate Professor of Management in Honor of Russell E. Palmer, moderated the panel.
Answering the unspoken question in the room, the panelists discussed how it can be difficult to move abroad due to family and personal constraints. Still, they concluded, the benefits outweigh the costs.
As Wright stated, “There are always lots of reasons you can come up with not to do it … [but] there are a lot of opportunities at every stage of life to [move abroad], and I would certainly encourage people to take that risk.”
Moving often, however, can create an added level of difficulty when maintaining business networks. To help maintain connections, Engert had three clear recommendations for MBA students, as well as any globe-trotting businessperson: reach out and celebrate successes that are beneficial to both parties, ensure that your relationship is not only about business but also has some personal ties and actively work to maintain your network even after leaving a location.
“Be active in keeping your face and name in front of the decision-makers,” Wright added.