As head of the Global Chamber®, at least halfway to 525 chapters worldwide, Founder and CEO Doug Bruhnke shares his 35 years of global business experience. Starting his career as a chemical engineer with Dupont, Doug broke barriers getting the Japan office to hire its first female sales rep, explores how multicultural teams can be more effective, explains the three post-workday evening gatherings common in Korea and Japan, and negotiation methods in Taiwan. Doug also presents many cultural issues that both divide and unite us as well as why Global is Good.
How a nice boy from Mount Kisco became globally minded.
An example of a circular conversations.
How businesses in Japan and Singapore have changed their products or their services for the local market.
How have you observed the differences in management styles?
The role of hierarchy.
Doug Bruhnke – Founder/CEO of Global Chamber®. Doug is an entrepreneur dedicated to helping members of Global Chamber® successfully reach new markets across 525 metropolitan regions – everywhere! He is a two-time ex-pat with Dupont in Tokyo and Singapore, with over 35 years of global business experience in nearly all countries and segments. Doug is also a regional advisor for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and a member of the Arizona District Export Council, British American Business Council of Northern California, and more. He has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Utah and an EMBA from Michigan State University and is a co-inventor on five patents. Doug was born in Mount Kisco, New York, and now is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Palo Alto, California, USA.
Hello everyone and welcome. Today’s blooper is a sign in a Copenhagen airline ticket office, which very simply says in English the very reassuring message, “ We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
Just what a traveler wants to hear, right?
Today’s guest is Doug Bruhnke, the founder, and CEO of the Global Chamber®. Doug is an entrepreneur dedicated to helping members of the Global Chamber®. He successfully reaches new markets across 525 metropolitan regions, which basically means the whole world. He is a two-time ex-pat with DuPont in Tokyo and Singapore and has over 35 years of global experience in nearly all countries and segments.
Doug is also a regional advisor to the US Global Leadership Coalition and a member of the Arizona District Export Council, as well as the British American Business Council of Northern California and others. He has a BS in chemical engineering from the University of Utah and an EMBA from Michigan State University. He is also a co-inventor on five patents. Doug was born in Mount Kisco, NY, and is now based in both Scottsdale, AZ, and Palo Alto, CA here in the United States.
So welcome, Doug. I’m delighted you’re here with us.
I am very happy to be here. Thank you, Phillip, for the invitation. I’m looking forward to our conversation today.
Perhaps we could start by your telling us a bit about your background, and how a nice boy from Mount Kisco got to be so globally minded.
In retrospect, I think part of what got me there were the trips to JFK airport as a young child to pick my grandparents up on their visits to Germany. I thought I was all German, but it turns out the Bruhnke side is Polish, but my maternal side would visit Germany while I was a child. I didn’t feel any strong connection to the world or that might lead to something. But I remember JFK airport quite vividly. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, and he had this 1964 black Lincoln Continental with a white leather interior. It’s kind of a magical design and a car in and of itself, and then that terminal at JFK, I guess it’s the TWA Terminal, in its heyday, was pretty futuristic and pretty amazing. It kind of combined with the 1964 World’s Fair, which also was probably my first memory as a child. So, at the 1964 World’s Fair, I was picking up my grandparents at JFK airport. Something about the Lincoln and the design and all of that combined somehow led eventually to my getting interested in the world. It took me a long time, but it finally clicked years later.
That’s wonderful. The 1964 World’s Fair I also remember visiting with my father. I guess it was probably the same time, but we kept visiting the same pavilion, the NCR pavilion for three or four days in a row, or at least three or four presentations in a row. And the woman who was presenting, it turned out, he told me later, a week later, that he was going to marry this woman, and she became my beloved stepmother. So that’s my connection.
That’s amazing. So, I was trying to remember it. That’s awesome. I was in kindergarten, so it was one of my earliest memories. The JFK assassination actually was one of them, and then a year later was the World Fair, and I can barely remember anything else, so I think that was the seed that was planted. It didn’t get really big until later. Throughout most of my childhood, I was captivated with sustainability and the environment. And I became a chemical engineer to clean up the world, to understand it scientifically.
And still, I mean, I was thinking about the world, if you will, you know, like how do we clean it up collectively? But I wasn’t thinking about the business side until I worked for Du Pont, and then even eventually, I wasn’t there until the guy from Teflon who was doing business development in Asia was retiring and they needed a replacement. Then finally, the opportunity kind of seeded in my head.
You know, maybe this is something for me, but that’s why it took that long. I was 27 years old, so it took that long for me to finally realize the opportunity to take advantage of it. Then, in January of 1987, I took my first trip to South Korea one day early, and it was life-changing. It changed my life.
I know you speak Japanese, but had you known anything about Asia before that time?
Almost nothing. So, you know, I spoke a little French and a little German. I took French in junior high and high school and German, and I grew up with German. And then I wasn’t connected to Asia until that opportunity came up, which, by the way, nobody wanted. Everybody said, “You know, it involved travel.” So, you know, they didn’t want to do it, and I was the youngest person by far in the Technical Support Group, and to me, it was like, “Well, travel sounds pretty good, you know, especially to Asia. I’ve never been there, and I’d love to. I’d love to go.” I’ve always been an adventurous eater, and then it took off when I went there, but yeah, I did not have a connection until that morning, that evening, on Saturday, I arrived in Seoul, and it was just starting to brew. And then the next day… It had snowed the night before, it was January of 87, and I walked around the Namdaemun Market in downtown Seoul, and it just totally blew my mind.
You know, all of the sights and the smells and the sounds. And I literally spent the entire day, from about 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning through six o’clock at night, walking around with my winter coat all over Seoul. I got back to my hotel very excited. Like, wow, this is life-changing.
And you went from Seoul to Tokyo, Is that right?
Oh that trip, let’s see…
This was an exploratory trip?
That was my business trip, so I needed to be there on a Monday. So, and this was one of the things, I guess, that’s kind of led me through my entire career. I didn’t realize until then, and I probably didn’t even realize till later, that what I thrive in is different environments and just being thrown into certain circumstances.
And so it wasn’t that trip, but a couple of trips later to Korea. I’ve been there about 40 times, and then I lived in Japan, lived in Singapore, and traveled to all the different countries there. There was one time when they brought me to Hyundai Motor sometime during that, probably 88 or so – It was the Seoul Olympics time – and they were having all sorts of quality problems, so they wanted me to solve them. You know, it’s like a 28-year-old engineer, yeah, but I mean, I don’t know how to, like, design a car or make fuel hoses or gaskets or stuff like that, but they wanted to kind of pick my brain.
And so, I went to the floor of Hyundai Motor. I ended up doing a lot of work in the automotive industry and saw a lot of car plants over time. That was my first one.
And they were asking me, you know, to do stuff, which was not unusual throughout all of my time. You know, there’s an American he knows, you know, let’s let him solve the problem so that I would be thrown into circumstances that I had no idea what I was entering. And ultimately, I think the core connection for me to international is the ability and joy, and fortunately, some skill set around being able to ask questions, listen, and ultimately solve problems with clients in all sorts of countries, and, so the inter-cultural thing, a lot of that to me is just kind of the engineering thing to some extent, just asking questions and solving problems, and you can go a long way in listening and solving problems.
And you were able to do so with your chemical engineering background?
I think it’s the question-answer type that most engineers have, right? You’re taught to ask a lot of questions and solve problems, you know, no matter what kind of engineer you are.
And the other thing for me as a chemical engineer is that I’m very process-oriented. So, whether it’s the business process and what it means, like what should the process be when we enter the room and how should we sit, like in Japan, right? The visitors face the door, so you’ve got all of that game going on within the meeting or the post-event.
You’ve got to go to dinner, and then you go to another place, and then you go to a third place. And the third place, you don’t talk about the next day, or really, you don’t talk about that, you know, ever, the whole evening. So those process points in business, I think, are things I thrive on, not because I’m a chemical energy but I think it’s because I’m wired that way, and so chemical engineering fits with my profile of things that I’m pretty good at and certainly enjoy very much.
I think, for the benefit of our listeners, it would be advantageous to elaborate on what you just said about the first post-dinner party, the second, and the third. As far as I understand it, it’s sort of like the expression, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
So, what happens at these parties stays in the room and one doesn’t talk about them outside because people can get drunk and say all sorts of, you know, intimate details or thoughts that they would never want to share with certain other people or publicly.
Is that right?
I think that’s fair. You remind me too of just the basic idea that when you’re in another country, and let’s use Japan as an example because I worked there for, you know, five years and have traveled there for decades, and I love Japan. I love the way they do things. And so, for me, being part of a Japanese company was frustrating, and it was something that I recognized that I was comfortable tailoring myself to their style.
So, things like the bucho, the head guy for a division’s desk was at the end, and everybody’s desk was lined up with the least senior person furthest away, and you’re in one big room, and you’re all talking. So, that takes some getting used to because most folks are not used to working in a big room with a lot of conversations going on at the same time, but you begin to tune things in and out depending on what it is. So, the basic idea of tailoring yourself to the local community, I think, makes a lot of sense.
That’s one example. The other is the one you point out, that at work you’re not going to necessarily be direct on everything, like Americans tend to be or Germans or Dutch. You know, if there’s a spectrum of cultures and how direct they are, for me, Dutch is almost offensive. You know, depending on who it is If you know somebody who does it deftly, being direct is fine, but it can feel like a sledgehammer. And too often, for me, it feels like a sledgehammer because I’m used to the circular conversations that the Japanese tend to have. I thrive in that, and when I go back to the US, they say they can’t understand me because I’m talking very directly, but I’ve adapted to the circular type of conversation that occurs so that is what happens at work.
You are free, especially in the third place, to be quite direct, so you don’t have to worry about, well, you pretty much don’t have to worry about what happens the next day. In many cases, I have hundreds of stories about people you know being direct and sometimes being too direct in that, but I did learn that that’s kind of the flow and the normal process for them.
And I like that order. I think we in the US don’t have any regular pattern around that. They at least have a pattern, which is another reason why I think doing business in Japan is probably the easiest country that I’ve ever seen because the patterns are very clear. You just have to be observant and suddenly you find out what those patterns are. It helps you do business.
Could you give an example?
I know it’s harder in English to do it, but can you give an example of the circular conversations that you were referring to? The Japanese language, by the way, is very vague for the benefit of our listeners. You don’t have to have a pronoun. You can imply something like, “Want wine or want beer?” Which means, do you want wine or beer?
But you can also have a verb and it can just imply something, and it’s not necessarily clear to whom you’re referring. That vagueness in a way makes it more interesting because you’re intuiting a lot, but it also helps create this circularness, which in a way is sort of noncommittal.
Commitment is in the consensus of the group.
No question. I find the Japanese language to be very poetic, very lyrical, very subtle, and just an art form of the highest order. It’s sort of like, you know, the US steak and potato versus kaiseki dinner of all sorts of different sizes and flavors, and you know, it’s that kind of a difference between the languages.
I think there’s the language part of it, which is different, where there’s so much subtlety in the language itself. Then there’s how you use the language and what you’re saying. One of the more famous examples that I typically use is something that frustrated me in our joint venture, where in the Osaka Office for us, I was headquartered in Tokyo, in a place called Gotanda.
It’s kind of a little bit of a dirty little area in Tokyo. Not the best, not a premier area. Still, you know, quite a nice area, and we had offices in Nagoya and Osaka, and in the Osaka office, the smartest person in the office, I had ascertained, was this lady, who was an office lady.
And so, it’s a secretary that does all of the activities, really does most of the work in this particular case. But they wouldn’t let her sell. And I thought that it would make a lot of sense if we had the first woman salesperson within the company, and she was a clear example of someone who would be successful.
So, I did try at work to be direct enough to articulate and be very logical that this was something that needed to be done. And in my case, I tried doing it indirectly by talking about it generically. Then I started to think specifically about her and the sales role. So, it was like a series of weeks, building up to first trying to get them to see the opportunity, then recognizing that they were not seeing the opportunity, and then being more and more direct.
“Let’s get Fukamachi-san to be a salesperson in Osaka” like that direct, right? So, it took weeks to get there. So that was uncomfortable. Once we finally got there, it was like, first of all, it felt like a discovery for them. So, everybody kind of flutters around and like, it’s like, this is not, this is not comfortable because now they don’t know what to do.
So, what we ended up doing was I spent months where I traveled three times to Osaka and did that three-dinner thing each night. I had the conversation so that I got more and more direct toward the end. And finally the third trip, as you might imagine, they agreed to try it as a test, and as you might imagine, the end result was that she was the best salesperson they ever had. But they were quite convinced that Toyota would never buy from a woman. And they were wrong, and it took a lot of pain and anguish to finally get there but we got there.
It’s amazing. Good for you. I presume it’s a position that she wanted?
Yeah, Oh yeah, yeah. I had talked to her about it and she seemed capable enough. She didn’t recognize that it could be possible, necessarily, given the culture, I would say. I do remember, in my own experiences, that Korea and Japan are a little tough in this area.
In particular, Korea is worse in the sense of women not being given an opportunity. The first experience I had with that was during my early years when a Korean American asked if she could…she’d like to work for Du Pont Korea, and I went there just kind of openly, not thinking it would be any issue, but they said that it just wasn’t going to work. Women could not work in business. This was 1988, so it’s been a long time. It’s changed quite a bit, but in those days, it just wasn’t doable for multiple reasons. Just recognizing women in business, but then the evening work, the after-5 stuff with all of these after- activities. Korea was very similar to Japan. All these after-hours activities were male-oriented, so women could not really be part of the conversation. Those days are not gone; they’re still here. We’ve had that in the US as well. We know that it has existed.
I was in Detroit in the automotive industry when the Windsor Ballet was pretty much removed. So that was in the 90s. The Windsor Ballet was the strip club in Windsor, ON, across the river from Detroit and all of the automotive people. Not all. Many of the automotive people would take the purchasing managers to the strip clubs in Windsor, and then at some point in the 90s, and certainly by early 2000, that was verboten [prohibited]. It was suddenly, you know, off, completely off the table. It was not allowed, and it was inappropriate, but it took that long. You know, that was only 20 years ago when it was reasonably acceptable to do that.
Culture is changing. That’s the good news, and I think part of it is for all of us. There’s the respect for culture, and then there’s recognition that there are behaviors that aren’t necessarily really good. You know, in some of these cultures, you know, or have been protecting bad behavior, and it doesn’t make it right. It’s not part of the culture to abuse women. Or to not allow women to be advanced. At least I don’t think so. I think there are certainly some people that might disagree with me. I think those of us that are hopefully a little bit more enlightened, can both respect the culture and the cultures that are presented to us and also recognize that there needs to be progress within every culture to be able to give people these certain rights and abilities and fundamental human elements. Again, could be subject to debate.
Of course, and to give them opportunities as well. That’s what the United States is supposed to be about.
I wrestle with this a little bit because I wonder are there fundamental human elements that are things that we should defend? And I happen to believe that, so I think that we should give everybody the ability to do whatever they want. What you bring to the table is not your hair color or your skin color, or your religion, or your gender, you know, or whom you love or anything like that.
It’s hey, what can you do to contribute? And my own experience with that is especially in Japan, where I was the only foreigner. I recognize that we made bad decisions when there was not a good enough mix of people, you know, too many men or all Japanese.
Not that Japanese people can’t make good decisions. They make great decisions, but I find that more diverse teams are better. That’s been my own observation, and that’s been proven by research over time. Somebody was telling me the other day that they agreed in another way, that diverse teams are more innovative and can do more.
And so that’s certainly true. You want to respect culture but also to bring some diversity to the table.
Yes, very much.
So, can you give some examples from your experience in Japan and Singapore and elsewhere or what you’ve heard perhaps of how businesses have changed their basic adaptation of their products or services for the local market and it could be, you know, management, packaging, pricing, color, size or whatever the cases may be.
Sure. I’ve spent the majority of my career in Asia, in Seoul, and I’m a German Polish American. So my mentality was born in Europe and the US and visiting Asia was extremely mind-opening because of the way the markets there are and the way that products are perceived, and let’s just take Japan as an example.
Japan is hyper focused on the appearance of the product and the way it looks, the packaging and all that. We Americans, we’ll go to Costco or whatever, and the product is maybe damaged goods, and we’re willing to buy it. You know, they’re not interested in that. Typically, and certainly not in the big department stores or anything. They want everything perfect. And so, the way that translated for me was, you know, I worked for Du Pont, and we had materials like Teflon and others, and so we would have situations where if our product did not look as expected, we would have problems.
One of the more famous ones for us was a product called Vamac®, an ethylene rubber that we made in Texas and then processed somewhere in South Carolina, and it got shipped to Japan. So when it showed up in Japan, there was dirt in it. It was like a clear, plasticky rubber, and there was dirt. And Meiji Rubber was the company making oil hoses and it was going into Mitsubishi cars.
So we got a call on a Thursday night that this was unacceptable. They had to shut the line down. And so, everybody scattered, and the whole day on Friday, we all worked at the plants because the product had been shipped over. They’d shipped the product back to us from Japan. Our team was removing dirt from the product till we could ship new products from the US, right? And so, some of it was airshipped. So, we had to recognize that their perception was that this was a bad product.
The way, of course, the Americans thought about it was, well, just put it through a screener. Once it’s dirty and once it’s soiled, it’s a bad product, and it’s not going to be acceptable. So, long story short, we did survive it there. We found a way to get more products.
I ended up believing that the Americans knew what we were going to do, and I thought I had explained what needed to be done. So, I ended up bringing the Mitsubishi Motor Company Quality Head to this place in Kingstree, SC. We flew into Charleston. We go to this plant. It was like an hour or two away. And so we went to the plant, and even after all of this, like months of explaining, there they were processing the rubber. There was dirt on the rubber and some guy at the end was brushing it off with a brush.
I was like, “Oh my God, seriously?”
And they thought that was OK, even after so much explanation. So, there are cultural differences relative to the perception of the quality of a product. But fortunately, the US has gotten a lot better over the last 20 or 30 years. But it’s been a journey and you know, I used to have dark hair and there were, there have been a lot of cases like that, especially around product quality, that has just been near disastrous for us.
What about in terms of management style? Have you observed anything? How have you observed the differences there?
But by the way, in that particular case, in management style, on that Friday when it all happened, the big boss who ran Teflon and everything, was in town, Dave Sanders. Oh, I’m sure he retired a long time ago, so he shows up and everybody is gone.
I stayed in the office to greet him and a few other people. There were like 100 people in the office, so we probably had maybe 50 people left. So, he was deeply insulted that we were not greeting him like a head of state. You know, he didn’t understand how a quality complaint could interfere with his, you know, treatment at the office so, it’s, I mean, that’s probably beyond culture.
That’s just being a jerk.
A lack of fundamental business sense was what that was, so I believe that part of the management differences occurred there, where there is certainly a strong product focus in Japan. I think certainly there’s a different people focus as well. There’s a lot of after-work activity that does happen in many of these countries where there’s a connectivity between the boss and the people after work.
And that allows them, at the third place, typically to be able to articulate some of their frustrations or find out more about how they’re perceived at the company. So, use those opportunities to have a dialogue rather than, you know, just walking into the office and saying, hey, you know, I’m unhappy, you know, or hey, how am I doing? Am I going to be promoted? That’s a very uncomfortable, still very uncomfortable kind of conversation.whereas a lot of that can be done much more softly and indirectly outside the office.
You had mentioned the bucho, the division leader. Is that the best translation for division leader or group leader, I guess?
Yeah, I think that either one should be fine, yeah.
So, the bucho’s desk is sort of toward the front and then people are arranged in a row in seniority, the least senior person to the most junior person. When they have group conversations, is everyone’s opinion respected or is it very much influenced by hierarchy? The junior person’s opinion doesn’t count, even if he’s qualified to say something.
Yes, certainly then everything was very hierarchical, and my own experience was compounded by a fairly old Japanese company, Showa Denko, that I kind of saw evolving right in front of me. Also, the automotive industry is, in some ways, progressive. Certainly at Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. But when you talk about the supply chain, they historically have been fairly behind in terms of their progress in open management skills, especially when you’ve got the Toyotas of the world and Nippon Denso might be a supplier. And then somebody who supplies Nippon Denso, and certainly anybody supplying that company, they’re probably pretty far behind.
You know, they’re decades behind, and so a lot of my own experience was at the lower levels. I certainly was able to go to Toyota. That was amazing. I thought it was fantastic, but it was a very different feeling to be at a Toyota versus several tiers down in terms of how management handled things and just what people talked about and how innovative they seemed to be.
At the lower levels, would companies welcome and accept the opinions of the junior staff or, again, would the junior staff be expected to be quiet while the upper people made the decisions?
Generally, yes, that’s the case. However, you know, just like everywhere, there are personalities, and so some younger people are more brazen, if you will, or rude. They would probably consider them rude and would eventually beat them down, right?
The Japanese saying of a nail sticks up gets beaten down, and so if some younger person would interject their own opinion, you know, before a more senior person, they’d probably be beaten down and told during the evening hours of their rudeness, and they’d consider that to be rude.
I think in technology it’s quite a bit different and it’s evolving for the better. However, even when I deal with fairly advanced Japanese companies in comparison to, you know, what Americans are used to, there is much more of a hierarchical structure depending on where you are. Then, of course, bucho down to the OL [office ladies] and from the bucho up to kakaricho and the Sacho, which is the president of the company.
In all your global experience, especially with running the Global Chamber®, what have you found to be the, I want to say, the most difficult country or the most difficult culture to work in, and “difficult” of course is a relative word because it’s coming from our perspective. But in terms of whether it’s business barriers or just business culture or business procedures or that you can’t make changes that easily or whatever the case may be.
I, over the years, have had periods when different countries were more challenging for me. I would say there’s not one that stands out, but there are, you know, elements of almost every country that are either disappointing, might not be the right word, but uncomfortable. You know, I remember early in my career, both Malaysia and Indonesia were uncomfortable for me because they were so not Christian, you know, in the sense of not being that unnecessarily good Christian, not at all.
I was not very religious as a child, and I became Greek Orthodox because of my wife. It kind of doesn’t matter, but because of a country that has different religions that are more visible. You know it felt more uncomfortable to me. In comparison, consider my most recent trip to Indonesia. I thought it was amazing. It was like, wow, I love the fact that they’re singing, they’re doing the prayer call at like 2 in the morning. There was something magical about that. I just thought it was fantastic. So, I think it depends on how you embrace some of these things.
I would say the countries that are less… I was going to say the word evolved, but some countries are rougher to deal with, and for me, China, quite honestly, has always been rougher. People have been less kind, you know, at work.
And I think that one of the things I really love about Japan is that despite all of the kind of stuff that happens, there’s a fundamental kindness around the process that feels comfortable for me. Korea, I would say is not quite the same, but there are many similarities. It’s a little bit rougher, especially 30 years ago. It’s much more refined and cultured and I think more beautiful now because of the way it’s evolved.
China still, for me, has always been a little bit rough. It’s more of a street fight. When I do business, I don’t want to be in a street fight. I just want to have a good conversation and move things forward. If there’s a dance that goes on, I’m willing to do the dance. I find it entertaining almost to do that. When it’s like a hammer over your head, it can be a little uncomfortable.
Where it did play out in China in a positive way was, as an example, I heard about a price negotiation I had to do in Taichung, Taiwan, where I was raising the price by about $1,000,000 a year to this client, and right before I arrived I got an e-mail to say that they had a quality complaint, and it turned out it was about $1,000,000 worth of quality complain. It was like, “Oh, OK, so I think I see what’s going on here.”
So, I did a plant tour, I had a conversation, and then we had lunch in a fish market. We had a table with about 12 people, and he was on one side, and I was on the other. And then there were all the intermediaries around the table. So, we had lunch, and we started with one bottle of whiskey, and it was largely he and I drinking that bottle of whiskey. And then they took a second bottle out, and so basically, I felt like I drank probably 3/4 of a bottle of whiskey. I don’t think it could have been that much but it clearly was not comfortable. I’m a 6’4” fairly big-boned fellow. Normally I can drink Asians under the table very easily. This was a guy that was about 6’3, muscular and a softball player. He could drink, and so he and I were going toe to toe, and finally, at the end of it, we did come up with a conclusion that we would delay the price increase by six months, and he would drop the quality complaints.
So, we did come up with a good conclusion. However, the drive back to Taipei that day from Taichung was very painful for me, although it was mostly sleeping. The bad part was that at 4:00 AM the next morning, we needed to meet in the lobby of the hotel to go golfing the next day with an important client.
So, that’s part of the fun of international, right? You’ve got this thing that’s kind of unexpected, you find a way to survive it, and then you start again the next day.
It’s a wonderful story. Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we conclude?
You know, a lot of the fun with international, a lot of the fun is the differences. And I think especially in your work, where the precision of language is so critically important in the written word and speech. And when it’s not precise, when it’s not great, we can get the wrong perception. There’s also the cultural aspect of that when people are not quite there culturally, you know, they’re a little bit off. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly is going wrong here. It’s critical to acclimate, whether it’s the precision of the language or some level of connection to the culture in which you’re working, and I believe that’s important.
To be clear, some of us, fortunately, I think, have a natural ability to be able to do it and also find ways, when we make mistakes, to correct ourselves or maybe to have the integrity to recognize and to be present and when you make mistakes, to fix them. Every culture respects that. That’s a good thing to be cognizant of. There’s no best culture, and there’s no best way to do business, but there are good ways to do business, and certainly, one way everywhere in the world is to recognize your mistakes and own up to them.
So, I think that’s one thing that’s important for business people to be aware of. And then the other part that’s often missed, you know we don’t talk about too much, is that we’re alike; in fact, I’d say people are more alike than we are different. The fundamentals of Maslow’s hierarchy, right? You know, we want our children to be better than us, and we want a roof over our heads, and we want to make an impact in the world. And you know, all of these things are very common.
Somebody was telling me the other day – Mothers tend to be the ones that keep us all the same. The mothers in Taiwan, Japan, Amsterdam, and the US mothers treat us very much the same. There are some similarities to keep us on the straight and narrow. And mothers, fortunately, align a lot of our behaviors, so I think as a businessperson you understand the differences but recognize the alignments as well. That’s a powerful thing to use in business when you can connect. If you’re in a negotiation with a softball player in Taichung, Taiwan, to be able to connect, the ability to talk through lunch and drink through that lunch and recognize that he’s got a family, and he’s got a child, how many children, and what is important for you. Connecting like that on a personal level, in addition to the business level, is something that’s so critically important for success around the world, so remember the differences, but also remember that there are a whole host of similarities, and if you can tap into those, you’ll recognize a lot of success.
Global is good. It’s great to be able to talk to people and listen, to negotiate and mediate. And that’s why, Phillip, we believe that doing trade is important for us to prosper, but it’s even more important to be able to do conversation. And that’s something that the world needs more of.
Stop throwing bombs at each other. There is no reason to do so. There is a good reason, though, to conduct trade. There’s a good reason to have conversations and to appreciate each other and our cultures, the differences, and the similarities.
Very well said, beautifully said. I guess in your next lifetime, you can be appointed to be Secretary General of the United Nations.
Those people are fantastic, right? The diplomats, and it is extraordinary to see a good diplomat. And a lot of my success, I think, in Japan was watching the fellow for whom I took over as the head of the joint venture and watching the diplomacy and the patience and the calmness amidst lots of chaos. It’s important for a leader to be able to be calm and to be patient. Like the woman’s case that I mentioned earlier, right where they wouldn’t let her be part of the sales team. You know you can get angry. But that’s not going to get you anywhere. You know, not in the short term or definitely not in the long term, you’ve got to think about the long term and plan for it. In really almost any culture, respect for each other and respect for history are not only to be balanced with the requirement that we need to make progress. You know, without progress, the Japanese would never have overtaken the US automotive industry, right? It took an American doctor, W. Edwards Deming, to go over and explain to the Japanese, hey, I’ve got all these ideas. The Americans don’t want to listen to it. What do you think of this?
They embraced it. So they can embrace change, and people everywhere can embrace change as long as it’s created in a context that allows them to be successful. And that’s the challenge for all of us as leaders to understand and also recognize that we can do better everywhere in the world. And so, how can we find a way to get to that path? That wants people to make the journey for them to be successful, to allow women to sell to Toyota, and to allow innovation to happen in companies. It’s very doable and very possible. It’s the challenge that keeps me coming to work every single day. And I don’t want to stop. I’m going to hopefully be able to do it for many more years.
That’s outstanding. Thank you. So, this has been a wonderful conversation with Doug Bruhnke, the CEO of the Global Chamber®. Doug, thank you so much for joining us.
I appreciate the opportunity and I appreciate the work that you do. Thank you for keeping these kinds of stories, putting this information front and center. We want to get more people involved in international business. It is not only enjoyable but it also changes lives– your own life if you get involved, and also the lives of many other people. So, I hope if you happen to be inspired by the possibility of doing more international work, I encourage you to do that, because it’s very satisfying, very rewarding, and you’ll have thousands of stories to choose from. Hopefully, I didn’t bore anyone new with some of these stories.
I’ve tried to pare it back, but you’ll have a lifetime of stories that will make your life even more interesting.
Especially if you drink whiskey, right? Thank you, Doug. It’s a wonderful pleasure to speak with you.
My pleasure. Thank you, Philip.
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