Sunday, February 27, 2011

A new country is coming and with it basketball stars

Sudan Before the Split
In January 2011 voters in South Sudan voted overwhelming (99.57% in favor) to create a new country known at the moment as South Sudan.  Although the votes have been counted the change over won’t be official until July of this year (2011.   Then, Sudan as it exists today will divide into a two countries.  The official name of the new country has yet to be announced.  But changes and planning are underway for this complex undertaking.

A recent article in Addis Neger, an Ethiopian newspaper, discusses some of the challenges that face the emerging nation (
The writer points out that outside its new borders there are regional conflicts that can spill over testing the new government when it needs to focus on nation building.  Further, internally the leadership will be challenged to create a unified culture within a society that has traditionally been built around clans rather than country.

But for all the difficulties that may be ahead it’s also possible to see opportunities arriving.  In the February 20 New York Times there was an article headlined “Long Arms Reach for the Rim”( telling us of a renewed excitement about basketball in South Sudan.  It tells us that players from South Sudan may now come to join US collegiate and professional teams.    According to the article these players are “versatile, freakishly athletic. ”  They will follow in the footsteps of the few Sudanese players who arrived before. Today only Luol Deng now in his seventh season with the Chicago Bulls represents Sudan in the NBA. Soon he may be joined by others representing country #196 still known as South Sudan.

While it’s easy to think mostly of the struggles ahead for the new country its important to recognize the opportunities will also appear.  Let’s be sure we look for the good news, celebrate it and cheer for the players as they arrive.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Will I Feel Welcome? Be Able to Find My Way?

Arriving in at an airport I’d never visited before  - Memphis, Tennessee ( made me think about the signs that directed me toward my immediate destination – baggage claim.  How would I feel, I asked myself, if I didn’t speak English?  Could I find what I wanted, needed?

Thanks to the graphics along with the English words,  I could easily find my way to baggage claim.  Images of suitcases matched with directional arrows – it was easy.  And to my surprise, when it came time to find my way out the Exit sign was not just in English.  It was in Korean, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish.   An airport that serves 10 million passengers a year, both domestic and international, Memphis knows one way to make its customers feel welcome.   Sadly, this isn’t true at all US airports I’ve visited. 

For the US traveler we benefit from the fact that English is the global business including the business of travel.  In Hong Kong or Florence, Singapore or Paris, you can find your way reading signs in English or by translating the images presented.   In  Los Angeles the International Terminal may have some signs in Spanish, others in Chinese or Korean, but the other terminals like Terminal 5 where I arrived last night  all signs are in English and lack graphic images to guide you.   Not a warm welcome.

Aside from wishing to start a movement to improve the signs in our US airports I am reminded that we travelers need to expand our vocabulary when we travel.   We can’t simply pay attention as to how to say Please, Thank You and I’m Lost in the language of the country of our destination.  To that list we should add Exit, Baggage Claim, and My Bag Didn’t Arrive.  Is it time for a special dictionary for Business Travelers?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Remarkable Business Traveler

Almost 800 years ago, In 1271, a 17 year old named Marco Polo, set out on a business trip with his father and uncle.  Italian merchants and traders they went in search products to offer their customers.  They weren’t the first Europeans to make this journey nor was this their first trip.  But this twenty-four year long journey did more than bring new goods to their market - – it changed the world.

According to  Nayan Chanda author of Bound Together  How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization, Marco Polo’s book Travels describing his experiences was “a major building block in the rise of Western awareness about the mysterious Orient.”  It created a new understanding of the world of that time.

To me what is most impressive about his story is the relationship he established with Kublai Kahn, the Mongol ruler of China and beyond.  Due to his language skills, intelligence, and personality Marco Polo was able to gain the trust of this warrior ruler and become his emissary throughout China and regions as far away as India. His was an extraordinary accomplishment  - bridging the differences in culture and experience to gain this level of trust and responsibility. 

His story is reminder to all of us, today’s business travelers, that it is possible to create strong connections, solid business relationships with people whose way of doing things differ from own. That business can take occur in places that are new to us.  Be inspired by the silks and spices the Polo family introduced to Europe!  Patience, curiosity and most of all being there in person make the difference.  Your trips are not likely to last twenty fours years but even 24 hours with a colleague sharing conversation,  a cup of tea or coffee in person – rather than exchange an
e-mails can bring unexpected benefits.

If we follow the example of Marco Polo, go off an engage with people, do business in unexpected places, it is possible that we too can expand our business and maybe we too can change the world.