The Darden editorial team recently sat down with alumnus Scott Price (MBA ’90), executive vice president and chief administration officer of Walmart International and president and CEO of Walmart Asia, for a discussion on how to best prepare for a global career path.
As a leader of international teams, I’m sometimes asked what advice I would give those interested in pursuing global careers. And that’s a really, really tough question. There is no one global career path, but I think there are several critical factors to it.
The first is learn a second language. There’s a bilingual nature in whatever economy you choose.
The second is put some stakes down in Asia. When I was finishing the Darden MBA/M.A. program, I had spent six months in Japan. I was frustrated by the fact that no company in the recruiting process would consider sending me back to Japan. In hindsight, what I realize is I didn’t understand enough of business to communicate in terms that worked for them, which would have been “I’ll go as a local hire.” They thought I wanted to be a full-on expat, which is very expensive, and therefore what value are you adding at that stage in your career? None. So I sold everything and had the backup plan of parents back home if it all went pear-shaped.
If you are 26, 27, 28 years old and unencumbered, go and do a local-hire stint. That early experience and early grounding is critical. And then if, for family or life reasons, you migrate back to the U.S., you have that fundamental resume foundation that gives you the credibility for a globally oriented career.
Understand human relationships. I spent a lot of time and energy understanding international business environments. Because I find it interesting; I find people interesting. Where I find individuals have been successful in global careers is when they have invested the energy to understand three parts of human relationships: How do friendships get formed? How does one mentor? How does conflict get resolved?
Adapt your approach. Americans generally tend to have a single approach to conflict, which is straightforward. It’s highly communicative and it is fast moving. It’s very different in other cultures. The Asian culture is hierarchical, and in a conflict situation, Asians prioritize respecting seniority, whereas Westerners are very comfortable challenging authority. It is a completely different way of behaving and thinking and importantly managing disagreement or conflict. For Asians in a multinational environment, they have to be able to create the same kind of ambidextrous capability to be able to challenge authority, as Westerners have to learn how to respect authority, even though their instincts may be to challenge its authority.
Global business is complex in large part due to country cultures. Even though you may be talking to someone who works for a global company and there’s a culture within that company, it is the core of the societal culture that drives behavior.
Develop an enterprise perspective. In my case, the Darden education gave me a foundational understanding of how the enterprise works. And so with that cultural understanding, I was able to see through cultural differences and connect business issues, for instance, from HR to finance, that maybe other people weren’t able to connect.
Be willing to take risks. Being a professional ex-pat with no home anywhere is risky. We did it for 25 years. There were many times early on when my wife and I were saying, well, if it all goes downhill from here, I guess we’re moving in with my mom — which didn’t give me a lot of marital credits. So when I made the decision to leave my first company, which is a great company, and they are today a great vendor partner for Walmart, it was because I didn’t feel like my career was progressing. And so I was willing to take the risk. I was with them for 12 years, and I’m programmed for loyalty, but I felt like I was not going to get where I wanted to go so took the decision to move country and company to DHL. You have to take risks. If you are so risk-averse that you are willing to compromise your career path, you will probably end up disappointed or frustrated by what you didn’t achieve versus what your ambitions were.