Globalization's Impact on Leadership

Aug. 2, 2008
One of the rewarding benefits of my job is the opportunity to discuss issues with the leaders of the automation industry.

Each leader has a set of challenges and opportunities unique to the company’s history, market segment, customer changes and technology. Every one of them is faced with the challenges and opportunities presented by the rapid globalization of business.

The very concept of globalization is new. The first concept that unfolded as companies began to grow outside of national boundaries was that of the multi-national corporation. In some cases, companies were growing so large that they began to lose a sense of national identity. But there was still a sense of central command and control. Then companies began to “internationalize.” In this case, there were international offices—perhaps just sales or maybe sales and support.

Globalization is a larger concept. It involves tapping in to the people resources in many countries. Often the central corporation allows local, regional or national units the power to make product decisions, so that the portfolio better reflects the needs and tastes of their customers. Yokogawa exemplifies this new trend—and in the process blows the stereotype of a Japanese company. It has established a corporate engineering center in Singapore and an automation marketing center in Dallas. Similarly, Phoenix Contact, a German company, has a competency center charged with research and development for certain product lines in Harrisburg, Pa.

Whenever I talk with the senior leadership for any automation technology supplier, they are all aware of these changes in the landscape and initiating programs within the company to exploit these new challenges.

Change leadership

Sometimes, leaders in automation companies are faced with challenges in the aftermath of acquisitions—seemingly a fact of life in the industry. I interviewed Andy Gravitt, vice president, Automation and Control, Schneider Electric, for the Managers & Executives Skills department this month. He was appointed to his current position after Schneider Electric, a French electrical and controls supplier, had acquired several controls and automation suppliers, and was attempting to integrate them. He was faced with getting the team together and explaining to distributors and customers the implications of the changes, and getting a new focus. In this case, this is the national organization of a global company acting to be the customer-facing part of the larger corporation. His leadership tips can be found on page 12.

I’m writing this column from Chicago’s Navy Pier at another example of globalization—the Siemens Automation Summit user conference and the ExiderDome exhibit. The keynotes included U.S. executives of Siemens as well as executives from the German corporate office for industrial automation. Once again an automation company is showing that blend of local closeness to the customer and corporate leadership. Announcements made at the event included word that Siemens is launching a competency center for human-machine interface to be headquartered near Dallas.

The keynoter for the Siemens event was the winner of the first “The Apprentice” series—Bill Rancic. He was an entrepreneur who wound up beating people with MBAs from Harvard and Wharton schools for the opportunity to work with Donald Trump. He had the opportunity to work with and meet some of the top entrepreneurs in the country. As he observed these people closely, Rancic determined that all the entrepreneurs he met had three traits: an incredible attention to quality, incredible decision-making ability and a “never-quit” attitude. These traits mark most of the automation industry leaders I’ve met, too. These are also traits that we all can develop to be more successful. I know I’m challenged by listening to them.

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