27th September 2017 by Malcolm Allison
Every time I hear the word Global, I have a wry smile for Martin Lukes and a-bGlobal.com, a fictional company covered extensively in a satirical column in the FT for several years.
For most of my life, global has been exciting. The possibilities of trade, education, tourism, culture, fashion seemed to grow exponentially just at the thought of global. My childhood was spent in the UK and in East Africa. My first experience of a business world outside the UK was in the late 1970’s, when I was asked to take the Israeli sales manager on a field visit in my East London territory. Head office thought he would enjoy the Jewish quarter that formed the Western limit of my patch. I remember being briefed not to take him in to see any Arabic physicians. How was I to know that Dr Almeida was Arabic? They both pretended to be from other countries and the discussion was very civil. I think this sowed the seed that we have a lot in common who ever we are and differences can be bridged if we want them to be.
I have a feeling that global has a bad name at the moment and I am trying to understand why. We, in the West, live in a time of unprecedented access. Our shops are stocked with food from around the world. Our electronics are from China, our cars from Korea or Germany and our clothes from Rumania or India but we never stop to wonder about the supply chain, the social environment and international cohesion behind this. Perhaps we are blasé, perhaps our wealth and our easy access have turned China or India into nothing more than letter combinations on the labels of the goods we buy and perhaps ubiquitous branded goods are so commoditised that the users do not even consider them to be harbingers of a global ethos.
I spent time in my last company building relationships with the core countries, and between them. Neither of these was easy to do. We needed to foster a reason for mutual support. To achieve this we created a situation where a brand ran like a small company, with the principal activities shared, such that each major strategy was assigned to one country representative, making that person responsible for securing buy in from the other countries. Overall, it was clear that the countries embraced the concept. As a by-product, the representatives of the core countries became more culturally aware and more valuable in the employment talent pool.
I suppose the landing deck is tight and it is easy to overshoot or undershoot in achieving the right balance of time investment. It helped that I moved the ‘board meetings’ around. There has to be total commitment to this philosophy, and it may cost more in travel and living expense of course. Which is why there has to be commitment from the head of the business to the most junior clerk.
On a more personal level, we are presented with a ‘new’ utopia of electronic aggregation through social media. Our tacit acceptance of this service is at the same time acquiescence to a social code based on the personal philosophies of the builders of those systems.
I am not sure I want to blank out the differences between cultures just yet. I want to acknowledge them and perhaps celebrate them. If you like, I am not quite prepared to ‘Go gentle into the good night’. Perhaps it is right that those of a certain maturity should now be the ones for whom ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day’. So I am getting those printed t shirts out of the rag box and dusting off those Converse Sneakers and the original 501’s. Hang on, what was I saying about global branding? I think I should write to Martin Lukes and ask his advice. I think a-bGlobal.com was bought by Google.