Global study: Looking at Cyprus & Greece through different cultural lenses

Guest blog post by Aspasia Bartell, UW Foster School of Business MBA student

Selected from a nationwide candidate pool, second-year Foster MBA student Aspasia Bartell traveled to Cyprus and Greece this summer with the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, a Washington, DC-based, Greek-American think tank. During the trip she had the opportunity to study current foreign policy issues and the business environments in Greece and Cyprus. The delegation met with the President of Greece, ambassadors, Greek and Greek-American business leaders and other dignitaries.

We began our trip in Cyprus, a divided country since the 1974 conflict between Turkey and Greece. Northern Cyprus remains under the control of Turkish military forces, a situation regarded as an illegal occupation denounced in several United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Greek-Cypriot government in the south wants to reunify the island, but attempts to reach a solution to the dispute have so far been unsuccessful. This situation has created hardships for the Cypriot people; for example, thousands have lost their homes and businesses as a result of the occupation and continued division.

Despite the division, the Cypriot economy is doing quite well. Over the past decade Cyprus has become a magnet for Foreign Direct Investment. The Greek-Cypriot government has taken specific measures to help drive investment including putting in place a low 10% corporate tax rate and a no withholding tax policy as a means to make investing in Cyprus as simple as possible.

UW Foster School MBA student Aspasia Bartell in Athens, Greece
UW Foster School MBA student Aspasia Bartell in Athens, Greece

Next, we visited Greece in the midst of its worst financial crisis in history.

In Athens we met with Dr. Miranda Xafa, Alternate Executive Director at the Board of the International Monetary Fund, who explained the economic crisis in greater depth. She discussed how Greece has taken out the largest loan in the history of humanity. Its debt has been downgraded to junk status. Greece is more than likely to default.

Xafa then spoke about actions Greece needs to take to make progress. She spoke on how Greece needs foreign direct investment and that this investment should be from private capital. She spoke further on how the country needs to focus on its tourism and shipping industries, which make up approximately 30% of its GDP. She also believes that officials should take a thorough look at the size of its public sector.

One of the business leaders we met with was Dennys S. Plessas, Vice President of Business Development Initiatives for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. He told us that Greece needs to isolate and to focus on its competitive advantage moving forward. He says the country needs to focus on exports of certain products as well as expanding its education system.

The political turmoil that accompanies this economic crisis has made addressing policy issues in Greece more difficult.

Greek officials are also dealing with an ongoing diplomatic dispute with their northern neighbor, the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), over the name “Macedonia” itself. The Greek government maintains that the Republic of Macedonia should include a qualification such as “northern” to differentiate itself from the neighboring Greek region also called Macedonia.  While Greek and Macedonian officials continue to debate the issue, the UN has agreed to accept any final agreement the two countries are able to reach.

Also, relations with Turkey still remain strained due to an increasing number of Turkish flyovers in Greek airspace. As a result, Greece finds it necessary to continue to spend a large amount of its GDP on its military, while those funds are badly needed elsewhere.

UW Foster School MBA student Aspasia Bartell meets Greek President Karolos Papoulias
UW Foster School MBA student Aspasia Bartell meets Greek President Karolos Papoulias

We were fortunate to meet with Dr. Karolos Papoulias, the President of Greece.  President Papoulias used our visit as opportunity to thank President Obama for his political help with the financial crisis. He ended our meeting with a powerful message that the Greek people possess an incredible amount of strength and ambition and they will emerge from this crisis.

This trip was a phenomenal experience that illustrated how the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and that the business leaders of both today and tomorrow need to have an international view. During this trip I saw how leaders from different countries often view situations through their own cultural lens. The ability to recognize this and to attempt to see issues from the cultural viewpoint of another leader is an important skill when working in the international sphere.

Woodworth International Scholar Award

Hoss_WoodworthCertificate of International Studies in Business (CISB) student Jennifer Hoss was happily surprised when she was called into Faculty Director Debra Glassman’s office one afternoon in spring quarter 2011. There, she found out she had been selected to receive the inaugural Woodworth International Scholar Award.

Funded by Bob Woodworth, emeritus faculty member in Management and Organization and former CISB Faculty Director, the $1,000 award, which comes with a globe-themed trophy, goes to a high-achieving student who excels academically, demonstrates bilingual/bicultural skills and has high potential to contribute to the U.S. balance of trade.

Jennifer was a sophomore entrant into the CISB program and served as Spanish Track Co-President in 2010-2011. She studied abroad in Granada, Spain in summer 2009, followed by a marketing internship at Cosmen and Keiless in Madrid in autumn 2009. After graduation in June, 2011, she traveled through New Zealand and Australia before beginning a job in the Product Marketing Department of Physio-Control, where she is Associate Product Manager.

Jennifer says, “This award was really a special surprise. The money allowed me to extend my travels and see even more of Australia and New Zealand. And the globe sits on my desk at my new job where I already have the opportunity to work on international projects. I can’t thank Mr. Woodworth enough for such an extraordinary honor.”

Learn more about the Certificate of International Studies in Business.

Students connect with professionals

Costco Field TripThe Certificate of International Studies in Business (CISB) tracks have been exploring out-of-classroom activities by organizing field trips to local internationally-focused businesses. Many of these trips have been set up by partnering with CISB alumni. Not only is this a great way for alumni to get involved, it also allows current students to see where a CISB certificate can take them, and is a great way for them to learn more about some exciting local companies. Here are a few highlights:

Spanish Track:
In February, 2011, the Spanish track went on a trip to the Starbucks headquarters, where they met with CISB Spanish Track alumna Julie Anderson, Ethical Sourcing Manager in the Department of Global Responsibility, along with a colleague of hers. After being given a tour of the office, students were taken to the tasting room where they learned about the process Starbucks uses when choosing coffee beans to be used in production. They even got to sample some different coffee roasts for themselves! Students were then shown a short presentation highlighting the C.A.F.E. program for Ethical Sourcing, which ensures an overall ethical cultivation, distribution, and selling process.

Japanese and Chinese Tracks:
In January 2011, the Japanese and Chinese tracks had the opportunity to tour the new Seattle Amazon.com campus and learn more about this internationally-focused company. Carson Chu, a CISB Japanese track honorary alumnus, has worked at Amazon for six years and is now manager of the Shares Services Asia Department. He showed the students around the facility and talked about the company’s current activities and future vision. The students heard about Amazon’s current developments in the China market and how skills learned as a CISB student can be applied in the workplace.

After the trip, Carson invited two of the Japanese track members, both candidates for Amazon Financial Analyst positions, to meet with him and do mock interviews to prepare for the official job interviews.

The Japanese track also met informally with Costco CEO Jim Sinegal during a field trip to the company in May, 2011.

German Track:
Bob Vollbracht, Regional Director, UPS Supply Chain Solutions, hosted the German track at the Auburn, Washington facility in October, 2010. The students witnessed cross-dock transloading operations, got an up-close look at various trucks, containers, cargo and equipment, and received an explanation on warehouse inventory management.

Students Ashley Matsumoto and Darcy Lloyd said, “We are grateful for the many benefits that CISB provides, not only in preparation for international business jobs and careers but in helping us connect with our amazing alumni and local international companies.”

Learn more about the Certificate of International Studies in Business.

Informed innovation: interview with Steve Tolton of Petrocard

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBrogan

The Brogan Blog had a chance recently to chat with Steve Tolton, the CEO of PetroCard, a leading Pacific Northwest fuel and lubrication distributor. PetroCard, specializes in unattended stations that use a proprietary card lock technology to provide fuel to commercial customers that can be as large as Pepsico or as small as the one-truck plumber down the street.

And it may be one of the largest companies you’ve never heard of.

In 2010, PetroCard grossed over $900 million. PetroCard was ranked last year as the fifth largest privately held corporation in Washington State.  It is owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.  BBNC is owned by about 8,200 Eskimo, Indian and Aleut shareholders.

PetroCard started in 1997, when Steve Tolton, then the Chief Financial Officer of BBNC, was looking for promising investments.  He partnered with banker Tom Farr, who saw an opportunity to consolidate the fragmented card lock business, starting with the purchase of a small company called PetroCard.

Neither Steve or Tom knew much about petroleum.  But they knew a good business opportunity when they saw it.  In less than 15 years, PetroCard has gone from 25 million gallons to 300 million gallons of fuel sales per year and it has leveraged its base business into other compatible business ventures

Steve Tolton attributes PetroCard’s success to focus on its customer base..   Their regional customers include school fleets and taxis, as well as Waste Management vehicles.”

“We touch our customers a thousand times a day,” says Tolton.  “We stay abreast of trends so we can offer solutions to our customers before they have to ask for them.”  Innovation means knowing how to manage risk with great due diligence.

“It is rare to hit a complete home run,” says Tolton.  He noted, however that the “Clean N’ Green” fuel stations, PetroCard’s partnership with Waste Management, has come pretty close to a homerun—exceeding all  expectations.

“For the last two years, we’ve been operating commercial natural gas stations, because of the continued expansion in the area of compressed natural gas,” said Tolton.

Tolton has grown PetroCard, but  does not believe in growth for its own sake.  “We focus on our commercial customers fueling and lube solutions, even though we may see other opportunities,” he said.  “We’re better at taking a decent companies and helping make them better.” PetroCard’s venture into natural gas has been an entrepreneurial “home run,” built on a deep understanding of industry trends and changing customer needs, including the need for a cost-competitive product in an emerging market.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.