Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General Suresh Kumar
U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service
Thunderbird, Graduate School of Global Management
Friday, April 29, 2011
As prepared for delivery
The Thunderbird class of 2011; proud parents; President Cabrera; members of the Board of Trustees, administration and faculty; distinguished guests and friends. I am deeply honored to be here with you today. Thank you for allowing me to participate in your very special day.
Today is big for several reasons: it is a day of celebration, a culmination of hard work, a day to savor, to reminisce about the past and to look forward to new beginnings and to the future. Today is a day to welcome and get reacquainted with family and to prepare to say good-bye to friends. With so much happening, it is okay to be nervous. I must confess to being nervous myself -you see I have never before given a commencement speech. I was honored- even thrilled- to be asked to give this commencement address. No sooner I said “yes” I realized that I would have to actually write a speech. “What do I say to you, that you already do not know? What advice do I give, that I have not already given my two children when they graduated a few years ago?”
And then it occurred to me that I’d be speaking at Thunderbird - an institution with which I am privileged to be associated for over 20 years. It was at T-Bird that I first heard “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers”- something that has resonated with me since and continues to influence my life, and what I do, even today. While those other schools in Cambridge, Palo Alto, Philadelphia and elsewhere aspire to provide robust global education now, it is what Thunderbird has done since its inception, from the times before globalization became fashionable or sexy. And most likely, this is why you chose to come to Thunderbird.
I also realized that I would be speaking to graduates of a school where the highest office is not occupied by the President- the control tower has long been the domain of the students union. At Thunderbird education is imparted in equal measure in the classroom, as it is at real world Winterims, and the fabled pub. Class of 2011, T-Birds, you are about to spread your wings and explore a world beyond borders. The airstrip on which your school is built provided security once, nurtured you with global understanding over the last several months, but as all airports, supported the spreading of wings to soar the heights to create sustainable peace and prosperity through trade.
So I decided that I would share with you what I have learned on my journey, and my perspectives of an emerging global landscape.
There is a world- an ever-changing world- of opportunities out there to explore.
1. Live a Life of Purpose and Passion, and Embrace Change
I take it that most of you at Thunderbird seek a global career with a view to making a world of difference- a global impact. But then I should not make such an assumption, and neither should you. This is the one instance that you need to be sure of yourself. You must embark upon and embrace a global career because you want to, not because of the perceived glamour of the job, wanderlust, or because a parent, teacher or even a commencement speaker suggested that you should. Look at it this way: If your daily schedule is like most and not just like the nocturnal ones getting out of grad school, allowing 8 hours for sleep and daily routines, you will spend between 50% to 75% of the time that you are awake, working. You owe it to yourself to make sure you have fun for much of this time which means that you must enjoy what you do.
You must pursue a global career because you want one, not for any other reason. The best global leaders and managers that I have met are curious, inquisitive about different cultures, willing to explore doing things differently, and generally know how to do more with less. They commit to travel, even relocate- not just to locations like New York, London or Paris but beyond, to places where the action is. A global career is stunningly fascinating and satisfying if you want it, or, it can be miserably isolating and lonesome if you are pushed into it or took it to check off a “been there, done that” box.
Know what you enjoy, and pursue it with relentless passion. I did: I found my wife of over thirty years and my passion for global management at business school, and they both helped shaped my career and my life!
2. Know what you seek, have a plan of action, but be willing to adapt and improvise.
I grew up an army brat. My father would be transferred every two years. I graduated with global aspirations but was determined to look for a more anchored, and less disruptive life. But I soon realized that I couldn’t have it all. My passion for global management prevailed. Today, the U.S. is the sixth country my family and I have called home, and we find ourselves the quintessential global nomads. It takes my very bright children 30 minutes to answer the question “where are you from?” So much for perfect plans, anchored lives and classic identities; having a goal allowed us to navigate with the flow. Our global journey has been incredibly exciting, educating and rewarding beyond our wildest expectations: and the best part is that someone paid us to see the world!
Today I stand before you as a proud American; humbled to be leading our great nation’s trade promotion efforts. If someone had predicted this years ago, I would have guessed that they had been drinking.
America is a great country: welcoming and rewarding. Where else could someone born and educated in India, the son of an infantry colonel and a musician mother, having worked across six countries become a principal steward of the Administration’s exports and trade initiative? Did I plan to serve in the Obama Administration? No. But it was not accidental either.
I set out on an international career- global was not yet in vogue then- but pursued my passion for globalization across sectors: business, non profit, education, media and government. I wish I could tell you that I had all the foresight and the perfect plan. I did not. I just pursued things that I enjoyed – being a media anchor, a global business manager, a professor of global management and a consultant. These experiences provided invaluable perspectives, and helped me develop skills that allow me to do what I do today- facilitate trade, and enhance global competitiveness by helping scale for the country, what I did for the companies I served. In hindsight it was pursuit of my passion, even more than a plan, that helped. The path I chose may not have been the most conventional, but will likely become more common as institutions seek individuals with diverse, interconnected experiences.
If you know where you want to go, do not be afraid to explore different paths. If you seek a global career look at all options: from corporations to financial institutions, from government and public service to multi lateral institutions, from media to educational institutions or starting on your own as an entrepreneur. Over the years you can connect the dots; I did.
In the emerging world of global trade there is no one unique path. To seize the moment you will need to adjust, improvise and innovate, and need I say, assimilate multiple experiences. You will need all that to gain better appreciation of global markets to “win the future.”
3. Trust your instinct, and go with the flow
Most parents prefer their children to work for a “big company” where there is “job security”. But the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by age 38 the average worker will have 10-14 jobs. We parents know more about the professions of yesterday while you seek the professions of tomorrow. The ten jobs most in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004! Most of us advice givers have more of our lives behind us, while most of you graduates have more of your lives ahead of you. You must reach out to parents, teachers and friends as sounding boards, but inevitably you will need to keep your own counsel.
Trust your instincts about what you like and dislike, research your options, and decide on not just one path but the options to pursue. “Winning the future” requires engaging in new industries and emerging sectors- it requires innovative approaches and for the entrepreneurs amongst you, it means creating your own future.
The Global Scene
Let us reflect on the World that we are in:
We live in interesting times.
I have recently returned from leading trade missions to several countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Tunisia amongst them. I have been to Tunisia several times before, but this time I saw pride that the country had sparked the imagination of the region. There was palpable enthusiasm amongst businessmen, government, and the youth, and they all looked forward to partnering with American businesses to create a better future. Where some see strife, uncertainty and violence, members of my trade mission and I, saw connectedness, optimism, opportunities and a changing order.
We live in interconnected times
People across the world are more connected than ever before, e.g., a third of Tunisians use the Internet and one in every five is on Facebook. Today there are 31 billion Google searches every month compared to 2.7 billion in 2006. Consumer needs, hopes and aspirations are shaped by ubiquitous information and people the world over aspire for better lives and livelihoods.
Technology has irrevocably altered market access and reach; the inter- connectedness amongst people increases with every passing hour..
We live in exponential times
The world’s 7th billionth person will likely be born this year. 95% of the global population lives outside the United States; 36% of the people on earth reside in China and India. An India and a China add an Australia and a New Zealand to their population every year. The demographic composition of the world is changing the make up potential markets.
Indeed the only thing constant in the global world is change itself!
Those who seek a global career do so at a time of incredible opportunity and change.
The best part of running an international business or leading global trade initiatives is that something somewhere is always changing: a rule or regulation, a policy or tax provision, or the interest or currency rate that spoils the wonderful business models that you have built! Constant course correction is par for the course, as is continuous learning on the job through consumers, competitors and collaborators. I never had a dull moment in my global journey, and those choosing a global career are in for the ride of your lives!
Winning the Future
I am incredibly blessed to serve President Obama and our country at a time of significant challenges and global change.
You too are blessed for graduating two years after the worst economic downturn in living memory! Though unemployment continues to be stubbornly high we have posted 14 straight months of private sector job growth, and are trending in the right direction. You have been trained as stewards of globalization with the skills to be global leaders. Do not fret over whether this is the best time or the worst time to graduate; face it, it is the only time that you have got. If globalization is your calling, then you could not be graduating at a better time.
The Obama Administration plans to “win the future” by rebuilding our economy differently- “changing the game” by focusing on innovation, education and commercialization. This lays the foundation for a strong, sustainable economy in the United States and beyond.
When we have invented we have prevailed: the automobile, the airplane, the Internet and the GPS were invented here- the last two came out of DARPA, the labs at the Defense Department. Learning from this experience, through a rigorous challenge and matching funds process last year, the Department of Energy, through its Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, known as ARPA-E, provided seed capital for 37 transformational projects which private institutions were unwilling or unable to fund. Amongst the projects was one to use bacteria to convert hydrogen and oxygen into energy. Such projects have the potential to change the world, and 7 of the 37 projects have already successfully raised further rounds of funding in private capital markets.
Scalable innovation requires an educated workforce. To win the future we must have the best education, the best curriculum and the ability to retrain our workers. That is why the Administration places so much emphasis on education at all levels: from Race to the Top and K through 12 education, to programs at community colleges and research driven universities.
Sustaining the gains of innovation and education requires commercialization- connecting new technologies, products and services to markets. Through the NEI the President has called to double our exports in 5 years and support millions of jobs here at home. Last year exports grew 17% versus the target of 15% CAGR that doubling over 5 years entails. Nearly half of the 2.9 percentage point growth in real GDP last year came from exports.
If you find U.S. export performance appealing, you will find the potential for growing U.S. Exports exciting. Even though exports comprised 12.5% of U.S. GDP in 2010, up from the 11.2% recorded in 2009, we still have to catch up with competition. Exports as a percentage of Germany’s GDP is 40%, for Canada and most of Europe it is 30%, and 25% of China’s GDP comes from exports. Doubling U.S. exports is not only possible but it is the right thing to do. Of the U.S.’s 30 million companies, only 1% or 280,000 companies export and of those who do, 58% export to only one market. We can and we must do better, and it is this challenge and opportunity that makes my life interesting.
My team of almost 1500 trade professionals at the US&FCS has more graduates from Thunderbird than from any other institution. And our trade professionals assist more American enterprises everyday to export to new markets. This country needs more exporters and potential entrepreneurs and exporters amongst you do not have to go it alone - you have the full support of the U.S. Government in connecting to global partners and global markets.
There is a world of opportunity out there to win the future.
If a global career is your purpose stay the course and enjoy the ride- the ups and downs can feel like a roller coaster - or like a bob sled which is where I found myself at the product launch of Coolmint Listerine in Calgary, Canada. But a life in global trade is always fast paced with flowing adrenaline!
Plan a future but be willing to adapt and improvise.
My global journey brought me to the USA via India, Greece, Indonesia, Singapore and Canada. Not the shortest, nor intuitively the route I would have pursued; it was always an exciting route, though not one easy to explain to my parents.
Trust your instinct and go with the flow.
If I were to satisfy my parents I would have been a doctor; if I followed my grades I would have been a finance major; and if I stuck to the advice of teachers , bosses and search consultants I would not have strayed off the beaten track. Being the global nomad helped me gain enormously through engagement across sectors. I secured a solid foundation in business across cultures and geography, academia allowed me to teach what I learnt, and I learned even more from teaching, and my early pursuits in media served me well across the worlds of business, government and non profit. My experiences help me relate to people, and those whom I serve. Going with the flow has helped me perform better as an executive, leader, and public servant. Without a doubt, it has made me the person I am.
If you have the inclination, the ideas, the plans, and the resolve to engage globally with a willingness to adapt and embrace change, a world of opportunity beckons you. There has never been a better time to engage globally. So T-Birds, let all recruiters know that
“If it’s global leaders they pursue,
Don’t look for all the animals in the zoo
Just look for the signs
That says “tigers and lions”
It isn’t how many
It is who?”
Class of 2011,
CONGRATULATIONS and God Speed!
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