Tippie International
Friday, December 15, 2017
Lesanne B. Fliehler

Working outside the United States isn't for everyone. But many Tippie College of Business alumni have decided that an international position would be part of their career path. Today, more than 2,000 Tippie alumni can be found living and working in 92 countries.

Among them are Peter Thompson (MBA90), Bridget Kemps (BBA08), and Kyle Bogler (MBA13). Tippie Magazine asked them to think about their time overseas through a SWOT analysis lens, focusing on their strengths and weaknesses, and also the opportunities and threats they may have faced when first moving overseas or that they face now.

London, England
Peter Thompson, Chief Operating Officer
FirstLove Foundation, a charity in London’s East End that started as a food bank but has grown
to provide crisis intervention and advocacy to people in need throughout Tower Hamlets, one
of the most deprived boroughs in the country.

Peter Thompson has lived and worked abroad for the past 19 years. Prior to serving as COO of FirstLove Foundation, he was founder and president of Source ETF, a full-service, independent exchange traded fund (ETF) provider in Europe that was recently acquired by Invesco.

Strengths: “I’d say that communication is likely my single greatest strength or at least the one that I have developed the most and that has served me best over my years overseas. The ability and the formats through which one can now communicate are immense and varied and have also made the world smaller. But despite that, the core skill of crafting a message and telling a story remain fundamentally the same to me and as useful as they ever were. Putting oneself in a foreign environment I think only exacerbates the importance of communications and taking the time to get it right. I also have a never-ending curiosity. I’ve seen very few situations through my years in business where asking some version of the question ‘why?’ was not worthwhile. And even better — the question ‘why not?’ Challenging assumptions and asking questions is rarely counterproductive."

Weaknesses: “It may seem an obvious one, but language skills. I wish I would have continued to study languages throughout university and become fluent in one as I think that would have made it easier for me to pick up additional language skills and languages as my career progressed. Europeans are a great example of this. I’ve met so many people who can speak multiple languages and seem to have learned them relatively quickly. It is of significant value.”

Opportunities: “I was a young options trader working at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange when my company asked if I would be interested in moving to Japan for a couple years to manage a joint venture with Daiwa, the large Japanese bank. I’d been a floor trader for 5-6 years, and having been born and lived in the Midwest all my life, I was keen to get out and see the world. My family has been overseas for 19 years now, so I guess you can say we’ve liked it! In addition, I’ve spent the better part of the last year volunteering in the not-for-profit sector at FirstLove Foundation. It has opened my eyes and made me think in ways I had not before. There is so much work to be done in the cause of social justice. The benefits and privileges I have enjoyed that started with an amazing education experience are many. Part of how I finish my career needs to be in repaying that debt and giving something back.”

Threats: “The biggest threat I see is the rise of nationalism and an inwardly focused philosophy that in my view flies in the face of progress, cultural understanding, and social justice. We’re getting bigger and the planet is getting smaller, so we’re going to have to work together. Walls are not the answer.”

Johannesburg, South Africa
Bridget Kemps, Senior Account Manager
Edelman South Africa

For the past 10 years, Bridget Kemps has crafted corporate communications for clients spanning a variety of industries. Her passion is brand storytelling and communications marketing.

Strengths: “My undergraduate studies instilled in me the importance of looking at trends in business. Keeping ahead of trends both in the marketing field and in the fields of my clients is something that differentiates me from my colleagues. Also, when I was an undergrad, I took a summer class in international marketing that took me to London and Paris. Reading case studies about the way marketing and brands appeal to customers in different cultures, and then seeing how those concepts were applied in real life made me realize I can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing.”

Weaknesses: “Many people view Africa as one big location, when it is actually made up of 54 separate countries, each with their own culture, customs, languages, and beliefs. Citizens of the continent are wary and cynical of communication that hasn’t been tailored to them or doesn’t contain any local relevance. A huge challenge for me was the number of languages spoken in South Africa. The country has 11 official languages. It’s not uncommon to have your co-workers speak Zulu, Xhosa, or Afrikaans in the office.”

Opportunities: “I have greater access to my clients because organizations are not as large here. With Telkom, one of South Africa’s largest internet and mobile service providers, I have almost daily access to the chief marketing officer and the chief executive officer, which is not something that happens often for mid-level managers working in larger, more developed markets. Also, Edelman has a huge global network. I’ve had dreams of working in Amsterdam, Tokyo, or Sydney that may be worth exploring. Many companies like to see you’ve had overseas experience — it shows open-mindedness and a commitment to the company.”

Threats: “The biggest South African drawback is the economy. Since I’ve moved here, the local currency has decreased in value while the cost of living has increased. The volatile political climate means you can see your money lose value because a politician gave a speech people didn’t like.”

Hong Kong
Kyle Bogler, General Compliance Manager-Asia

VF Corporation, a global leader in apparel, footwear, and equipment manufacturing.

Kyle Bogler’s team from across Asia verifies that their 1,000-plus VF contract factories abide by the company’s Code of Conduct, which covers a range of issues from child/forced labor and wages to health and safety.

Strengths: “I’m a hard worker. It’s cliché, but true. There isn’t a single company in the world that is going to spend the time and effort in sending someone abroad who is not willing to put their head down and grind. Another valuable skill I have learned is openness. Hong Kong, Jakarta, or Dhaka are quite different from Harlan, Iowa, my hometown. I have learned to accept these differences, which makes living and working abroad more enjoyable. It also takes a slightly loose wire in the head: one which encourages chances, adventures, and the unknown.”

Weaknesses: “I don’t think anyone can ever be fully prepared for an international role in a new position. When I arrived in Hong Kong, I had only managed a team of three, all of whom lived in the same city. Now, I have a team of 18 spread thousands of kilometers apart, plus they all have different customs, holidays, languages, religions, and attitudes. Learning to work seamlessly with them has been an ongoing process. We think the world should act like us, have the same ideas we have, and follow the same social norms. This is not the case. I get to see the world from a different perspective. Working and living abroad will always bring greater insights to anything I do going forward.”

Opportunities: “A mentor always talks about the importance of getting stripes on your sleeve as you take different roles within your career. Working in logistics, a role in inventory management, my MBA, and my current international role are all stripes. While working abroad is not a requirement to advance a career, having that stripe ensures you are part of the conversation.”

Threats: “My biggest concern is coming back to the U.S. I currently don’t own a car, a house, and limited possessions due to space constraints in Hong Kong. These will all require a substantial investment when the time does come to move back.”