Are we just acting global-y?

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What does it mean to be a global company? I certainly think SAS qualifies. We just released our 2007 financial results which show that, in additional to experiencing 15 percent growth and hitting a record US$2.15 billion in revenue, 56 percent of our revenue came from outside the U.S. and we added 1,100 new customers from all over the world. We have customers in 107 different countries, 400 offices globally, and in the last few weeks I've interacted via phone or email with colleagues in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Singapore. That feels pretty global to me.

I'm thinking about this because last week we held a global summit of SAS communications staff from around the globe. SAS employees representing 20 different countries traveled to Cary so that we could all sit down face to face and discuss what we wanted to communicate in 2008 and how we wanted to do it. Still sounds pretty global, doesn't it? But Dennis Massengill, our executive director of worldwide marketing operations, posed an interesting question. Are we a global company, or are we a bunch of national companies trying to work together?

I've worked in other companies that have international operations that didn't integrate very well. Heck, I worked for a company in North Carolina where relations with our upstate New York office sometimes approached Balkan levels of confusion and animosity. I think SAS does a good job of both thinking and acting globally (and a global communications summit certainly shows that commitment).

In The Myth of the Global Corporation, Doremus et al argue that multinational corporations are still primarily influenced by the policies and values of their home countries. In his review of the book, Bruce Kogut of the Wharton School argues that open borders allow the "theory of comparative advantage" to come into play, and companies can do whatever they do best - which may in fact strengthen national differences. So I suppose that means the ability to sell Swiss watches worldwide helped make the Swiss more Swiss?

We did experience some national differences during the communications summit. Not every country can present the same message in the same way, after all. You have to be conscious of cultural differences and all the factors that govern how your message is received. In that, we all do retain elements of our individual, national characteristics.

I tend to look at things on a personal level (all business is personal, after all). Seeing a group of communications professionals from all over the world eating pretzels and cheering the Carolina Hurricanes to a victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs after a day of brainstorming and lively debate about how to best present the SAS message ultimately answered the question for me.

What do you think it takes to make a company global?

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  1. To see whether a company is a global company, I think you will have to look at their senior management? Do you see diversity in your senior management (American, Asian, Hispanic, African, etc.)?
    Then, it is the true global company that walks its global talk.

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