Alumni / May 28, 2020

Leading Through Understanding

Approaching cultural differences with curiosity and openness is fundamental to leading with a global mindset. Scott Samels '92, global delivery lead within the global enablement team at McCormick & Company, Inc., oversees approximately two hundred people halved between North America and Europe, specifically in Poland. So for Samels, understanding the cultural differences in the countries that his company operates in and how that impacts the employee workforce is an important factor in developing his global mindset and leading a global team. For example, Samels’ team in Poland is centered in a city phonetically pronounced “woodge” but for written purposes is spelled LODZ. He says being aware of the differences in languages is very important and that it’s “not so much that you have to speak Polish, but learning that not all letters are pronounced the same in Poland as they are in the U.S. matters even in terms of trying to pronounce people's names.”

Samels comments there are a few other challenges when working in a global market that certainly do not prevent business, they just change your approach. There is a six-hour time difference between the U.S. and Poland. “And so if I'm going to schedule a meeting that includes people in Poland, it's obviously not fair for me to say, okay well, let's do a 2 p.m. meeting, I realize that it's 8 p.m. your time, but you know, sorry, you're going to have to spend your evening with us,” Samels exclaims. Therefore, he is careful to schedule cross-regional meetings in the mornings.

Recognizing that some of the nuances in different countries are important and unavoidable, Samels says McCormick aims to maintain global standardization as much as possible. Therefore, three of the core global mindset competencies — business savvy, adaptability, and relationship building — are most essential. Samels defines business savvy as not only understanding that business is done differently in different countries but being able to translate your knowledge from the countries that you're most familiar with and translating it into something that fits in other locations. In order to do this, one must be adaptable, which means “taking what you know in your existing knowledge base of the U.S. markets and adapting it to the commercial needs of the local market. How we conduct business and go to market in certain countries can be different, so you need to adapt your approach at times, while still working to maintain the global process as much as possible.”

Lastly, as a leader in a large global organization, relationship building is key. Prior to the global health pandemic, Samels would travel to Poland quarterly for face-to-face interactions with team members there to encourage a working relationship. Once his travels were restricted and his team began working from home, Samels began what he calls “coffee chat sessions,” 30-minute informal meetings with a small group of cross-functional and cross-regional team members. He says “the chat sessions aren’t about discussing work. They’re about connecting with people and continuing to build relationships.” Samels says his team finds comfort knowing any personal challenges they may be facing others are facing as well. 

Samels credits subtle things like the diverse course load offered at the University of Maryland, for helping to develop his global mindset. He advises alumni and students to have “intellectual curiosity”, not just doing what is needed to get your job or course work done, but going the extra step and digging in a little bit deeper. Samels says “just do a little bit of that extra research to understand how companies you know that are global are operating or go talk to somebody to understand a little bit more about what they do.” He says taking a little bit of extra time will make you a better business partner and excel in an ever-changing global business market.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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