John D. Zeglis is brimming with words of business wisdom.
And the retired chairman and CEO of AT&T Wireless Services is eager to share them with the next generation of business leaders.
There are some threshold truths they have to come to grips with before they go out into the business world, he said in a recent phone interview.
Zeglis, keynote speaker for the 2014 Doermer Dialogue with Business Leaders, is gearing his remarks to the many IPFW business students who will be in the audience. The Harvard Law School graduate tries to visit college campuses at least six times a year to share his experience.
IPFW launched the Doermer Dialogue business discussion series in 2010. The format includes a keynote speech by a nationally known business leader.
This year, that presentation will be followed by a student presentation and discussion on China’s business incubation and innovation activity and how it affects northeast Indiana.
This year’s dialogue theme is World-Class Management in a Global Economy: How Communication and Technology Can Help.
Zeglis established himself on the international business stage as president of AT&T before the company’s wireless division was spun off into a separate public entity in 2000. But he also has a local connection.
The north-central Indiana resident is founder and chairman of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, a member of the NBA’s D-League.
Zeglis referred to his basketball team to illustrate a point. Mad Ants executives routinely negotiate contracts with players who grew up overseas, he said. They also strike deals to trade players to European basketball teams and schedule exhibition games on foreign soil.
Jeff Potter, the Mad Ants’ president, said he does what he can to help players accept overseas offers that will advance their careers.
The practice, he said, rewards players for what they’ve done while playing for the Mad Ants. Potter, who is Zeglis’s son-in-law, said that attitude builds goodwill.
The local team can turn to lawyers on the NBA’s payroll for international contract advice when needed, he said.
Zeglis said professional sports teams are just one example of organizations that have international dealings.
No matter how U.S.-centric your business looks, you will – capital W-I-L-L – be doing global business, he said.
A small Indiana manufacturer might end up buying components from a Chinese company, hiring a Filipino firm to provide call center support and using software cloud storage maintained by a German provider, he said.
Technology has made it possible for entrepreneurs in Indiana to know what’s going on in markets worldwide, giving everyone an equal access to information.
That’s why speed is crucial, Zeglis said. Businesses need to quickly develop and market goods and services. Manufacturers need to quickly identify the best place to assemble products.
Students should be prepared for business to unfold on a global stage.
They have to come out (of college) ready for it, he said. It’s like in basketball. If you wait to get your legs under you in the first quarter, they’ll score a basket – zip, zip, zip!
Otto Chang, dean of IPFW’s Richard T. Doermer School of Business, agrees wholeheartedly.
They’ve got to understand business nowadays is really global in that even if your business is in Fort Wayne, competition comes from all over the world, he said. You have to become the best in order to have sustainable business from your clients.
One way to keep pace with competitors is to visit their websites to research what they offer customers in terms of after-sale services, warranties and payment terms, Chang said. A savvy business owner will consider matching those offers found elsewhere, he said.
Even a business’s website can offer inspiration for design and ease of use.
That’s a first step, he said.
IPFW officials study other colleges’ websites to evaluate what courses those schools are offering and whether their online services are easier to use, Chang said.
No matter where you do business, Zeglis said, the fundamentals apply. He cited the Four P’s of marketing: You need the offer the right Product at the right Price, Promote it well and Place it where customers will find it, he said. Breaking one or more of those rules will cripple a company.
Zeglis conceded that individual cultures will require tweaks to the Four P’s. McDonald’s doesn’t want to try to sell beef hamburgers in India, for example, where much of the population is vegetarian for religious reasons, he said.
Zeglis also plans to warn business neophytes not to expect to do international business.
There’s no such place as international,’ he said. There’s no such place as global,’ either. You are always going to do business in a country, in a defined market.
That might mean the laws of Russia, Germany or France apply to a particular contract, he said. Or the rules and customs of Morocco will guide how a supplier interacts with your company.
There are no international rules. There are Japanese rules and Mexican rules, he said.
Kent Kauffman, IPFW assistant professor of business law, said some international treaties can help protect American entrepreneurs, however.
The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods is an international set of rules similar to the U.S. Uniform Commercial Code, he said.
The rules apply to transactions between companies based in countries that are members of that convention. The U.N. rules allow more uniformity in global commercial transactions, Kauffman said.
Even so, disputes can arise.
Kauffman recommends having a resolution process spelled out in contracts before trouble arises. The International Chamber of Commerce offers an International Court of Arbitration that about 90 countries participate in, making it a good option for many business conflicts, he said.
Newly minted executives also have to be prepared for differences in ethical behavior, Zeglis said.
Although many cultures see various gifts – including cash payments – as an everyday part of doing business, federal law says U.S. companies can’t pay a foreign government official for a business advantage.
The tricky part comes when an executive of a government-owned company asks for a favor before awarding a contract, Zeglis said. Would granting that favor break the law? He didn’t answer his own question.
Right or wrong, they look at ethical behavior much differently than we do, he added.
Kauffman said bribery is just one of the corrupt practices outlined in a federal law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He thinks everyone doing international business should be aware of the finer points of that act.
Zeglis believes in following the law. But he also goes beyond legal requirements in some instances.
The former AT&T executive recalled that some officials in foreign governments were willing to allow the telecommunications company to use less stringent safety and environmental standards than AT&T was forced to use in the U.S.
But Zeglis never took them up on the offer.
Don’t do anything there, he said, that you wouldn’t do here.