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Being close to headquarters was once the way to further your career. Does an international role provide more visibility now?
When you are away from the home office, one of the benefits is the autonomy. You’re in an environment where you get to test your own personal hypotheses. That’s an outstanding experience because you don’t have the crutch to fall back on. So that autonomy becomes a very powerful thing. But there can be the feeling of isolation and the need to connect back to the center. Over time, people find a way to manage that.
What has changed on the global landscape?
In our business, where we deal a lot with governments outside of the U.S., the speed with which country “A” learns from or adapts to what they see happening in country “B” is phenomenal. Where governments at one point didn’t talk, today they talk and they learn from each other. So in our line of work, we have to be able to keep pace and be as efficient and effective as the environment that we’re operating in.
What about families?
If you’re by yourself, it’s fine. But if you have a family, what I’ve found is a great component of your success will be their security and fulfillment. If your family is not happy, it’s very, very difficult to be successful professionally because when you go home you’re going to hear it–and sometimes before you get home, because your phone is ringing. Having your family firmly established and secure and resolved in that new experience is equally, if not more, important than you professionally in the office. You have to balance the two.
How is the global experience unique to African Americans?
We got used to dealing with our differences at a very young age. I got to the point where when I was in an environment where I stood out, it didn’t faze me as much. That benefited me as I began to work outside the U.S. I was at Buckingham Palace at an evening gala of dignitaries, and I was the only African American in a room full of 500 people and I was OK with that. In fact, I found that it actually worked to my benefit because I met everyone in the room and never had to leave my spot. Their curiosity took over. I met Tony Blair, I met members of the royal family. We’re not on a first-name basis, but we had these brief encounters because they thought, ‘Wow, he’s different.’ I’ve found that happened to me quite often as I’ve traveled around the world. People are trying to figure out who I am. So it creates opportunities for encounters that you can’t plan.
Photograph by Drew Endicott : AUGUST 2007
EDITED BY SONIA ALLEYNE : ALLEYNES@blackenterprise.com