Robert Salomon on “Global Vision” : An interview by Bob Morris


SalomonRobert Salomon is a professor of International Management and a Faculty Scholar at the NYU Stern School of Business. He is an award-winning scholar and educator who has been teaching and conducting research on globalization and global strategy for nearly 20 years. He has received more than 10 commendations for “Excellence in Teaching” at NYU Stern. He was nominated for NYU Stern Professor of the Year, awarded the NYU Stern Faculty Leadership Award, and was named a NYU Stern Faculty Scholar. He received the Emerald Citations of Excellence Award in 2015. He won the 2006 IABS Best Article Award, the 2003 Haynes Best Paper Prize, the 2003 William H. Newman Award, and the 2002 Barry M. Richman Prize. The International Division of the Academy of Management recognized him as a “Thought Leader” in 2013. He has even been described in The Wall Street Journal as an educator who provides “brilliant distilled advice on business strategy.”

Rob’s book, Global Vision: How Companies Can Overcome the Pitfalls of Globalization, published by Palgrave Macmillan (February 2016), has been described as “a must read for any manager with globalization responsibilities.”

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Rob.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Global Vision, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Salomon: Without a doubt, my parents. Who I am, what I have become, and what I have been able to achieve was nurtured by their love, their support, and the importance they always placed on education, not as a means to an end, but as an end itself.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Salomon: There have been so many people who have had an influence on my career development, but probably none more so than Myles Shaver (University of Minnesota), Xavier Martin (Tilburg University), and Bernard Yeung (National University of Singapore). They were my main PhD advisors, and it was from them that I received unbelievable training in Strategy and International Business. They were also amazing role models from whom I learned the importance of having passion for what you do, and also that there is no substitute for hard work.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Salomon: Good question! My epiphany probably came earlier than for most people. I had my epiphany while I was still in college. I was struggling one night my junior year with what I wanted to be when I grew up, and it just struck me: I always enjoyed being in school and learning, and so I thought it might be fun to be a professor. The more I learned about what professors do (e.g., teaching and research), the more I liked the sound of it. From there I was singularly focused on achieving that goal.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Salomon: For what I do (i.e. academics) formal education is incredibly important. The kind of training you have and who you study with is an important determinant of where you end up in at the end of spinning the academic roulette wheel. From there, of course, much of what you accomplish is determined by hard work, good fortune, and good timing.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Salomon: I wish I had a greater appreciation for how much people and relationships matter. Sure, doing good work is important. There is no substitute for working hard and trying your individual best. However, how you treat people and how you relate to others is also incredibly important. The working world is not a solitary one. The ability to perform well also depends on your ability to establish good working relationships. Treat people well and you will receive the same in return. I’ve also found it’s just much more fun to work with good people that it is to work alone, or with people with whom who you have not been able to cultivate good relationships.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Salomon: Wow! Tough question. I’m not much of a movie buff. My favorite movie of all time (not business related) is Good Will Hunting. The story just spoke to me. I recently saw The Big Short, and I quite liked that movie. I thought it had a number of business principles to impart. For example, although most managers are interested in the bottom line, do not take shortcuts to produce fleeting, short-term results. And always behave with integrity.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Salomon:
There are various books I’ve enjoyed reading over the years – The Prince (Machiavelli), Art of War (Sun Tsu), Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis), Barbarians at the Gate (Burrough & Helyar), The Birth of Plenty (Bernstein). Each taught me something different. For example, from The Prince I learned about the power of individual motivations and incentives. Art of War has a number of strategic lessons to impart about how to engage in, and think about, competition. Liar’s Poker was just fun. I first started out my career as a trader, and so the attitudes of the traders depicted in the book resonated for me. I came to appreciate the importance of relationships in dealmaking in Barbarians at the Gate. And finally, The Birth of Plenty helped crystallize many of the ideas about the importance of economic and political institutions to wealth creation that helped inform my own book.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Salomon: This reminds me of the Isaac Newton quote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To me it’s absolutely critical. Creating useful insights is a cumulative human endeavor. I could not have accomplished have of what I have without building on the influential work of others…

Morris: From Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not italics] to do.”

Salomon: Agreed. Fundamental tradeoff. By choosing something to do you are implicitly choosing something not to do, and you have to be ok with that choice. By choosing to become an academic I have chosen not to become a chef. And I am ok with that, despite the fact that I respect chefs. I just know I don’t have what it takes to succeed there. And that’s OK too.

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Salomon: Ha! That’s a good one. Had never heard it before. I guess it makes me think about the importance of taking chances and taking risks. One must experiment, of course.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Salomon: For me, “That’s odd…” is the element that keeps me going every day. I am constantly trying to explain what I do not fully understand. As an academic, that is exactly what we are trying to do – to understand phenomena that have so far defied understanding.

Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Salomon: Reminds me of a something I say a lot (not sure if it’s an original quote of mine), “No shortage of good ideas, only a shortage of money and time.” Basically, we can have all these good ideas (vision), but without follow-through, nothing really comes out of it. It’s all for naught.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Salomon: I have to say, I am not the biggest Peter Drucker fan. This is not to devalue his contribution to the field of management, but simply to suggest that his work has never really resonated for me. And so I’ll leave this one alone…

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Salomon: I think people relate to ideas through stories. And so if you cannot tell convincing stories, you will have a hard time getting people to buy into your vision, …which is a precursor for the execution/action that needs to take place to accomplish your collective goals.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

Salomon: I think there are several things that will pose incredible challenges to CEOs. I think globalization is one, which is why I wrote my book (more on that below). I think the changing nature of work is another. With the rise of the gig economy, I think more and more people will opt to work as individual contractors, and if they do, that will fundamentally change what it means to lead an “organization”. I also think broader technological changes (big data, apps, robotics) will also make it difficult to be a CEO in the 21st century. The environment moves so quickly now that it is difficult to make the kinds of strategic tradeoffs and decisions that are necessary to remain profitable.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Rob cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Amazon link

NYU Stern link

LinkedIn link

Twitter link

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