Having spent 17 years of my career in Asia, I’ve long encouraged IT professionals to consider relocating outside of the United States, not just to advance their careers, but to enable them and their families to reap the many benefits of that experience. So when someone with more than 35 years in high-profile leadership positions who’s a lot smarter than I am says the same thing, I want his voice heard.
Ritch Eich, a management consultant and author of the book, “Leadership Requires Extra Innings: Lessons on Leading from a Life in the Trenches,” strongly encourages young people to expand their global outlook. Eich is a keen advocate of considering overseas relocation, so in an interview last week, I asked him to elaborate on the reasons for his advocacy. He said it’s one of the most important things people can do:
A woman I respect a great deal is Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, who will step down from the helm sometime this summer. She has done a marvelous job in her position over the last  years. She and her husband have just given $1 million to the University of Michigan, and it’s for one purpose: to defray traveling costs for Michigan students to travel abroad. I think that’s one of the most important things you can do. Colleges and universities have all kinds of challenges, obviously, but when funds can be freed to give young people the opportunity to spend even just one semester someplace outside of the United States, every young person that I’ve spoken with comes back different. Their perspectives are broader, their horizons have been stretched, and it makes them a much better worker in any size company that they choose to work in.
Based on my own experience, I very much agree. But in this country I’ve also experienced something of a backlash in the IT community against fostering this global outlook, a backlash that is largely attributable to resentment triggered by the perception that foreign IT workers here on H-1B visas, primarily from India, are displacing American workers. It was in that context that I mentioned Satya Nadella, the new CEO of Microsoft, who is from India (Microsoft has reportedly declined to say whether Nadella came to the United States on an H-1B visa). In light of the fact that Eich has a long history of working with CEOs, I asked him if he thinks Nadella faces any particular challenges as Microsoft’s new CEO, just by virtue of the fact that he’s from India. Eich said he would hope not:
We’re a nation of immigrants—many people much sharper and brighter than I am have said that, and it’s really true. That diversity is what makes America great. I think this immigration debate, quite honestly, is kind of silly, and the sooner we get over it, the better. I’m a fourth-generation Californian, and I worked in the fields with a lot of people from different countries, beginning at the age of 14. I spent a number of years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. It was enriching, it was stimulating. So to answer your question, I sure hope not—I think that would be unfortunate.
Eich went on to stress the importance of having much greater diversity in our leadership ranks.
Leaders come from everywhere, and we need leaders at every level in every conceivable organization—not just at the top. So the more we can develop a stronger pipeline of leaders of every color, every creed, from every part of the globe, the better off we’ll be, and the greater the likelihood that those organizations will enjoy success. We need to get kids exposed to good leaders around the world—you mentioned Satya Nadella, and I also think of Indra Nooyi , the female Indian CEO of PepsiCo.
It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that Eich isn’t just talk. The proceeds from his book are going to the Jackie Robinson Foundation—Eich noted that Robinson was his childhood hero.
“It will be going for deserving students for scholarships,” Eich said. “And hopefully, that will provide them the opportunity to travel abroad.”
I hope so, too.