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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.”

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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.

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 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.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Global Vision. When and why did you decide to write it?

Salomon: I decided to write the book several years ago. I had been researching globalization topics for an incredibly long time, and I thought it was time to help clear up misconceptions about globalization, and to help managers not think about how to manage in an increasingly global marketplace. I was driven by a desire not just to explain globalization and global management in a simple and straightforward way, but also to provide managers with useful tools that they can apply to help them effectively manage global operations.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Salomon: For me, when I think about writing the book, it was a process, not simply the act of putting words into a word processing application. And so from that vantage point, I think the head-snapping revelation was before I wrote the book (in the process of doing research and gathering information). And the revelation was that managers tend to have many misconceptions about globalization and often a desire to expand globally without fully appreciating just how difficult globalizing can be.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Salomon: That is an excellent question. I think the book changed a lot from the first product to the last. And I think a lot of that had to do with the examples, the vignettes, and the stories I brought into the book. When I wrote the first version, my editor said, “Wow, this looks great, but we need something to make this more tangible for managers.” And that feedback was incredibly helpful. It led me to bring many more real world stories and examples into the book.

Morris: In your opinion, what has been the single most significant development within the global marketplace during (let’s say) the last 3-5 years? Please explain.

Salomon: Over the last 3-5 years, I think the global financial crisis has shaped the world in some interesting ways. Apart from the acute impact of the crisis on banks, businesses and countries, I think it has also changed the nature of the economic and political risks present in the world.

Morris: I think your discussion of Global Acumen throughout the narrative is brilliant. Here’s a two-part question: what is its single great unfulfilled potentiality, and, what is required to achieve that fulfillment

Salomon: Thank you for the kind comments about Global Acumen. For those who have not yet read the book, Global Acumen is a tool that I developed about 10 years ago that helps managers price the economic, political, and cultural risks that they face in global markets. And so with that in mind, I think the potential is several-fold. First, I think Global Acumen can be incorporated into the financial and strategic decision models that managers already use to help them assess the costs of global expansion. Second, for those companies that already operate globally, Global Acumen can be used to benchmark the performance of their existing subsidiaries. It can also be used to help with structure and staffing decisions. Third, Global Acumen can be used a time-based indicator of country risk. That is, managers can keep tabs on certain countries to see how their risk profiles change over time. Finally, I think there are some insurance applications for Global Acumen. That is, as an indicator of risk, Global Acumen can be used to help price country-based risk insurance.

Morris: As I read and then read your discussion of how and why to develop Global Acumen, it occurred to me that failing to do so suggests a metaphor: flying a Boeing 787 or Airbus A380 into a foreign country while blindfolded, entirely alone, and out of contact with anyone.

Is that an apt metaphor or merely another indication that I am slipping further into my anecdotage?

Salomon: You can look at it that way. Although if managers are the pilots in your metaphor, I wouldn’t quite say they are blindfolded. I would say that they do not have all the tools that they would want to fly the plane optimally into that country. Managers are very smart and they often recognize the risks that globalization presents. However, until now they have lacked the tools to help them effectively manage those risks. This is not their fault. And so it’s not like they’re pilots flying with blindfolds, but maybe pilots flying without an adequate map of the topography of the terrain of the country into which they’ll be flying.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, please suggest what you view as [begin italics] the most important point [end italics] or [begin italics] key take-away [end italics] in each of these?

Salomon: For me, the most important lesson of the book is that, when expanding or operating globally, managers need to keep economic, political, and cultural risks in mind. It is not just enough to know that there are economic differences, political differences, and cultural differences across countries, but that these differences create risks for companies in global markets. What’s more, with measure of economic, political, and cultural factors, it is actually possible to quantify, measure, and price those risks in a way that can help managers make better globalization decisions.

Morris: For more than 30 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Global Vision, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Salomon: I think the lessons from the book for small companies are likely to be especially important. This is because small companies often lack the infrastructure and resources that larger companies have at their disposal, and so they are typically less well equipped to deal with risks in global markets. As a result, the stakes are higher. If big companies lose money on an ill-advised global foray, oh well, they can often deal with it, absorb the losses, and move on. Poorly planned and executed global strategies for smaller companies can be lethal. And so for that reason, it is especially important for smaller companies to understand the economic, political, and cultural risks they face in global markets.

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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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