“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ernest Hemingway
The first time I met David Ryou was at a Capgemini recruiting event at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus and he spoke about his international experience in South Korea with the Transportation Management System deployment project for a Fortune 100 Consumer Packaged Goods company. I was intrigued and inspired by David’s experiences and the opportunities the technology consulting industry provided to travel internationally and work in diverse industries, so I joined the company in June 2014. The next time I met David was with the Capgemini Campus Recruiting Team for University of Michigan, and this time he was traveling to South America for the same project and we worked together virtually to organize events on campus. I wanted to hear more about his international experiences, lessons he had learned along the way, and advice he has to share for those of us who are interested in traveling internationally for work. I had the opportunity to schedule an informational interview with David and here is what I learned…
Firstly, where did you go to school and what did you study? When did you join Capgemini? How long have you been with the company? What service line are you aligned with and how many projects have you worked on?
I graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2010 with a B.S.E. in Industrial and Operations Engineering and a minor in Economics. After two years of industry experience in Supply Chain Management, particularly in the Transportation Management System, I joined Capgemini in 2012 in the Supply Chain Technologies service line. Since 2012, I’ve worked on six different projects as listed below:
- Oracle Transportation Management implementation for a leading Telecommunications company in Georgia
- Transportation Management System implementation for a leading Manufacturing and Distribution company in Florida
- Warehouse Management System implementation for a Third Party Logistics company in Nevada
- Oracle Transportation Management deployment for a Third Party Logistics company in Iowa
- Strategy and Design (Business Process Re-engineering) for a Manufacturing and Wholesales Distribution company in Colorado
- JDA Transportation Management Deployment Global Rollout for a leading Consumer Packaged Goods company in Tennessee
- JDA Transportation Management Deployment Global Rollout for a leading Consumer Packaged Goods company in Seoul, South Korea, Bogota, Colombia, Lima, Peru, Buenos Aires, Argentina, San Jose, and Costa Rica
How many countries have you visited so far?
So far, I have been to South Korea, Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.
Professionally, what has been your favorite place to visit and why?
Of all the great places I’ve been to, my favorite place to visit was Seoul, South Korea. It was a place where my leadership and business skills really flourished. Because I am fluent in Korean and understand the Korean culture, I quickly and naturally took charge of communicating with the Korean leadership and managing the project deliverables. Throughout the course of the project, I realized that the work environment was very different from United States. Based on my experience, the Korean work culture was extremely fast paced, with long grueling work hours (14+ hours on average). In addition, I noticed that the leadership made decisions quickly but also open to change. By overcoming these challenges, I became more resilient to fast changing and grueling business environment, while maintaining professionalism and producing high quality deliverables. Overall, the experience helped me stand out as a leader who is dependable. I was able to work in a different professional culture and grow as a leader, plus, I had the added bonus of being able to visit my family who lived an hour away.
What is the most challenging part of international travel and working in diverse work environments?
I think cross-cultural communication was the toughest obstacle. In South America, not knowing the culture or the language, I had to work harder to understand the business process and gather requirements. The communication barrier was apparent in Peru, Argentina, and Costa Rica. Aligning expectations and scheduling project milestones with multiple country stakeholders was a challenge as well, since the outcomes are heavily dependent on different working cultures. The speed of execution was varied for each country. The extra email exchanges, trainings, workshops, and other important activities among the diverse project group members led to a tight project timeline and budget constraints.
From my experience in working with different cultures and stakeholders, the key to project success is to understand the culture thoroughly. Essentially becoming accustomed to the work culture and communication norms. Another factor to take into considered is the holiday season for each country involved in the project. For example, Thanksgiving in Korea was in mid-September and similar to Thanksgiving in the US, many team members were unable to progress with the project which impacted the project timeline.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in international projects?
Just like any project, an international project requires extensive preparation, perhaps more than is required for domestic projects. Make sure to do a preliminary research of the country you are visiting; knowing the culture, language, geography, demography, and economic state will help you in the project work in many possible ways from initiating conversation with the clients to finding an authentic restaurant for dinner. Even with due diligence, you will face challenges at work arising from language barriers and cultural differences and you need to be resilient to handle those situations. You cannot expect the same working atmosphere and culture that you are used to in the States.
The speed of project execution, client expectations, work hours, communication methods, business requirements, office buildings, transportation to the office, food, etcetera (non exhaustive list) are not mostly different but unique. The diverse exposure and experience is the beauty of the international project, but you need to be ready for something that is outside of your comfort zone. The 10+ hour trips, multiple layovers due to non direct destination, and usually minimum of seven full days of onsite work may exhaust you quickly. Make sure to keep yourself healthy and find some time to visit the nearby places or even plan a weekend trip to recharge you. During my two weeks stay in Peru, I found myself traveling to Machu Picchu the first weekend.
One last piece of advice I want to give to someone who is starting an international project is to be respectful and humble throughout the course of the project. Part of it is to listen courteously to all the stakeholders impacted by the project. This value will not only make the project successful but will develop a memorable relationship with the clients and by the end of the project you will have a handful of friends living in multiple countries.