In 2001, I left behind my corporate life at IBM in search of something completely different, namely how global businesses leverage cultural diversity. Two thirds of all mergers and acquisitions fail to meet their objectives due to cultural clashes, and very few managers and leaders have the cultural intelligence needed to develop and run a global business. 

After years of experience working with IBM, Computer Sciences Corporation, and Arthur Andersen Business Consulting, I have learned what makes a consulting firm successful and how problematic it is to underestimate the influence of cultural diversity. The traditional approach to dealing with cultural diversity is totally wrong. Assuming that all people from a country share cultural norms, values, and basic assumptions is fundamentally inaccurate, but, nevertheless, it is the foundation on which almost all consulting and training are based. In fact, making that assumption just creates more cultural conflicts. 

We all belong to so many cultures based on our profession, education, gender, sexual orientation, hobbies, relationships, religion, nationality, etc., so it doesn’t make sense to assume that all people from a country necessarily share common values. Perhaps there were more similarities 50 years ago, but society is extremely different now. We travel much more, we move to large metropolitan cities, we have access to endless information online, and we have more access to financial wealth. 

After my departure from IBM, I founded Gugin with the purpose of helping companies and organizations around the world become better at synergizing their cultural diversity rather than regarding it as a problem that should be solved. I knew that, if we were going to be the best in class when it came to cross-cultural consulting and training, then we had to do things completely differently. 

That was one of my main reasons for my interest in the DBA program at ISM. I chose ISM because it offered a very flexible program where I could opt out of all the topics that didn’t interest me (finance, for instance) and focus on the things I wanted and needed. It also gave me the opportunity to study in several different countries, which I found particularly interesting. This flexibility gave me the opportunity to research the topic that would set my company ahead of the competition, namely how to create competitive advantage from cultural diversity. 

I graduated many years ago, but we continue to conduct research at Gugin. The company stands on three pillars: training, consulting, and research. They fuel each other nicely and enable us to secure constant momentum for innovation and development. Right now, for example, we are working with a number of clients on how artificial intelligence is going to affect the corporate culture. Society is constantly changing, and businesses need to be ready for it.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of Perspectives.

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