Business First of Louisville, newspaper, May 17, 2013
Greg Kreder is the director of global quality for D.D. Williamson & Co. Inc., a position he began last June. His comments on business travel abroad follow.
On average, how often do you travel abroad for business each year and to what countries primarily?
“Generally, I am traveling outside of the United States at least six to eight weeks a year. Ireland, England, Brazil, China and Swaziland, which is in southern Africa.”
Take us through your business responsibilities while abroad and why they are important for your company.
“The agendas can vary, but generally speaking, I’m there a week to go over a summary or illustration of the quality goals we have for that region. Where are we on meeting those goals? Do we have issues to resolve on the customer or manufacturing side?
“A lot of it is sitting down to make sure we have all of our quality systems in place and up to date.”
Each of the company’s overseas facilities is certified by the Global Food Safety Initiative, he said; many of its overseas customers require it. The company also is certified by the British Retail Code, which assesses systems and documentation and whether a company is conducting business in a food-safe manner.
“It’s a very rigorous certification to get,” Kreder said, “so we spend a lot of time making sure we have the prerequisite systems and programs in place.”
Describe a typical workday while abroad for business.
Kreder said his days vary, but they typically involve meetings with a plant’s manager, local quality manager and laboratory staff.
“There will be times when I interact with almost everyone in the facility,” he said. “I usually conduct my own audit. I tend to be more of a stickler than anyone else. If you can pass mine, you can pass anyone’s. That’s an important piece.”
In China, for example, his work often extends over multiple shifts, and 12- to 14-hour days are not unheard of. “It’s not every day, but if we have to cover both shifts, we will do that.”
What do you typically do during your down time while abroad for business?
“I generally pack my time there pretty well, so I go in and do what I need to do and get out in that week’s time. Occasionally we have down time, but most of the time, it’s nothing super-exciting. I may have dinner.
“Sometimes I have taken a couple extra days for sightseeing, but usually there is enough impact with me being gone from the United States that I try to not be gone longer than needed.”
He did cite one memorable side trip: hiking the hills of Ireland on the southwestern coast. “That was really beautiful.”
What are the greatest challenges you have faced while traveling abroad for business?
“Obviously, the biggest challenge is when I don’t speak the language, so there’s always that huge barrier.”
He also had a stressful experience in Japan about a year ago. He had printed off e-mails with directions, but the train station signage included no English, and he could not figure out the route. Making matters worse, he said, his phone does not work there, his computer “didn’t play nice” and Skype went down.
“I had no way to get a hold of anyone to let them know. I was literally lost in the middle of Japan. By sheer luck, I made it to my destination.”
How stressful was it? “I didn’t feel unsafe,” he said. “I had a flight to China, so I knew I could eventually get home. The most stressful part was not knowing if I would make the meeting with the customer and having no way to get a hold of anyone. It was a very interesting trip.
“At some point, you say, ‘This is where I’m at, and if I get there, I get there.’ ”
Have you had other challenges with language barriers?
It’s difficult in Japan and China, and not as hard in Africa. In Swaziland, they speak the native language, but most people speak English. In Brazil, they speak Portuguese, but in most big towns, it’s not too hard to find someone who speaks English.”
The company requires front-line overseas managers to speak English, he said, which helps with translation while communicating with other employees there.
What is your favorite part of traveling abroad for work?
“I think the exposure to different cultures. People often don’t understand beyond what they hear or see about places. When you experience it, it’s completely different,” Kreder said.
“I’ve got a couple favorites places – Ireland in summer is a beautiful place to go. At night you can go out and walk around town and enjoy yourself. As far as uniqueness and culture, then definitely China is a favorite. It’s a change in everything, from the way people are to the food.”