Having grown up in Denver, Colorado, I spent a lot of my childhood in the mountains where my dad and I spent hours doing nearly every kind of outdoor activity imaginable: fishing, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and skiing. It didn’t matter, as long as we were out enjoying the wilderness. It was during those years that I developed a sense for adventure and a desire to explore the unknown. We always used to say, if you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.
As I grew older, my interests shifted from the activities the mountains had to offer into competitive team sports. Soccer became an important part of my life as I found that I excelled in a team-oriented competitive environment. Ultimately, I accepted a scholarship to play soccer at Regis University and decided that I would pursue a career playing professionally and, eventually, coaching. However, two major factors caused me to reevaluate my decision.
First, I underestimated the impact that a Jesuit education would have on my outlook on life. Regis’s motto is “Men and women in service to others” which, to me, meant improving the lives of those around me. As a Jesuit university, Regis’ curriculum often emphasized the question of “How ought we to live?” This caused me to begin questioning if being a soccer player and coach would be professions in which I could have the greatest impact. While professional soccer players in Europe and Latin America often have the ability to serve as critical agents of change (like, for example Didier Drogba’s successful plea to end a five year civil war in his home country of the Ivory Coast), I was certain that I did not have the athleticism to reach their level. As a soccer coach, I know I certainly could have improved the lives of many—but such a career still lacked the adventure I was seeking.
Another recurring theme in my classes that influenced my decision was globalization. It seemed that every article I read, every class discussion I participated in, and every news story I saw began with “In today’s globalized world, businesses need to…” It was evident that nearly everyone was somehow affected by the convergence of world economies, improved communication systems, integration of international supply chains, and the vast reach of multinational corporations. Yet, the more I learned about globalization, the more I asked myself “How will globalization affect my community and my future? What skills must I develop in order to succeed in a globalized world?”
While I definitely still couldn’t answer the question, “how ought we to live?” I was confident that I would be able to better serve others by preparing and adapting myself for a career in international business. Not only did it align with my personal interests of exploration, adventure, teamwork, and competition, but leaders of private sector companies seemed to have the resources and influence necessary to improve the livelihoods of people on a larger scale.
These characteristics and skills led me to believe that by majoring in Spanish and pursuing a bilingual MBA with a focus in emerging markets, I could set myself on a path to become a global leader with an understanding of a global business context and a global perspective. Speaking Spanish improved my ability to communicate across cultures and provided insights into the unique challenges of developing relationships with diverse stakeholders at every level of the proverbial economic pyramid. Motivation techniques and suggestions for adjusting to life in an international career were key components of my education. But I knew that these skills would need to be further tested and sharpened in the field. This is why I jumped at the opportunity to join MBAs Without Borders.I set out to forge a new path by determining the skillset required to become a global leader. According to Bill George, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, “The most successful global leaders will not necessarily be those with the highest IQ. Of course, they will need to be intelligent, but they’ll also need to have a high level of cultural and emotional intelligence.” Global leaders need to have an understanding of their global business context and possess a global perspective. They need to be able to effectively communicate with multicultural teams and establish strategic relationships in rapidly changing environments. Finally, they must be flexible and capable of motivating people from different backgrounds.
For the next six months, I will be embedded with a large multinational corporation in Pemba, Mozambique where my focus will be to strengthen the local supplier base by building the capacity of small and medium enterprises. I recently completed a similar assignment in Equatorial Guinea through MBAs Without Borders and found the practical approach that we took to working with SMEs to be well-received by the local business community, which was very rewarding. In Mozambique, I’ll have an opportunity to apply my new skills and lessons learned in EG to continue making a positive impact in a different environment. In addition, promoting sustainable economic growth through the development of SMEs in an emerging market provides me with the opportunity to continue to dedicate myself to the service of others, while also challenging myself to further hone my global mindset. And, as always, I continue to search for the answer to the question, “how ought we to live?”
Gary Cole is currently an MBAs Without Borders Advisor in Mozambique working on supply chain development. Previously, he served as an MBAs Without Borders Advisor in Equatorial Guinea for 8 months. Gary is pursuing his MBA from Regis University and was previously an international operations agent for Platinum Cargo Logistics. Gary has lived in Chile and Equatorial Guinea and is fluent in Spanish.