Soon after starting a career in Atlantic Canada at Acadia University, I realized that geography would force me to be creative in terms of how I would go about building a network of contacts. This realization became reality a few years later when I began to create cases across Canada and overseas. So, what are some of the things that I did to help build my network? How did I convince strangers to sit in front of a camera for me? Well, I started with a few basic tools. I crafted a solid e-mail introduction that I used repeatedly and sent the interview questions well in advance. When possible, I followed up with a phone voice mail. I had colleagues create a web page that that offered the project credibility for cold calling. I let the interviewees know ahead of time that a release form would need to be signed. Aside from the odd pen or university t-shirt as a thank you, interviews were conducted on a strictly volunteer basis. I also used different strategies over the years to access different individuals around the world.
Our Board Members
Among the most enthusiastic supporters of any university are the individuals who serve on its governing and advisory boards. My institution is no different. One example at the top of my mind is that we have graduated many students who have gone on to work for major international accounting firms. Alumni who now work for Deloitte and have sat on some of our board have proved extremely helpful. One board member from Deloitte connected me with a Canadian tax expert, Chris Roberge, who works with its Hong Kong located Asia Pacific International Core-of-Excellence (AP ICE). From this interview we created cases addressing business ethics and international training.
In the eighties and nineties, my university was a popular location for Malaysians. Yearly, the Malaysian government financially supported the overseas studies of some of its citizens. This relationship ended with the currency crash of 1998. But prior to that I was fortunate to supervise the thesis work of a very bright individual. Just over a decade later, Facebook proved valuable in reconnecting with this alumnus in Kuala Lumpur. His contacts allowed us to work with four companies (all run by alumni) to create cases. We learned some of the growth tactics of a chain of early childhood Islamic education centers, how an educational software firm, Content Capital Sdn Bhd, managed a struggle between two valued employees, and how an adult education company, Specialist Knowledge Centre, dealt with a client giving conflicting performance feedback.
Because We are Canadian
I was looking for an angle to identify business owners to interview in Barbados. I knew no one in that country. But I had read that some of the Canadian banks had a presence in the Caribbean with Scotiabank particularly prominent. So, I did some research, found out the name of a regional vice president in Atlantic Canada, and made a cold call. I explained who I was and what I was looking for. Soon enough, I was placed in contact with a Scotiabank manager in Bridgetown who facilitated contacts. We soon learned in one of our cases about how a Barbadian TV producer, Merville Lynch Productions, dealt with a race to the bottom bidding strategy of a competitor. We also learned about how a grocery chain, AOne Supermarkets, faced the challenge of high turnover in its workforce
Chambers of Commerce.. Really?
I had long heard mention of chambers of commerce in the press but had never really paid attention to the stories. I soon came to realize how valuable these organization could be. Canadian chambers of commerce exist in different countries. They enabled me to connect with fascinating individuals and companies in Hong Kong and Japan. One connection, Andrew Work, former director of the Chamber in Hong Kong, was simply a cold call on my part and led to cases featuring Eclipse Hospitality Group and ICS Trust. In Japan, an interview with the former head of public relations for Toyota Motor Corporation, Masami Doi, shed light on how to prioritize issues. This case is the result of connections arising from the Chamber in Tokyo.
Embassies and Those Nice Trade Commissioners
We have filmed cases in Reykjavik on two occasions. We have personnel from the Embassy of Canada in Iceland to thank for this. From these cases we learned about foreign market entry strategies from Stiki Information Security, what to do when a key sponsor pulls out of the Reykjavik Film Festival, how to manage an airline when your economy collapses, and how to keep your restaurant afloat when a volcano erupts and your customers stop coming to Fishmarket restaurant. On the other side of the world, The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service connected us with Progressive Computer Systems in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we learned about strategies for dealing with accounts in arrears. A Packet One Networks explained how they dealt with runaway sales in the wireless broadband market. How did I connect with the trade commissioners? I went to their website, found the names of the representatives in the different countries and then contacted them by e-mail.
Commercial Suppliers to my Employer
Dell, Compass Group Canada, BMO and RBC all have business relations with my employer. All of these companies have global reach and their executives in Canada opened doors abroad. I was very deliberate in my efforts to get to know some of these individuals. Senior Canadian executives of each of these companies were invited to speak to our students and were video interviewed while on campus. I then built on these relationships. Executives from Compass Group Canada opened the door to filming at Chartwells offices in Hong Kong and at Seiyo Food in Tokyo. Connections with BMO senior managers allowed us to film two of the banks’ wealth management executives in Hong Kong. Our connections with Dell resulted in trips to Austin, Texas, to film executives there as well as to Hong Kong and to film a case creation session with its Regional Vice President, Glen Burrows. RBC’s c-suite in Toronto opened the door to its capital markets operation in Tokyo and the creation of a finance case.
Conor Vibert PhD. is an innovative user and researcher of new educational technologies, a practitioner of flipped classroom teaching methods, a developer of evidence-based instructional techniques, and a creator of streaming video multimedia cases available through Casenet.ca. He trains individuals to use online information sources to understand company behavior and has published a number of books on the topic. Conducting over 600 video interviews with entrepreneurs, managers and executives around the world has invested him with unique knowledge of business behavior.
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