Honey extractors, headphones and data distribution are a few of the products and services sold world wide by Utah companies. “One of Governor Huntsman’s top priorities is helping Utah companies do business abroad and encouraging foreign companies to do business here,” says Lew Cramer, director of the World Trade Center Utah. “Doing business from Delta to Dusseldorf can be more lucrative than doing business from Delta to Denver.”
The World Trade Center Utah is a “first-stop, one-stop shop” for Utah companies seeking to do business internationally. “I screen businesses, find out what they need, and connect them with the people they ought to know,” says Cramer. Cramer often sends people to the Export Assistance Center of the U.S. Department of Commerce, located at the Miller Innovation Center in Sandy. Other World Trade Center Utah partners include the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and various Chambers of Commerce in Utah.
Trade missions are one tool used by both GOED and local Chambers of Commerce to increase foreign trade. The Cedar City Chamber of Commerce sponsored a nine-day trade mission to China in March 2008. Some 200 people, primarily from southern Utah, visited China’s economic districts and met with Chinese business people. Donna Brown, president of the Utah State Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Cedar City Chamber says, “We want small business people in our community to realize that there is a huge, huge market to which we can export products.”
Cowen Manufacturing, located in Parowan, has shipped honey extraction equipment internationally for 35 years. Cowen now does 40 percent of its business in Canada, and also ships to Israel, France and an abbey in England.
“The weakened dollar helps strengthen our competitiveness abroad,” says David Cowen, president. It also helps lessen risk, since the impact of the recent collapse of many U.S. bee colonies is offset by productive bee colonies abroad. U.S. bee keepers may not buy as much extraction equipment, but foreign bee keepers buy more.
“Location just doesn’t matter anymore,” says Scott Calder, CEO of Mainstream Data, a Salt Lake City-based business that distributes data across satellites and the Internet for such companies as Bloomberg and the European Press Photo Agency. “The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and even The Straits Times in Singapore receive their Bloomberg financial news via Salt Lake City,” says Calder.
“This is the best and worst of times for U.S. companies doing business abroad,” Calder says. “The Internet has leveled the playing field, so it is easy to sell products to and from anywhere in the world. On the other hand, the current administration has so alienated foreigners, particularly Europeans, by its policies in Iraq and elsewhere, that [foreigners] question whether any Americans are trustworthy. Building trust with non-U.S. companies is harder than it was 10 years ago.”
Anyone Can Jump In
Skullcandy, based in Park City, sells high quality headphones named Smokin Buds, Skullcrushers, and Full Metal Jacket. An online review on TheTechLounge explains, “Skullcandy is all about punkrock and snowboarding, techno, rap and skaters, but they don’t sell a single skate or snowboard. However, they do aim squarely for the X-Game demographic, the unlikely tech geek who spends more time on a half-pipe than fragging online.” The company does business from Canada to Central and South America, to China and Japan.
“Focus efforts on one overseas market at a time,” recommends Brian Humphris, director of international sales for Skullcandy. “Don’t go into a market until you’re ready to take it.” Humphris also emphasizes the importance of checking out company and product names in the languages of foreign sales territories. “We have a lot of fancy product names that could offend another culture. Fortunately, though, ‘skull’ and ‘candy’ are fairly innocuous.”
Skullcandy, Mainstream Data and Cowen Manufacturing have all made the leap from domestic to international sales — profitably. With the aid of the World Trade Center Utah, GOED, Chambers of Commerce and other local advisors, many more Utah companies can also make that leap.
Learn to Earn
Executive Education Provides the Next Level of Learning
Doctors, nurses and technicians at the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics are good at getting to the bottom of a patient’s medical problems and prescribing a path towards wellness.
But soon after University Hospital’s Chief Financial Officer Gordon Crabtree’s arrival, he couldn’t help but see that, “We had a lot of health care professionals, but trying to keep an eye on the business side was a challenge to them. I’d have a mid-level managers meeting with 150 people, and a lot of the things I was talking about were going over their heads.”
A solution was just a few thousand yards downhill, at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and its three-year-old Executive Education Program.
“No one else in the state offers these opportunities,” Director of Executive Education and Corporate Program’s Kaelyn Fife says. “We set a forum for executives to network, and to get state-of-the-art knowledge they can apply immediately.”
Executive education classes are not for credit and there are no grades. But they offer mid-level executives a chance to sit down with the university’s business faculty and executives of other companies to work through problems common to all. Classes are in five main areas: accounting and finance, communication, leadership, marketing and Six Sigma.
Crabtree has sent more than 1,000 of his employees back to school through the program. While he was interim CEO of the hospital system, he required all senior leaders to participate in a business fundamentals program. Many knew how to deliver their segment of the health care puzzle, but knew nothing of how their spending affected margins and return on investment. Many came from clinical backgrounds and were baffled by the budgeting process.
“We communicate more effectively now,” Crabtree reports. And employees grew beyond their comfort zones. “It gives them an opportunity to think where they fit in and broadens their opportunities to move around. They might be sitting in some unit and decide they want to be a clinic manager — they apply for positions beyond their own little niche.”
Other business schools have run such programs for years, using existing faculty to teach executives. “Harvard is the dominant provider nationally,” Business School Dean Jack Brittain observes. “They even have their own hotel.” Other big players include Stanford and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“A lot of our faculty were going to those schools to teach these classes and our local corporations were flying executives out there to take the classes,” Fife says. It made sense to bring everyone back to the Wasatch Front for the benefit of both the university and local companies.
Dean Brittain launched the program at the David Eccles School of Business just three years ago, but it has already grown to several classes in each of the five areas of training, plus a certificate program called “MBA Essentials.” Costs range from $1,500 per student to $5,400 for three full-day training classes in Six Sigma.
Chuck Bruton, director of engineering for Nature’s Sunshine, a nutritional supplement manufacturer in Springville, signed up eight employees for Six Sigma training. “We did a search of providers,” he says. “[The university] was willing to come to us. They went through our plant, went through our issues, understood our products and customized a program for us.”
That customization of the curriculum is a key asset for companies and for the university faculty, which take the time to learn each company’s processes. “You can go out and find a generic course in any business discipline,” says Professor Robert Allen of the School of Accounting at the Eccles School. “We can tailor to a specific audience within that organization.”
The teaching runs far deeper than generic courses or training seminars offered at trade conventions and the like. “At industry conferences you stay real superficial,” Brittain observes. “You don’t get radically different ideas and sets of problems that will cause you to think differently about your own industry and own company. Our faculty keeps the conversation at a deep level, and plays a more facilitative role.”
The payoffs go both ways. By engaging a class of executives in deep discussions of business topics, the U’s faculty finds cutting edge issues to discuss in their undergraduate classrooms. “I’m learning about things that I can take back to my classes; that collaboration really adds to keeping current with what’s happening in the business world,” Allen acknowledges.
“Undergraduates and MBA’s do not have as much experience as these executives have,” management professor Abe Bakhsheshy says. From the executive education classes, “We bring their success and failure stories and share with these young men and women who will be the future leaders of our country.” Bakhsheshy teaches management and leadership classes for executives and gets a kick out of the feedback. “These individuals come from a wide variety of backgrounds. I get a chance to bring up studies of theories and see how they react with energy and enthusiasm — it’s motivation to me.”
Executive education has also become its own profitable business within the Business School. Faculty gets additional pay for the classes, which helps to retain them. And Brittain turns class revenue into more financial support for faculty research and faculty hires as well. Currently four faculty positions are funded from executive education revenues.
Clients like Crabtree see the payoffs from their perspective as well. “Communication is dramatically improved,” Crabtree explains. “They look at business issues in a different way now.”
“People discover something about their own business they’ve never thought of,” Brittain says. “When everybody in the room is having this ‘aha!’ experience, that’s when the magic happens.”