'MAKE YOURSELF AN INTERNATIONAL AMERICAN'-DeMOTTE
Director of Personnel of American Express Company Discusses Need for Men "Learned in the Demands, Needs, and Practices of Other Nations"
The United States has entered into International Military Activities, International Loans and International Politics. The next step is International Trade.
For International Trade, first in my mind comes the necessity of developing the International American. We may produce economically; we may obtain a surplus for export; but before American International Trade can be satisfactorily carried on, we must develop the American who is learned in the demands, needs and practices of other nations.
Preparing for Foreign Trade
Preparation for Foreign Trade work is not preparation which may be completed over-night. Foreign Trade demands a foundation which is largely lacking in the American. Our past position of aloofness in general with world activities, being satisfied and well remunerated by considering domestic interests alone, has failed to develop our young men along Foreign Trade lines. The remoteness of our frontiers and of the frontiers of other nations have made close contact with other nations, their business, their language, their moneys, their customs, a thing of infrequency. Our young men, even after years of foreign language study in seconday, schools and colleges are unable to carry on an ordinary conversation, an essential to any one entering foreign service and a most desirable asset to one active in Foreign Trade in America. More attention must be paid to conversational ability in the study carried on in this country. For real results foreign residence in commercial surroundings is essential. And this experience gained in foreign countries must be obtained at an age when it is easy to acquire the language and to absorb the meaning of the methods, practice and customs of the foreign peoples. The individual must not be an outsider looking in, but must make himself one of the people in whose commercial, industrial or financial activity he has elected to engage. Before entering into foreign service, he must remember that it is a service in which a man breaks quicker than at home. If he is not going to make good, it shows up at once.
No Opportunity for Quick Riches
A career in Foreign Trade at this time does not present an opportunity for quick riches; the path is not strewn with roses; but, to the man who properly prepares himself comes the opportunity of entering a very attractive field which has in store satisfactory returns. Foreign Trade, you say, is at present a myth. True, the present conditions are such that a young man possibly sees a quicker return in domestic activities. But with full realization of the fact that time is necessary for your preparation for Foreign Trade, is not this period of dullness an excellent time in which to make that preparation. To obtain results, we must have Americans fitted for Foreign Trade transactions. Someone must sacrifice, if it is to be a sacrifice. Someone must place himself in the position of missionary if American Industry is to take full advantage of the Foreign Trade activities which are to present themselves in five, three or even two years from now.
Americans Need Preparation
Even though you have not the desire to live in foreign countries, do you desire your institution, the one with which you have thrown your lot, whether industrial, commercial, or financial, to be forced, in a few years, to enter Foreign Trade unprepared simply because there are no Americans on its staff ready to take up the work relative to foreign transactions? As manager of a department or as head of an institution, will you wish to place your Foreign Trade welfare in the hands of a native of another country who is not thoroughly acquainted with American ways and possibly one whose real interests do not lie in the United States? Will it not be better, when the time comes for the expansion of American Foreign Trade, to have real Americans, properly prepared, properly trained and with sound practical experience for these jobs?
Is it not wise to begin at once to develop the International American? The acquisition of language, of knowledge of customs and of people is not sufficient. The practical detail work must be covered. This is a more or less severe school but one, if combined with the proper theoretical study, which will make more than satisfactory returns to the man properly equipped.
College Men Valuable
College men are needed in business. Graduates of schools of business administration are needed in business and above all in Foreign Trade. There is, however, a prejudice in many phases of preparation through which he must pass before mastering the practical details. Many heads of divisions, themselves not college men, have come to believe, partly through experience, that the college man cannot be counted upon to stick to his job, cannot be counted upon for accuracy with figures or other details, and above all that he is unwilling to adapt himself to minor details and routine work. Foreign Trade needs college men on the practical side. The practical details cannot be mastered from a book and it is hoped that the college men will realize that their college education is to be of benefit, not immediately upon graduation, but after a period of apprenticeship, two, three or five years later and thereafter. The man without a college education or its equivalent seldom rises above a limited level; the man with the training, the foundation and practical work can and does rise far above this level. But he must adapt himself to the changed conditions between college and practical work. This drop from the graduation class at college to office boy is greater than that from President of the Senior Class at Andover to Freshman at Harvard. The Freshman does not expect his diploma at mid year of his Freshman year. Let us hope that the college man will not expect his reward within an unreasonable time--the time to be reckoned by the law of business averages:
Past experience seems to point out that the American is not adaptable to foreign service or willing to place himself in the position where he can appreciate the workings of the other than's mind, that other man being Englishman, Latin or a so called foreigner of any land. Experience seems to point that on the contrary they prefer to hold themselves aloof and to shout aloud of the wonderful resources and conveniences of the United States. And in doing this, are they not overlooking the cream of Foreign Service, for have not each of these countries many lessons which, if mastered, will be of great benefit to our country?
This condition is certainly one not alone caused by the lack of adaptability of the American, for he is adaptable, but more, I believe, because the need has not yet arisen for the United States to take its place in International Trade. The American looks on his foreign service as a holiday, to be of one, two or three years' duration, at the end of which he will return to the United States and settle down in a comfortable job.
National Lines to be Less Important
We are to enter International Trade--we can't keep out of it--everything is to be more international than ever--national lines may be made less and less prominent, and America should place itself in a position as soon as possible to satisfactorily enter the new order of things.
Natives are driven out of other lands because they hear that opportunity lies in the Americas. American individuals will follow opportunity--but will they delay their preparation for Foreign Trade until they are driven to it? If they do, they may find that they are too late, or at least that the "stern chase" is a long one. The Dane, the Swiss, the German, the Scandinavian reared in the midst of Foreign Trade activities, with a working knowledge of languages may obtain the Foreign Trade opportunities in this country.
Civilization for generations has been becoming more and more complex; it is to continue to grow more complex. The individual must prepare himself; he must look farther ahead than ever before. You, whatever vocation you follow, must know more and more of matters relating to countries other than your own.
It is said that the Englishman in considering a position, first looks upon its permanency, next upon its pay and last upon the possibilities of promotion. I believe the American reverses this order. Without doubt, this has been a large factor in American development, but we are now entering International Trade and competition and if we do not meet that competition in a satisfactory way, as time goes on we will hold the little end. It is well for all of us to hitch our wagon to a star. But is it not wise for us to ascertain as nearly as possible that that star is attainable before we set out for it. Is it not wise for us to pick out a star within our reach rather than to set our hearts on something with the odds against us a thousand to one? One discouragement, even after striving for the unattainable is a defeat and several such defeats develop the feeling, "I have not made good". When this is reached, life holds little but hum-drum for the average man. On the other hand, when life is planned as a series of steps, the conquering of each step is a victory and the individual is led on, spurred and encouraged to conquer the next step. If a series of steps is left out of your scheme; if a short out is taken, you are gambling with your future. A few take the short cuts and seemingly get away with it--but I believe that if one could really see the inside, they would find a lacking which cannot then be filled.
Early Foundation Necessary
What you are to be, you are now becoming. During the years before you are thirty or thirty-five, you should be laying your foundation. Then and then alone may you be expected to reap abundantly. Exceptions are constantly arising, but to gamble upon the fact that you are an exception is more serious than risking your last dollar on a hopeless chance.
The Germans trained long and intently for foreign trade. Germans left the fatherland and went to all corners of the world, married natives, carried Germany with them and became a factor in the commerce of that country and of Germany. The British serve long apprenticeship at salaries that would not be attractive to us but they have carried British Trade to all parts of the world. After an apprenticeship in a Canadian Bank of some seven or eight years, a man is eligible for assignment as manager to a branch bank at a salary of about $8000 a year. Unattractive? Financially, yes, if you place against that the $10,000 a year you may expect to make selling, say shoe-strings. But are you sure that you are one of the men who is to make $10,000? A comparatively few men earn that amount. Suppose you sell shoe-strings, what is your world -- shoe-strings -- what do you know -- shoe-strings? On the other hand, in Foreign Trade work, your world is the World and its people. With your foundation properly laid you develop step by step until you are able to command $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, not because there is a demand for "shoe-strings" but because you have made yourself worth that amount.
If you are the right kind of man for Foreign Trade work, I advise you to begin to lay your foundation. Make yourself an International American and opportunity will not fail to knock at your door