Walking through Jeffrey Gibson’s extraordinary installation, “This Is the Day,” you hear an echo: “Send them Back.”
Gibson, a gay Native American artist, draws inspiration from the Ghost Dance Movement of the 1890’s, a religious movement that united the Plains Indians in the hope their rituals would banish the white settlers and the U.S. government from their lands.
In one of America’s blackest moments, the tribes’ community terrified the U.S. Army. Fear trumped any better angels, and we are left with the massacre at Wounded Knee.
But this is not the story Gibson tells. He invites everyone to the party, mixing old trading post blankets with Biblical verses and lines from pop tunes. He moves us forward.
“Somehow the past has to situate itself within the present.”
“This Is the Day” asks us to come up with a better ending to a story riddled with fear and racism.
Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.
“This Is the Day” is at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas through September, courtesy of Hamilton College’s Wellin Museum of Art. All the photographs are courtesy of Jeffrey Gibson and the Wellin Museum.
Five business leaders walked onto the stage of the Texas-EU Summit to talk about managing transatlantic businesses. Two run European units based in the United States; two developed European units of U.S. practices; and one has done it all. Four wore stilettos.They didn’t have much time, and they had something to say. Not one wanted to be called out for her gender, and not one considered that remarkable.
The hardest thing: Finding and keeping talent
Without question, the biggest challenge confronting a European company in the United States is finding and retaining talent. “Americans’ resumes look great, but you have to train them,” said Belen Marcos, president of Cintra US, one of the world’s largest private developers of infrastructure. Marcos, an engineer by training, noted that in Europe educational credentials are paramount. Americans job-hop more than European hires. They tend to specialize and resist working in areas outside their specialty.
“Europeans are generalists. They expect to do many different jobs.”
Belen Marcos, president, Cintra US
Navigating European statutory regulations
Disruptive business models challenge both business and cultural norms. Consider the vacation rentals that have turned many traditional neighborhoods into latchkey hotels. Cristina Silingardi, a Brazilian with deep finance experience, helped Austin-based HomeAway successfully navigate the sticky process of integrating acquisitions in both Spain and Brazil.
“Understand the statutory regulations before you do business … It went off without a hitch.”
“Contracts are part of the law in Europe,” said Liz Wiley, an attorney and partner, Grable Martin Fulton PLLC. who specializes in intellectual property.
“Very little if anything can be negotiated (in Europe). Expect negotiations to take much longer.”
Belen Marcos, president, Cintra US
Marcos knows a thing or two about the subject. Her company Cintra is part of the Spanish infrastructure provider Ferrovial. She and her team negotiate the construction and long-term management of roads, airports and concessions, many of which are public-private partnerships.
Codes vs. negotiation. Consider privacy.
Europe is not a monolith. Both EU and country-specific regulations come into play when determining who owns what. For example, “the EU has the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but France has its own data protection authority, the CNIL, which handles GDPR complains and defends the French position with GDPR-related issues,” said Wiley
“The United States is not a code country,” commented Wiley, “We make our own deals.”
Liz Wiley, partner, Grable Martin Fulton PLLC
Wiley, whose practice includes both French and American startups, recommends first filing for U.S. patent protection, then filing in other countries to ward off infringements.
Soft skills matter
“When in doubt, err on the side of formality,” advises Wiley. And in the hurley-burley world of entrepreneurs, she recommends oral presentation training for cautious French startups that compete in the winner-take-all American pitch culture.
Sharon Schweitzer’s company, Access to Culture, cross trains business people to be effective in other cultures. Recounting an incident where two older Czechs silenced their giggling younger colleagues with a steely glare, Schweitzer said the significance of a seemingly minor incident caught her by surprise.
But do high heels also matter?
The specter of political change is everywhere. Here too, dress is brand. This year’s Yellow Vest protests revealed the deep divide between France’s privileged class and rest of their country. As I’m writing this, on the other side of the world, young people in Hong Kong wear black and mourn a man in a yellow raincoat.
Remember Mark Zuckerberg’s testifying before Congress, stripped of his signature t-shirt and uncomfortable in a blue suit? Melania Trump in a white pussy-bow blouse and sky-high heels? Dress is political, and high heels stand unrivaled as a symbol of gender and power. Flip flops may reign in U.S. youth and tech enclaves, but search “business women” and you’ll find women in power in wearing heels — because they choose to.
In another culture where talent and a diverse work force weigh heavily on its future competitiveness, Japanese women unsuccessfully petitioned their government to ban gender-based dress codes (#KuToo), and specifically high heels. My guess is there’s another shoe to drop there.
In 1869, men in the Wyoming Territory needed wives. Politicians in Washington needed more voters in the Western territories. So Wyoming gave women the vote. John Morris wrote to a national magazine promoting women’s suffrage:
It is a fact that all great reforms take place, not where they are most needed, but in places where opposition is weakest; and then they spread.
John Morris, following the Wyoming Territory’s decision to give women the vote
“To be sustainable, change takes time,” Wiley noted. Would this panel have happened 30 years ago? 20? Maybe.
With that thought, I’m pulling out my high heels to wear sometime soon.
Hats off to Ana-Barbara Llorente and Pendas International, for sponsoring the panel, and the World Affairs Council of Austin for hosting.
As I made my way to the Capital Factory, that go-go hive of entrepreneurial-ism in the center of Austin, to hear what the U.K. Dept. of International Trade had to say about Brexit, I thought about a University of London marketing class I took years ago. The professor, a Scot, turned to a world map. He drew a line between Europe and the United Kingdom. Then he drew an arrow across the Atlantic pointing toward the United States and made a prediction: At some point, the British will break away from Europe and join the United States in an economic block. Prescient fellow.
Borders, walls and disagreements
It takes guts to tell your story when the facts aren’t clear, but the U.K. team did an admiral job. Representatives from the British Consulate’s Department for International Trade, law firm Taylor Wessing and accountancy Blick Rotherberg were optimistic that even the Irish border conundrum could be resolved — at the last minute (“That’s the way Europeans do things.”).
It was one day after Parliament sent Prime Minister Theresa May once more into the breach of negotiations with the European Union, and less than a week after Congress reached an agreement to pause the longest government shutdown in U.S. history so our elected officials could settle a disagreement about a wall between neighbors.
Do we stay or do we go?
Ross Allen, the New York City-based director at the U.K. Department for International Trade led the discussion, reminding us that the United Kingdom has a special relationship with the United States. The two countries are genetically linked — in language, history, laws and culture — and those commonalities matter a great deal.
Data Privacy: Privacy continues is a hot button for the U.S. GDPR is in place in the U.K., as is Privacy Shield. Regulation is a moving target, but there is a common foundation.
Business Headquarters: “Pragmatism” is the operative word. Considerations such as degree of industry regulation, the need to move people around Europe, the size of the organization, labor laws and tax rates all factor into a decision.
Regional Differences: London will continue to be its own country, as are all great cities. But other regions, particularly the north, where businesses that rely on international supply chains will be hit hard – Leeds, Northern Ireland, Wales. I read this morning that U.K. automotive production declined 8% in 2018, as investment plummets and jobs disappear.
Trade: Separate trade agreements are in the works with Israel and talks are underway with South Korean and Japan.
Defense: NATO, an intelligence community that’s joined at the hip.
Worst case scenario? On March 29, Parliament decides not to decide. A second referendum to stay in the E.U.? Too late and too expensive. Unlikely.
“I am England”
Every muddle has its heroes, and I asked Vice Consul Haileigh Meyers and her Silicon Valley-based colleague David what they thought about Prime Minister Theresa May.
She (Mrs. May) is a true public servant, and she realizes she needs to get this done. She’s driven by a commitment to public service.
UK International Trade and Investment British Consulate-General
Imagine taking a job that no one else wants, a job that brings you defeat and humiliation by even your closest allies. Imagine sticking with that job as other opportunities more to your liking and skill set pass you by. If you haven’t read the New Yorker piece on Mrs. May, do. Here’s hoping Queen Elizabeth, another woman who knows a great deal about sacrifice in the name of public service, can offer guidance from her own long tenure as leader of a nation that faced and dealt with dwindling political and economic power.
Closing the session, Allen tossed out a provocative idea: “What if it’s just like Y2K, and we wake up and nothing happens?” Some of us remember the panic that preceded the turn of the century hysteria about whether networks and data centers could tolerate the transition between “1999” and “2000.”
After the session, I rode down in the elevator with Drew Haas, who is moving to London next week to open the U.K. office of San Saba Pecan. They have a warehouse outside of York, and Drew will be growing the business in Europe, where almonds are vulnerable to some stiff Texas competition.
POSTSCRIPT: Inflexibility: The flip side of determined leadership?
UPDATE March 18, 2019: The BBC reports Mrs. May will try to get her proposal passed after two rejections, something the now-famous House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has ruled as a no-go unless there are “substantive changes” to the proposal. Will Mrs. May charge into the same brick wall once again?
In late July of 2017, I pushed my way into an airless warehouse-turned performance space to be part of an enthusiastic audience for this year’s “Sixty by 60,” the annual fundraiser for the Fusebox Festival, a not-to-be-missed series of glorious international art, dance, opera and all-round inventiveness that happens every Spring in Austin, Texas. For free.
The piece I remember most vividly featured a young African-American woman wearing a white t-shirt that read in bold, black letters, “Be Nice.” A small woman, standing in the middle of the stage, she invited the 200 of sweating her sweating audience to pick up the white t-shirts she’d placed on their chairs and wave them over head, joining her in shouting “Be Nice!” to loud music.
The reference to the iconic New Orleans R&B queen Irma Thomas’ white handkerchief was there: Put your backfield in motion, even when your audience waves Confederate flags.
But 2017 brought us a new president, Travis Kalanick, Harvey Weinstein, shootings by and of policemen, fake news, children gunned down in churches, and more. There is a lot of material to work with during 2018.
Though if it were up to me, a woman raised with the same words, I would make it BeNice2.0 to make it clear we’re done with the old “nice at a price.” We don’t need enemies. We need collaborators, supporters, friends, critics who are willing to listen.
The other thing I like about BeNice2.0 is that it takes us beyond “be kind,” unquestionably a necessary and admirable life rule. To me, BeNice2.0, suggests a more active, engaging stance. Ask for what you need, point out unfair behavior, propose better approaches. Be active; #BeNice2.0
I fought my way through Friday night traffic to see my friend Shiva’s daughter perform in their Christmas play, “A Play in a Manger.” I expected Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds. What I saw was an hour-long rock-and-roll production built around a plot line of “bigger is not better.” Mary and Joseph were supplanted by a production manager and a worried production crew and cast, some 20 kids in all.
Everybody got a speaking part, reaching up to the standing microphones like little gold fish getting their supper.). Shaylee, whose family is from Iran, added what I learned later was an improvised dance number for her part. The epilogue was this: “Christmas is not about Walmart or Saks. ipads or iphones.” That is, it’s not about stuff, because stuff costs a lot of money.
I thought about this when I stopped into my local Wal-Mart for socks and was astounded to find all of the cashiers were gone, erased. In their place were scanners, waiting for a credit (or debit) card. When I asked the attendant where those workers — mostly women, mostly African-American, mostly over 40 — I got a shrug.
According Fortune, citing a McKinsey Global Institute report released in November, “between 400 million and 800 million workers around the world could be displaced by automation by 2030.” By comparison, the 2016 population of Texas was 27.36 million. Think about that — that’s 15 Texas’.
Most affected will be jobs that involve collecting and processing data – everything from accounting to fast food. The report predicts the pace of displacement will be unprecedented, concluding “There are few precedents in which societies have successfully retrained such large numbers of people.”
In a recent column, David Brooks had some suggestions for lawmakers to consider, a list that targets practical but oftentimes insurmountable barriers like making it easier for people to:
Get to work
Get a license
Enter fast-growing professions like health care
As ex-offenders, navigate the application process
It’s painful to experience the season as one of “haves” and “have nots,” and easy to turn away we dash through the holiday fully armed. But here’s hoping each of us has an opportunity to pause and reflect, not just on how very lucky we are, but how we can help those who are less so, navigate these times.
Rushing to work one morning last week, I listened to Mihir Desai talk about his new book The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Reward. The topic is bankruptcy; the lesson: Life is chaos, and our task is to navigate through the it. He kicked off the interview with an anecdote about American Airline’s 2011 bankruptcy filing (when the stock fell 79%):
The first CEO said for a long time he’ll never go bankrupt, because it was his duty to make sure every obligation gets paid off. Of course, he gets dragged into bankruptcy at the very end, they switch the CEO. The second CEO comes in, restructures all the obligations, guts the pensions. But American Airlines goes on to live another day. So the idea there is, you know, who’s the hero of that story? Is it the guy who said, “I have to stand by all my obligations,” but took the company down? Or the guy who said, “I actually got to manage these conflicting obligations”?
Employees, or many of them, kept their jobs, and shareholders came out way ahead. Maybe the lady wasn’t as advertised, but she was a better option than the tiger. So it goes with the ways we manage not just our working lives, but our personal ones as well.
Conflicting obligations come at you from all directions
Unexpected interruptions — kids, divorce, illness, death — not to mention layoffs, separations and unplanned early retirement intrude. Financial hardship complicates things.
Living longer + Putting yourself last = Poverty
Women are particularly vulnerable to the call of obligations. We tend to put others’ needs before our own, although perhaps this trend will shift as we evolve and more men take on caregiving responsibilities. But as it stands now, Kerry Hanson’s “Money Worries” column is a wake-up call:
Women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 or older while women age 75 to 79 were three times more likely to fall below the poverty level than men the same age.
When I turned around after taking time off to care for my parents, I fully expected to step back into a job comparable to the one I’d left. But someone had moved that career ladder. It’s taken years, and a few unplanned twists and turns to accept where I am professionally. I realize now that if I’d been less focused on doing everything perfectly and more on my future, I’d be in a better position financially.
Health care expanses: A ticking time bomb
Changes to health care policy pose a real threat to anyone over the age of 65 who does not have robust retirement savings. Today 60 percent of the elderly in nursing homes are on Medicaid. Many have spent their savings on assisted living and residential care. Getting old is expensive. According to Hanson, a healthy 65-year old woman retiring in 2016 will pay $300,000 on Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs for hearing dental and vision care by the time she reaches 89. That, of course, is in addition to living and personal care expanses.
Stay in touch with your possibilities
Do what you need to do to keep a firm footing on that career ladder. But don’t get rattled if something knocks you off. Expand your thinking and your network.
Desai’s interview closed with a tip of the hat to Martha Nussbaum’s “The Fragility of Goodness” and the example set by the ancient Greeks:
Fundamentally, this is about undercutting the idea that you have to follow duty. Most Greek tragedies are about people who have these conflicting obligations, and it’s a mess, and you have to navigate them. And she says that’s a good life. If you don’t have conflicting obligations, you’re doing something wrong.
So, it is as it’s always been. Keep working. Do your best; take smart risks and most of all, take care of yourself.
* Cartoon is courtesy of Harry Bliss and The New Yorker, March 18, 2016.
I recently went to the IBM Amplify conference, which was built around IBM’s cognitive offering, Watson. It was, of course, all about knowledge and skills. Although technology majored, human skills were also a theme, and I raced around trying to keep up.
Girls who code and more
IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty closed her keynote by recognizing three young women from California who excelled in IBM P-Tech six-year high school schools, offering those lucky students jobs as IBM interns. Skills were visible through partners: CoffeeBean and its Soical-ID, BlueSky CloudCommerce, Bridge Solutions, Lightwell fulfillment. Rocket Fuel, and SapientRazorfish — all driving, extending, the cognitive technology into their respective sectors.
IBM has deep experience in getting the right skill sets from its people, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce was there to represent a new generation of companies that underscore the value-add of ongoing training and education.
Business and jobs policy
Benioff — an innovation evangelist — referenced a meeting he and Rometty (among others) recently attended with President Trump:
“I want to thank all the business leaders that have joined us to discuss a subject that’s very important to me: Training our workforce for the 21st century, especially in respect to manufacturing jobs,” CNN quotes Trump as having said during that meeting. “Here in the United States, companies have created revolutionary high tech and online courses.”
More to come in this area, no doubt.
H-1B visa applications out tomorrow
H-1B visa applications are due out tomorrow. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced quotas will remain the same despite proposed changes, and some 85,000 applications will be available to tech companies. In the past, the visas have primarily been gone to professionals from India for IT jobs, and although data shows there has been a small impact on tech sectors wages, overall the program has demonstrated it enhances innovation, lowers consumer prices and boosts company profits.
It’s good to know there’s a larger discussion on jobs and skills. But in the end, each of us is responsible for keeping our own skills up-to-snuff, and making sure elected officials and our professional communities help in any and all ways they can. Skills are the best renewable strategy we have. None of us should be sitting on our hands (or laurels).