Helping our youth go global

Aug. 5, 2004
In today's economy, companies know the challenges of doing business in a global environment.

David R. Monaco
Plymouth, Mich.

Employees are working with colleagues and customers from all over the world on a daily basis. So they must quickly become familiar with cultures and practices they may have never experienced. Unfortunately, many companies don't train their employees for international communication, though it would be beneficial since these skills are seldom taught in our schools.

At Simrit, the industrial products division of Freudenberg-NOK, we're trying to do something about the lapse. We're focused on preparing today's youth to be tomorrow's business leaders. Through a company-wide program called Tanner (Travel and Navigate New Exciting Roads), created by the global Freudenberg Group in 1999, we have been trying to close international gaps by teaching the next generation cultural awareness and acceptance.

Tanner is a unique global student-travel program that lets young people between the ages of 14 and 20 — who are children or grandchildren of employees — stay with another employee's family in a foreign country of their choice for up to four weeks. The company pays all expenses for the trip, including airfare, board costs for the host family, and spending money for the traveler. Participants can visit any of the 40 countries where Freudenberg has a facility. Since its launch, more than 400 Tanner trips have taken place and 430 host families have registered around the world.

During their trips, Tanner participants join their host families in various cultural experiences, including sampling local foods, attending entertainment events, visiting some of the country's major attractions, and socializing with young people in the community. We see this as an opportunity to help educate our youth on different lifestyles and beliefs, help them overcome their fears of the unknown, and develop a better understanding and appreciation of those who are different from them.

The program also requires that participants visit one of the company's facilities in their host location. Doing this familiarizes the young travelers with the employees, products, and values of the group for which their family member works.

I have personally seen how rewarding the Tanner program can be for participants. Last year, my family hosted Stefan Schwobel, an 18-year old from Germany. The trip was definitely a great learning opportunity for him, but it was also an eye-opening experience for us as well. While Stefan was able to immerse himself in the American culture, my family was able to get a glimpse of what his life is like back home, and learn about German traditions.

In addition, my 19-year-old daughter Melissa will travel to Finland this year as a Tanner participant. Watching her anticipation build and knowing how beneficial this experience will be for her makes me proud to work for an organization that so strongly emphasizes our children and helps them gain these worldwide experiences.

Our company is part of an enterprise that has been operating globally for four generations. It has spent a significant amount of time creating a worldwide network in which to collaborate with our global partners. But there is room still to improve. Tanner is just one step we've taken to help address this growing issue. While we realize it doesn't offer an immediate solution, we expect it to have a substantial impact down the road.

Simrit, and all companies that do business worldwide, need to plan for the future, and international business is the future. Global opportunities for tomorrow's leaders will grow considerably, forcing us to not only interact with individuals from other countries, but also to live abroad for lengthy periods of time. Programs such as Tanner can help prepare the next generation for the business challenges they may face. Teaching our young people how to relate and connect with their counterparts around the world helps ensure our success in a global economy.

Simrit is the industrial sealing products division of Freudenberg-NOK.

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