Matching Preparation with Opportunity—Serendipity Intervenes
A couple of years ago I was sitting on a flight to Hawaii for a professional conference. Being somewhat a social person, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman sitting next to me and asked him, “Are you going for business or pleasure?”
“Well, kind of both. I’m going to a conference,” he said.
To which I replied, “Oh really, a conference, which conference are you going to? I’m doing the same thing.”
As it turned out, we were both going to the same conference. After our discovery, he asked me to tell him more about myself. I began, “Well, I’m a doctoral student focusing on South Asia, and the Middle East. . . . ”
When I mentioned the Middle East he interrupted with, “Our company happens to be bidding on some projects in the Middle East right now. We are looking for a Middle Eastern educationalist. Would you be interested?”
“Absolutely, I’d be interested,” I responded.
Although I had moved my family to my wife’s home state—Minnesota—and had been looking for a job there, my search had failed to uncover his small, Minneapolis-based company, Seward Inc. Over the last year and a half, I have been helping them develop their international division.
Much of my work with Seward has been in the Sultanate of Oman, a country on the east end of the Arabian Peninsula. In 1970, Oman had only seven miles of paved roads, one formal school, and one hospital. In the ensuing years, they have made many improvements, largely with the help of imported labor from other countries, and they are currently in the process of a major human capital development campaign. Part of that campaign is an intensive effort to upgrade the skills of their school leaders and teachers. I have been conducting workshops and presentations on school leadership and parent and community involvement. This includes training policy makers from the Ministry of Education, who then train principals who will serve as master trainers. These master trainers will then be responsible to train people around the country in an effort to build local leadership capacity. In addition to the teacher training, I work with ministry-level officials to teach them everything from strategic planning to program evaluation and how to implement the various educational reforms.
I think it is important to note here that this job was not in my initial plan, but I believe that each of us has a unique place, position, and calling in this world, and we are charged to fulfill our call to action. After my mission in India, I was accepted to BYU in the public policy program with an emphasis in international development. While I was at BYU, I participated in the Arabic intensive program, completed an internship in Jerusalem, and completed the Arabic minor, because, unfortunately, BYU did not offer Middle Eastern studies at that time. I served as president of Students for International Development, and, to gain some work experience, I worked part-time at the Kennedy Center.
While working at the center, I realized my initial training in public policy had not provided the methodological training I needed, so after receiving a combined BA/MA in public policy, I worked full-time at the center while pursuing an MS in sociology. Thereafter, I was accepted to the doctoral program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. My dissertation research in India focused on individual and organizational networks and their impact on education outcomes in the context of decentralization.
My father is half Punjabi (from India) and half Iranian. My mother comes from another very exotic place called Idaho, and somehow their worlds coalesced around what is now BYU—Idaho. My grandfather, who was from Punjab, was born in a remote village with no nearby school. He was quite an inquisitive person, and my great-grandfather used to brag to all the people in the village how he had an educated son—one of only two in the village who had six months of formal education. His passion and his dream right from the beginning was to establish a school in his village. He inspired that vision in my father, who likewise passed that on to me, which is partially where I get my passion for education and international development. When I was accepted to Harvard, my father said to me with tears in his eyes that I was fulfilling my grandfather’s dream.
From a Latter-day Saint perspective, I know the world will experience terrible events, but I cannot use scriptures or prophecy as a call to inaction and think, “Woe is me, and woe is the world. I can’t do anything about this because death and destruction is fated to be.” Quite the contrary! I and all of us have an obligation to work in our individual communities and sphere of influence. There is a need to think about ways to fulfill the command given by Jesus Christ: go out and bless the lives of others around the world.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Here is my advice on how to accomplish this command:
- Follow your passion. Do some soul searching: think about who you are, what makes you happy, and what makes you want to go out and make a difference in the world.
- Look to your patriarchal blessing and individual revelation. This is not a one-time thing. Rather, it is a lifetime endeavor.
- Don’t be in a hurry; take your time.
- Do the things that are going to give you the experiences, the frames of reference, and ways of thinking to be someone who is really effective in your chosen field.
- On the other hand, don’t stick around longer than is necessary. Sometimes you can get in a comfort zone that is pacifying.
- Do good work and take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. Once you have done that, once you have done everything that you can do, trust that you are going to be given opportunities along the way that will make a difference. Have the faith to say. “Okay, I have done what I can.”
- Be a generalized specialist. You have to make a commitment to an area you are good at, but you should not think only of that specialty. Broaden your abilities to be as useful as possible outside your specialty and actively work to build bridges with those working in other related fields.
- Be flexible and be forgiving of yourself. Especially as Latter-day Saints, we have a great sense of purpose and mission, a feeling that we are special and unique, which is absolutely true, but sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. Sometimes we can be perfectionists, and we do not allow ourselves to make mistakes that we might learn from. There is a lot to be learned from failure. There is a lot to be learned from what happens in those small, or in some cases big, moments when we have not measured up to what we would like from ourselves or what others would like from us.
The Kennedy Center means a lot to me in a number of different ways. The center, the International Study Programs office, and the range of faculty that work with them have inspired me to go and do the things that I am involved in. I would like to say to you: go and do the things you are passionate about, be the people who are making the difference in organizations and institutions around the world, and dream big—do the things that you feel called to do. As Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) wrote in his book the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Sourcing in the Global Market
Following graduation from BYU, I was overheard speaking Chinese on a flight to Beijing by a U.S. businessman who struck up a conversation with me about my language skill. At a later date, he offered me a job with his company. My language skills had inadvertently landed me a job with Dura Global Sourcing, an import sourcing company.
I quickly advanced up the ranks from Asian projects manager to China office general manager, vice president, and finally, president. Since I have taken over operations, the company has grown from a small company based out of Las Vegas with agents in Asia and a fledgling office in China, to a true multinational company with a large office in Shanghai, employees across China, two wholly owned manufacturing facilities in China, as well as regional-based U.S. sales representatives. Dura Global Sourcing has had a 150 percent growth in revenues in the past three years alone. I credit the great team of people I work with for this success.
The field of import sourcing (or trading, as it is traditionally known) is and will always be a viable way of doing business across national borders as long as diverse cultures and languages exist. I like to think of good import sourcing companies as well trained and educated tour guides in a foreign country. For example, people will have a better vacation if all the arrangements are taken care of ahead of time, as opposed to if they wing it with a pocket translator and their nose in a self-help travel book. When it comes to import sourcing in a foreign country, experience and service is well worth the price.
Some barriers to international sourcing have been alleviated by the widespread knowledge of market-based economic theory and by the increasing use of English as the primary lingua franca of the business world. However, many barriers still exist and middlemen, import sourcing companies, will always be the safest and most convenient way to bridge the gap between foreign companies and their customers. Sourcing companies provide communication, negotiation, quality control, and logistical support. In other words, we try to make buying a product from a foreign company as effortless and as safe as buying from a domestic company.
The challenges an import sourcing company faces are cyclical depending upon the source. For example, a few decades ago, Japan was the low-cost, labor-intensive producer for a large majority of products imported into the U.S. As Japan became a developed country, low-cost, labor-intensive jobs moved to Taiwan and Korea. In the past fifteen years, those jobs have now migrated to China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other developing countries around the world. China has emerged as the preeminent manufacturing center of the world, specifically for labor-intensive, low-technology products.
Trends have shown that as countries have become more developed, there is less need for sourcing companies. In developed countries, manufacturers learn how to play the international game. Companies in developed countries are wealthier, therefore, they can afford to have larger marketing budgets and internationally savvy, well educated sales and marketing staff. In other words, they no longer need a bridge to get to their customer base in another country as they did before. As a result of this trend, import sourcing companies follow the migration and are more successful in less-developed countries than in developed ones.
I will never be a bean counter or a data-entry person.
Other challenges import sourcing companies face are created by U.S. clients of trading companies who learn to play the international game by themselves. As clients increase in size and global reach, eventually they will set up shop in the source country to handle the transactions themselves and eliminate the need for a sourcing company. However, this is not 100 percent fail-safe. I have seen companies come to China, hire the wrong people, try to push their foreign business culture on their operation and their suppliers, and get burned again and again. Also, companies that own a buying office in the source country do not always get the best deals on products. For example, I currently have some billion dollar clients that have massive buying offices in China, and yet, I am their source for certain product lines. Why? Because relationships and connections have and may always play a major role in Chinese society. This is just one example for the necessity of import sourcing companies.
As with any other business, the key to success is to evolve to meet the needs of the dynamic world we live in. The survival of the fittest reigns supreme in import sourcing companies. Sourcing companies have tried to adapt and change to accommodate client needs by running services twenty-four hours a day. For example, as east coast people come online in the morning, China is just going offline. As the west coast goes down, China is coming back up. By running twenty-four-hour service, companies ensure that the needs of their international customers are being met.
Another way some companies are evolving is by placing quality control inspectors in the factories and on the production lines to ensure the quality that their clients request. Others work with factories to develop ultra fast lead times by controlling their supply chain more efficiently than their competitors. Some sourcing companies will take the plunge and become the source themselves in order to add more value. In other words, instead of being a traditional buy-low, sell-high broker, they evolve.
In 2000, I graduated from BYU with two majors: international relations and Chinese. I chose to graduate from the Kennedy Center instead of the Humanities College because I wanted people to see me as a person with broad international experience rather than just Chinese language. I also interned following graduation with the State of Utah China Trade Representative Office in Beijing, China. That experience was more government relations than business as we were trying to convince government officials on various levels to buy into the technology of “online government.” Utah had done well at implementing many government services online, and the office in Beijing was trying to propagate that idea and perhaps work with some Utah companies in the process. In hindsight, I learned how to maneuver within the bureaucracy of the Chinese government. The way government works in China is quite the opposite of the comparative laissez faire government we have here in the U.S. There are many hurdles and red tape in doing almost any kind of business in China. It is imperative to understand which branch of the government makes the decisions that affect your business, and then make sure you follow their requirements closely and never do anything to be in opposition to them.
My goal was to do something international with China, but I never imagined I would be the president of a company. Some may think my career would better suit a graduate from the Marriott School of Business. When I pick up a newspaper, I can spend an hour in the international politics section, but after thirty seconds in the business section, I am bored out of my mind. Business to me is all about transactions. I will never be a bean counter or a data-entry person. I like the operational side of making deals and transacting business across cultures. It is always an adventure.
However, I think that is the beauty of an international relations degree: it is a little bit of everything international. Although I was not groomed to be the ideal businessman, I offer a fresh perspective and set of skills and viewpoints many international businessmen lack. When making transactions I take into account international economic factors, political issues, monetary policy, and cultural nuances—and all the classes I took at BYU have influenced my perspective on business. All the political science classes I took, and thought were a waste of time, have actually come full circle and are a boon to my understanding of the international political economy and its influence on my business.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is the law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. Department of State. Our mission is to provide a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, a mission that has grown increasingly difficult as terrorism against Americans has risen to unprecedented levels over the past several years. I have served as a special agent with DS for four years, and I have found it to be a challenging and rewarding career.
While certainly not as well known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the U.S. Secret Service, the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) is the most widely represented law enforcement organization in the world. Nearly fifteen hundred DS special agents are assigned to field offices, various Joint Terrorism Task Forces throughout the U.S., and more than 265 diplomatic posts abroad. DS agents are specialists within the U.S. Foreign Service who protect American and foreign dignitaries, conduct criminal investigations, and manage overseas security programs at U.S. embassies and consulates.
DS provides around-the-clock protection for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the U.S. and internationally. Special agents also protect other senior U.S. government officials as well as visiting foreign dignitaries, including members of royal families, former heads of state, and other prominent visitors such as the Dalai Lama.
Prepared to meet special security needs as they arise, DS agents provided protection and trained presidential protective services for President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia. DS is the leading federal agency for U.S. security and planning coordination with host nation authorities during Olympic Games and other high profile international sports events. Every September, DS works with counterparts in local law enforcement in New York City to provide approximately forty protective details for foreign ministers and top officials of dozens of countries attending the UN General Assembly.
These special agents are federal law enforcement officers and trained criminal investigators. By partnering with local, state, federal, and foreign law enforcement authorities, DS investigates, apprehends, and prosecutes individuals suspected of crimes ranging from passport and visa fraud to human trafficking, espionage, and terrorism. As the attacks of 11 September 2001 have demonstrated, DS’s responsibility to investigate passport and visa fraud is a vital part of U.S. national security.
Another aspect is the Rewards for Justice program, a vital asset in the global war on terrorism. Since its inception, Rewards for Justice has paid in excess of seventy-two million dollars to more than fifty individuals who provided credible information leading to the location and capture of terrorists and other criminals. In 2006, DS helped resolve 126 international fugitive cases in forty-seven nations, returning fugitives from U.S. law back to the States for prosecution.
. . . the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) is the most widely represented law enforcement organization in the world.
Agents are responsible for protecting all State Department facilities worldwide and are dedicated to providing a secure living and working environment for its Foreign Service colleagues. Over four hundred DS agents assigned to Regional Security Offices manage the security programs of U.S. embassies and consulates. These agents live and work overseas, supervise local guard forces, and often have operational command of a detachment of U.S. Marines. The senior DS agent at the post is the ambassador’s chief law enforcement and security advisor. When a crisis abroad jeopardizes the security of U.S. diplomats and their families, DS agents take action. In summer 2006, DS agents on the ground in Beirut, Damascus, Ankara, Tel Aviv, and Nicosia, planned and executed the evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
The Kennedy Center exposed me to the many public service opportunities available to an international studies graduate. As a matter of full disclosure, the publisher of Bridges, Jeffrey Ringer, was my U.S. foreign policy professor. I studied at both Brigham Young University and the University of California—Los Angeles, receiving a BA in political science with an emphasis in international relations from UCLA.
Previous to my university education, I served a two-year mission for the Church in the Philippines. This experience solidified my interest in foreign affairs and helped me to gain in-depth proficiency in a foreign language. I decided to join DS after serving as an officer in the Marine Corps for four years. Because of my experience as a student, missionary, and officer in the Marine Corps, I felt well prepared when I applied for the DS agent position.
DS agents have a wide range of responsibilities and opportunities that I have only touched upon in this article. The variety of assignments and the international scope of our mission enable our agents to become the most versatile in federal law enforcement. Many candidates for DS special agent positions have prior military or local law enforcement experience. However, it should be noted that DS, and the State Department as a whole, seeks to hire a diverse work force. Those who have an interest in national security and law enforcement, as well as a passion for international affairs should consider a career with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Special Agent Jason Griffin is assigned to Diplomatic Security’s Washington Field Office. He recently returned from a two-year assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Visit http://www.diplomaticsecurity.state.gov to learn more about careers with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.