From Iran to Core Values; Bridge Students Enjoy Varied Events

BridgeEnglish Denver students were involved in discussions ranging from how to run a “people-first-profits-later” business to the threat of an Israeli strike on Iran at two very different events held in early March.

The first of those events was an evening at a private home in Boulder, about 30 miles north of Denver, hosted by the Denver-based International Business Circle (IBC),  a networking group of people with international business backgrounds which hosts monthly events. BridgeEnglish Denver has an agreement with the IBC to allow a group of executive students from the school’s Business English program to attend these events each month.

Matthew Bishop, the New York bureau chief of The Economist magazine, was the guest of honor and center of a wide ranging discussion that started off discussing the renewed importance of gold in a precarious global economy, ventured into a debate about the US economy and political situation in a Presidential election year, talked about Europe, Russia, the Middle East and China and raised worrying possibilities about a possible attack on Iran by Israel before the year is out.

Romina Aguilera, a Chilean student who is a Senior Consultant in the Human Capital department of Ernst and Young in Santiago, was impressed by the range of topics discussed and the opinions presented by the IBC members.

“What was particularly interesting for me was the opportunity to listen to some very informed American perceptions of these topics,” she said. “I had only heard such things (before) in the news and from the government, which sometimes is not what people live day to day.”

Romina was lucky enough to win a signed copy of one of Bishop’s books as was fellow BridgeEnglish Denver executive student Ruben Hartwig as well as the author of this post. There was no deal struck before the draw, I promise. The book’s title is The Road from Ruin, co-authored with Michael Green.

“It talks about how to revive capitalism,” Romina said. “It was good to win it, although it’s going to take me a long while to finish it. It is not easy.”

An integral part of these events is the opportunity for people to socialize and network ahead of the evening’s presentation.  While the IBC maintains a strict “No Pitch” policy so that attendees are not allowed to openly advertize their businesses, business cards regularly change hands and it can be a very valuable networking experience for BridgeEnglish Denver students.

“Everybody is very friendly, people are very easy to talk to,”  said BridgeEnglish Denver student Takuma Sato, who works as an engineer for Hitachi Corp. in Japan. “I had a lot of good conversations, particularly with someone who works in energy in the US.”

Romina said that such socializing was a big test to see how her own English skills have developed. “I think it was a great chance for practicing my English with native speakers, in a noisy place,” she said. “It was a good challenge.”

For the record, Bishop, whose new book “In Gold We Trust” is available only as an e-book for $2.99, thinks that President Obama will be a two-term President, believes that Vladimir Putin will very slowly be forced out by more democratic movements in Russia, that the European Union will not be torn asunder by the faltering Euro currency and that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will likely happen this year before the US election  in November if it is going to happen at all.

“Israel’s natural instinct is to go in and take out the nuclear program,” he said. “Iran may well be getting a nuclear weapon in the next few months and (Israeli President) Netanyahu is spoiling for a fight. There will also be a need for US support of Israel before the US election.”

Denver Event:

The atmosphere at a University of Denver event held a few days later was decidedly less global and more focused on the achievements of a single company.

Held as part of the university’s Daniels College of Business “Voices of Experience” series, Kent Thiry, CEO and chairman of Da Vita Corp., a provider of kidney dialysis facilities, gave a detailed insight into the functionings of his company which has turned from a failing corporation owing about $1.4bn in 1999 to a company today with $7bn in sales and annual net income of $500m.

Thiry told the invited audience that the company, where he is known by employees (called teammates) as The Mayor, had performed so well because it truly lives up to its core values. Too many companies blandly express how important their people are without actually taking the proper care of their employees, he said.

For any company to properly act on its core values, the lead must come from the top, he said. And it wasn’t enough to show how brilliant you are unless you can really lead from the front in acting out such values.

“People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care,” he told the audience.

Profit would always be a means rather than the end, he said. But it seems Thiry is doing something right with such high net income and a consistently improving share price. And his teammates are happy too.

Romina said she was particularly interested in the presentation because of her HR experience. It wasn’t weird to hear Thiry’s description of some of the more unconventional approaches his company takes in its bid to really look after its employees, or teammates.

“It totally made sense to me,” she said. “I am in HR, so I’m very familiar with the challenges companies face to engage their employees in the accomplishment of their goals.”

Takuma said the company may have come across as bit too mass religious-like with its cheerleading style of encouraging employees to reach their goals but the US was not the only country that had such companies.

“There are some companies (in Japan) which adopt a similar way,” he said. “The presenter made sense and I can understand his policy. I’ve never experienced that but, once I got used to working there, maybe I would work comfortably there.”

And the work life balance that Thiry stressed, the need for people not to leave their life principles at the door when they enter the workplace but rather to incorporate them every day, was a message that resonated with both Romina and Takuma, not least because of the typical ten to 12 hour days people work back in Santiago or Tokyo. “That’s why I think people should try to enjoy their jobs, otherwise it’s just too hard,” Romina said.

“Compared to US and European companies, I think Japanese people work more,” Takuma said. “But, in my opinion, that is not from loyalty but to keep up appearances. I try to keep company and personal principles the same, I agree with that.”

Most importantly, both students said how much they enjoyed the events even as they are a major challenge regarding their own language skills. Such events are becoming an integral part of their BridgeEnglish Denver experience, they said.

“I think that, particularly for advanced level classes, this is the best way to “measure” how well your English is doing,” said Romina. “In my opinion, being in a lecture and/or talking to native people really tells you if your English is good enough to live “in the real life”.”