In the U.S. business community, cultural and international issues are important, but they're often not a high priority. Businesses here are still comfortable with the notion that "global" means the United States and Western Europe. But companies from all over the world are starting to sell everything, everywhere.
By teaching around the world, including in the China Executive MBA program (CHEMBA), Assistant Professor Carlos Torelli stays connected with colleagues on that side of the world and abreast of the priorities in their business communities. In Asia, international business issues are important and invested in, because that's where its future is. In the past it manufactured items that others designed. But many countries, particularly China, now want to move to the next step of creating their own brands. They're starting to see the economic benefits.
"China is investing very heavily in attracting talent and talent is going to that part of the world," Torelli said. "I think the world is realizing that global competition is truly a global competition."
Take for example the growth of Corona in the United States. Heineken used to be the main imported beer brand, but now imports like Corona are becoming mainstream. Add the fact that the cultural boundaries of branding are being erased, and you see these new components of globalization. Brands like Budweiser are a joint venture now - is it an American brand or a Belgian brand?
"I strongly believe that's the big issue for the next few years. It's not so much streamlining manufacturing; it's learning to operate in a globalized economy in which everything is dynamic and fluid," Torelli said. "Where the brand is headquartered might be less important than where its biggest markets are, and what connections the brand has developed in those markets."
While these specific issues don't pose immediate threats for established brands, they do pose mid- and long-term threats. Consumers' responses to these new trends in globalization are key. How do they react to the cultural meanings - and sometimes conflicting cultural meanings - in products? Marketers need to understand when those meanings work for them or when they could threaten their business.
"Around the world there is more awareness that these are pressing issues that we're going to have to deal with," Torelli said. "Globalization merges meanings - it's turning the market into a multicultural space - in which meanings from many different regions of the world are kind of juxtaposed in a single offer."
Most students at the Carlson School have international experience, far beyond going to Cancun for spring break. And their cultural awareness is greater than many in the business community.
"The kids in my class love when I talk about [globalization]. They love that more than anything else, because they live it, they understand it, they see it, and they see the gap with what they see around them in terms of the issues, the opportunities, and the risks," Torelli said. "They can take sides and put themselves in a different cultural frame."
Newer generations will be even more culturally savvy. There's a whole generation in the United States growing up in immersion programs. That's common in Europe and some parts of Canada, which is why many of the companies from those parts of the world are very attune to cultural differences. They are at the forefront of all these globalization issues.
"So the whole idea of ethnic marketing is kind of a little bit blurred now - because who is ethnic?" Torelli asked.
Bi-culturals are not only immigrants or their children, but people who have extended knowledge about another culture through the Internet, friends, or society. That's becoming more the norm than the exception. Younger generations are becoming increasingly culturally diverse, not only because of heritage but also from exposure. And they're not on the radar of any marketer in that respect because while they might be ethnically Caucasian, they are definitely more multi-cultural.
Currently working on a book to put these very important issues into lay language for practitioners, Torelli is trying to extend the reach of his research. The Carlson School is in a big city, surrounded by big companies. There is a need for greater distribution of easily understood knowledge to the business community.
Through Executive Education, different Carlson School classes, and consumer- and business-oriented publications, there's an excellent chance to educate Twin Cities companies about the opportunities that can open when they better understand global issues and how this knowledge can be used to protect and grow their brands.
"Our research first touches our colleagues, but the ultimate beneficiary is society - companies, government, consumers, and the public," Torelli said. "I'm firmly committed to strengthening our Executive Education capabilities. Reaching out to companies is another way to disseminate knowledge and help them with the real issues they face."
PhD Business Administration, 2007
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Master in Business Administration, 1997
Master in Business Engineering, 1993
Simon Bolivar University
Bachelor of Civil Engineering, 1986
Andres Bello Catholic University