Recently I had the good fortune to book a global Fortune 200 CEO for a business seminar I was responsible for arranging. It was one of those friend of a friend things, but you use what you got. He happens to have a home here in Montana, as well as in China.
He was speaking to a group of new leaders here in our little valley in Montana, and I asked him to speak about international trade. More and more startups here are doing business with China, importing AND exporting. As such, I wanted them to get some exposure to what he had experienced as the CEO and Chairman of a $2B company.
As someone who owns a home in a city of 24 million and in a rural Montana town of a couple of thousand, and runs businesses in both areas (one huge over there, several not nearly so huge here), I expected some interesting observations.
I asked him what he would tell the school boards in Montana if he could get them to do one thing for the future. More math, more science, more languages.
Finally, I asked him what scared him. I was truly curious what scares the CEO of a $2B company.
He noted the number of engineers graduating from college each year in China vs the number here, and them compared the number of new attorneys in China to the number here. You can guess the disparity.
He mentioned that more students in China take the SAT in ENGLISH every WEEK than students in the US take it per month.
The class was rather silent, and had few questions, so I asked a few things intended to stir the pot.
When I asked if our high schools should start teaching Chinese, he said no and followed with “I think we should start teaching Chinese in preschool.”
Eventually, we (and the group) had a long discussion about innovation, bureaucracy, engineer vs attorney statistics, mistakes to avoid when going into China and so on. Good stuff.