To prepare for the upcoming International Emerging Leaders Conference, on Wednesday, September 24, Virginia-based business leaders Bruce Thomas, Suly Salazar-Layton, George L. Hiller, and My Lan Tran joined Collegiate students to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our generation’s ‘global leaders’. Each speaker shared thoughts on the qualities upcoming leaders would need to exhibit in order to be successful: flexibility, empathy, resourcefulness, communication, cultural awareness and understanding. The conversations served as a great opening for the International Emerging Leaders Conference and an exciting launch for the Collegiate Global Discussions Club.

The four speakers began by sharing very similar messages. With technological advances and the widespread use of media, the world is quickly becoming a smaller place. 

To be a skilled leader, an understanding and acceptance of different cultures and languages is critical. As Suly Salazar-Layton said, in order to lead and negotiate, you have to “release your unconscious bias” and resist making assumptions about the people with whom you’re working. It is also important to understand other cultures and their customs to be aware of the different meanings of words and gestures and avoid offending or confusing others in the room. To understand the culture, Salazar-Layton suggested finding someone to serve as a “culture informant” who can answer questions and help explain aspects of the culture that cannot be found through a Google search.

A good leader must not only be highly qualified and possess analytical skills, but he also must improve personable skills, or what My Lan Tran calls “soft skills,” including empathy, compassion, and communication. In international business, forming relationships and focusing on people can help when negotiating, making a deal, or even finding the problem that needs to be solved. No issue can be resolved without communication and listening.  

As Tran said, “Connection is the magic that brings you success,” without connection or an understanding of the people with whom you’re working, you may find a solution for the wrong problem.  We must recognize and utilize our skills that will help us develop into smart global leaders that, as Tran eloquently phrased, have “the ability to lead with their heads, to manage complexity, with their hearts, to manage diversity, and with their guts, to manage uncertainty.”

Speaker Bios:

Bruce Thomas is the founder and managing director of the Arcady Group, a company that specializes in helping organizations and businesses address global health issues, improve patient health outcomes, accelerate drug development, and addressing the challenge of medication non-adherence. He currently is working with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Thomas has experience working in China, India, Latin America, and Africa, having visited India 91 times and China 47 times.

Suly Salazar-Layton is the Director of Practice Management for Genworth, a financial services and insurance company, as well as the International Operations Leader. She has worked in South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Salazar-Layton is also a native of Colombia and the co-leader of the Genworth Hispanic Forum which helps to aid the Hispanic community at Genworth and in Richmond.

George L. Hiller has been teaching at the University of Richmond since 1994, including courses in the adult Liberal Arts degree program, School of Law, and Robins School of Business. He has an interest in globalization studies, international business, trade law, Latin American studies, and the globalization of teacher education programs. In addition to his teaching, Hiller also serves as an international education grant consultant for the US Department of Education.

My Lan Tran is the Executive Director of the statewide Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce and the Administrator of the Virginia Asian Foundation. She works to expand the East Coast’s Corporate valuing business diversity environment. A native of Vietnam, Tran has visited and worked in various countries including the US, Germany, France, Italy, and Vietnam.