This week I took a brief trip to Florida, a short respite from the "cold" of North Carolina. The 50 hour trip was in part to test how my recently injured back would hold up to the rigors of travel before leaving for a two week trip to Asia next week. The other reason was that I was asked to become more engaged with our US and European customers in 2012. This trip covered all my bases - a Japanese customer with a US operation and a French customer with a US operation.
On Wednesday, I met Japan and US based Japanese customers for dinner in Orlando. The group of 9 consumed about 140 ounces of beef after the typically large appetizer platters served in high end American steakhouses. If we are in Japan, we almost always eat traditional Japanese food but in the US, my Japanese guests almost always prefer to test their calorie consuming mettle on a steak that is the equivalent to what would normally be consumed by six people at a steakhouse in Japan. In any case, a fairly typical low stress and enjoyable dinner meeting.
The next day in Jacksonville I had dinner with a senior manager from the US operation of a French company who recently received almost $100 million from the US government to build a "shovel ready" green energy project that they built a couple years sooner than planned because the US President decided that the spending would be "good for the economy". I am not a big fan of "stimulus" spending especially when the spender tells me the project was built prematurely only because the money was made available by the President's program. In this case, the money would have been invested by this company anyway just not until 2013. Very few jobs were created because the plant uses more robots than people. So the US taxpayer "invested" in this company for no good reason. The investment got the taxpayer no equity in the company and will yield no meaningful return. On the positive side, the plant is state of the art and although operating at a low rate because it was built early - it is making a quality product.
This particular company has always been hard to deal with so I was not looking forward to hearing about our recent price increase and how we needed to be more flexible and long term in our thinking. My expectations for the evening were very low.
Much to my surprise the dinner was one of the more pleasant ones I have had since returning to the US. As it turns out, the person I met actually lives about an hour from where I live in North Carolina. He commutes to Jacksonville as needed since he travels around the world most of the time anyway. Some of his suppliers in other parts of his business are my customers in Asia. We compared notes on people, food, customs. It is not that often I meet someone in the US that knows people I know in China, Japan, etc.
Another lesson learned - keep an open mind. As the world shrinks, you never know when or where you will meet a kindred spirit.