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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Innovation Is International

Forbes magazine has published its 2012 list of the 100 most innovative companies in the world.  Check it out because it clearly reveals that there is no one Land of Opportunity these days.

If we just look at the top ten, we see companies from the U.S. but also from China, India and Japan.

For those who argue that European companies are stymied by over-regulation, heavy taxation and the "socialist" tendencies of their governments, please note that a UK company comes in 10th on the list and a French company, Pernod Ricard, is 15th.

In fact, there are quite a few French companies on the list.   Le Point has an article here which talks about "les entreprises tricolores" that made the cut:  Danone (ahead of Apple), Essilor, L'Oreal and others.

I was personally very pleased to see that one of my former employers, Dassault Systèmes, is on the list. They deserve it - it's not only a great company to work for but it's filled with people who are wicked smart and very VERY creative.  I saw things when I worked for them that just blew my mind.

Every so often when people find out that I hail from Seattle, I get asked, "Since you're an IT person, why didn't you stay there and work for Microsoft?"

Well, put yourself in my place.  Sure I could have stayed in Seattle but where was the fun in that?  I was born there and the city holds few mysteries for me.  There was also no guarantee that Microsoft or any of the other companies based there would have hired me.   By leaving I got the chance to work for what Forbes has recognized as a highly innovative international company, to live in two of the world's most beautiful cities (Paris and Tokyo), and to travel all over the world (China, Germany, Korea, India and many other places.)

Honestly, I'd say this was a no-brainer.

The other day I came across this article in The Atlantic, To Make America Great Again, We Need to Leave the Country.  Lot of hard truths there and the author is dead right when he says:
When Americans travel abroad, they are often surprised at how well other countries do the things we used to think America does best. In fact, one reason so many American businesses still lead the world is because they benchmark the competition and emulate best practices. But suggest to an American politician that we should try to learn from other countries, and he will look at you like you are from Mars. It is somehow unpatriotic even to raise such comparisons.
I'd say the situation is even worse than that.  Not only do those of us who abroad get laughed at when we make even the most mild suggestions about how practices learned elsewhere might be quite helpful in an American context, but we also get treated like Benedict Arnold's - tax evaders and potential terrorists until proven otherwise.

Forget "brain drain."  These days it's about "brain circulation."  The U.S. must recognize that not only does it benefit enormously when its people go abroad but, in a globalized world, its got competition as a pole of attraction.  In the 21st century, some effort is required to convince migrants to move there and stay - an effort that is not helped by American tax policy.   It also needs to start seeing its diaspora as an asset, a pool of people who do a lot of quiet good for America wherever they live.   I've yet to meet a single American who has given one thought about ways to get back those Americans who went abroad in the first place.  Other countries recognized long ago  that their expatriates are rich in experience that cannot be taught at a hometown university or learned at corporate HQ in Topeka, Kansas.  They have positive (not punitive) policies to encourage their citizens to go abroad and come back. 

And that is one set of "best practices" that the U.S. should definitely take from the wider world.


Tim said...

One area I think the US still continues to dominate legitimately and which I think creates "problems" in an indirect way for expats is colleges and universities. Simply put most of the world's best colleges and unversities are still in the United States. There are some caveats to this. First US colleges and universities along with being very good are also becoming very expensive. Second there some very good universities outside the US although not in significant numbers. Third some countries like Canada(perhaps only Canada) on per capita basis have university systems that I think can be considered to be very much equal to that of the US. Some this is due to the fact of geographic proximity Canadian Universities have no choice but to at the very least compete with US "public" univerisites unlike lets say French, German, or Italian colleges. I will note that McGill and the University of Toronto are both members of the Association of American Universities which despite the non descript name is the main grouping for all of the top end research universities such as MIT, Harvard, and Stanford. I will note that neither Villanova or Georgetown both home to FATCA big wigs are "elite" enough to be members.(FYI University of Washington is a member).

CarnetsdeSeattle said...

I agree with a caveat.

In the IT industry, the US is a clear leader, and French companies are a joke in comparison, and several years behind in my opinion.

But it's only in IT.

Tim said...


The US has some prominent companies such as Apple, Intel, Microsoft, and Google however their has been a substantial amount of turmoil in the industry over the last 15 years. Hardware has become almost completely commoditized and thus their is very little difference between a Samsung, Toshiba, HP, Dell, or Siemens PC. (HP for example which at one time had a certain degree of respect in the industry in the past year is going almost completely down the tubes).

Back my original comment. If you actually look at the people involved in pushing for FATCA they are not so much career bueracrats as they basically tax law professors that drift between academic and working for the Treasury Department. Along these lines while American universities may excel in certain areas I don't necessarily see how American law schools can some how be seen as "better" than the rest of the world. Of course one issue is the American legal system is so parasitical American lawyers are guaranteed to make substantial more money than any of their foreign counterparts.

Tim said...

Again on a related note I linked to very good column by Conrad Black(a Canadian with notable issues with the US legal system) comparing the US and Italian legal system vis a vis the case of Amanda Know(oddly enough from Seattle herself). The column make some rather interesting conclusions.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Loic, You may be right.May depend on the sector. I see the IT industry here however through the lens of companies like DS. In their class (PLM) they are one of the world's leaders and their software is used very widely. Automobile industry, for example, and aviation.

On a more personal note I'm always amazed to got to the US and watch people write checks. Checks? My bills here are all paid via direct transfer and I don't even have to think about it every month. I still have a checkbook for big ticket items (down payment on our house) but the rest of the time my checkbook is filed in my office and I never carry it around. There is just no need. That's progress! :-)

@Tim, If I were 20 years younger I'd go to India or China for IT. For my MBA we toured hi-tech companies in China. All the big names were there PLUS all kinds of start-ups. We got in to see a few of them. Wow! Bangalore was another eye-opener. Part of my worldside IT team was there and boy were these people sharp, efficient and motivated.

If I may be the proud mom for a moment, my elder daughter is at McGill and was just accepted into the Honours program in her field of study. When she was looking for a school 2 years ago she did consider US universities but quickly got sticker shock. Even the mid-range schools were expensive. McGill was not only perfect from an academic standpoint (it's in the top 20 universities in the world) but the price was right. It was another no-brainer. I even wrote my US senator about it.

CarnetsdeSeattle said...

@Tim, Victoria,

I was really speaking about the web.

I mean, Google, MS, Apple, twitter, pinterest, adobe, facebook, groupon, netflix, hulu.. I mean I can go on and on and I'm not even trying. On the other hand, finding european successes is harder... Spotify? Side note, all this is mostly based on US based technology (even though the LAMP stack it relies on has been developed internationally and europe has a good part to do with it, I feel the US is a big part of it). It is an interesting thing that it all originates from mostly 2 zones of the US: Seattle and San Francisco.

Anyways. I'm just talking about the small sector I know of. In the automotive industry for example, I don't think the US is a leader anymore, and I don't think it has been for some time. I know that EADS, Eurocopter are super good companies.

As for school, I am somewhat annoyed at the fact that everybody says that the best schools are US based. I went to a middle level engineer school in France, and I have no inferiority complex whatsoever when pitted against colleagues that went to UW.

On the other hand, it is true that the PhD and the research is amazing here. I mean, my wife's lab is a DREAM.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Loic, Have to agree with you. My husband graduated from engineering school in France and then went to UW for grad school (that was how he did his service militaire). That was quite a while ago (30 years?) but he still remembers the lab which was equipped with the latest and greatest.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about the top universities, the PhD programms, and so on ... But I can say that, as far as I know, for the elementary and middle-school education system, US schools are way behind french schools, in terms of global knowledge. On the other hand, american schools seems to be quite fun and relaxing, and the kids look happier and also much more self-confident.
I suppose there is a gap between the average American kid going through elementary, middle and high school and the American kid going on through a fancy college and a well-rated university (apart from his parents' bank account). I would be happy to learn more about this.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Cecile, I think you're right and US students are academically a bit behind the French kids. Depends a lot on where the school is and if it is public or private. I went to a public elementary school near Seattle but my parents transfered me to a private school later on. I remember public school as being fun and the private school as being hard (it was an all-girl's Catholic high school located in a convent :-)

Both my daughter's have been educated in the French public school system. When the elder was accepted to McGill in Canada we were pleasantly surprised to discover that because of her French Bac, she received 1 full year of college credit. That means she will do a four-year degree in 3 years. Her fellow-students from the United States did not receive such favorable treatment. So it appears that the university system in Canada does recognize that students coming from the French system are at least 1 year ahead of students coming from the U.S.