Events

Human Interest Feature – What We Can Learn from Expanding Our Borders

Neil Boyden Tanner, Esq. – Chief Counsel, Cigna Global Employer Segment
What We Can Learn from Expanding Our Borders

By Kira Greenlee, BABC Coordinator, Temple University

The BABC is proud to acknowledge its members who have achieved high-rankings, awards and recognitions throughout the US and UK. Most recently, Neil Boyden Tanner, past BABC President (2007-2011) and current BABC Board Member, was selected as one of nine USA fellows by the Eisenhower Fellowship. Every year, the blue ribbon steering committees in Philadelphia, Research Triangle area, North Carolina, New England region (Boston), and St. Louis select eight to ten high-achieving US citizens or legal permanent residents for the Eisenhower Fellowship to travel abroad for an intensive, individually designed program in the country of their choice, along with a much larger number of international fellows who come to the United States to complete their programs. Neil is currently Chief Counsel of Cigna Global Health Benefits, the business unit within Cigna dedicated to the needs of the globally mobile workforce.

Eisenhower Fellowships is a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization created in 1953 by a group of prominent American citizens to honor President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his contribution to humanity as a soldier, statesman, and world leader. The organization engages mid-career (ages 32-45) professionals from around the world to enhance their leadership skills, broaden their network of contacts, deepen their global perspectives, and unite them in a diverse, global community where dialogue, understanding, and collaboration lead to a more prosperous, just, and peaceful world.

As part of his fellowship, Neil traveled abroad this year on an intensive, individualized professional program to Singapore, Vietnam and Brazil. While abroad, he met with in-country experts in business, government, and non-profit institutions to study methods that encourage foreign direct investment (FDI). Neil will use this unique opportunity to identify tangible ways to attract more international investment to the Greater Philadelphia region. To keep his colleagues abreast of his Eisenhower Fellowship investigations and publicize his learnings, he maintained a detailed blog while traveling abroad. Today that blog has over 2,200 unique visitors.

Neil’s first stop was Singapore in April 2013. While there, he had the opportunity to meet with executives from Blackstone, Fortis, GlaxoSmithKline, ISOS, MasterCard, MHC Asia and others to discuss the approach of the Singaporean government and its notable pervasive attitude. Neil learned that the government of Singapore often does not make the first approach to a potential multinational company and instead, they go to a major multinational company in a related field already in the country and ask the lead executive in that company to consult their peers to consider Singapore. “This is not to say that the government doesn’t also make the approach. They do in many cases as well. For example, the government will target specific big names that they believe they need to have in Singapore for prestige or to round out an industry etc. and make the approach themselves or in addition to another local CEO. This too is where attitude matters,” Neil stated in his blog. Neil also was told that Singaporean government employees are highly paid compared to those in other countries, making them competitive with private sector salaries in Singapore and as a result, the government can attract the best and the brightest, even those educated internationally. Lastly, Neil mentioned that “Singapore’s attitude in treating these companies as being in a long term relationship was one that resonated with all of the businesses as well. Each company talked about the regular follow-up they would have with the government,” noting the importance of a positive relationship between public and private sectors.

The next stop on Neil’s itinerary was Vietnam. While spending time in the chaotic city of Hanoi, Neil met with government officials, business leaders and company advisors to investigate Foreign Direct Investment in Vietnam. Many meetings included an un-introduced person whose sole purpose seemed to be to take “copious notes”. In one meeting in particular, Neil was asked a series of questions not dis-similar to an interrogation! This conversation was confusing as the people who Neil met were trying to comprehend such things as who funded the Eisenhower Fellowship and explain to Neil why Singapore’s success was not sustainable. Eventually, Neil was asked what he thought was not working in business in Vietnam. Most government officials who spoke to Neil asked that his or her comments not be recorded and their names not be revealed; attributing to Neil’s note that Hanoi was such a “confidential and secretive” city with their high walls and hushed conversations.

The final stop on Neil’s fellowship travels was to Brazil. In the last ten years Brazil has experienced enormous amounts of change; it is estimated that 39 million people have joined the middle class in this period alone. During this change in the economy, Brazilians noticed that although they had nicer things, they were paying higher taxes while the roads, healthcare and schools were still in distress. Brazilians began to demand more out of their government thus insisting on less corruption including bribery. With this change in attitude from the people of Brazil, they worked together to make these improvements and when they could not, they searched abroad for help. Neil mentions in his blog that he was “surprised to learn that not only is there no public outcry over the use of foreign companies on … major infrastructure projects, it’s welcome. Perhaps our preference for made in America actually stifles our growth since ultimately the better the infrastructure project the better able it is to propel the local economy forward – regardless of the nationality of the provider.” Neil noted that like Singapore, this change in the attitude of Brazil caused a major upheaval in the country’s government, infrastructure and launched, in Neil’s words, a “huge movement out of poverty.”

Being an Eisenhower Fellow is an incredible honor, but it is a greater achievement to be able to take what one learns as a Fellow and be able to bring home the knowledge to one’s own country. By traveling abroad to Singapore, Vietnam and Brazil, Neil was able to experience business in a different culture, to see what works and what does not. We encourage BABC members and friends who want to learn more from Neil’s travels to visit his blog or follow his twitter handle @intllawguy.

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