Todd Hamblin is president of Lexmark Canada in Toronto.
Lexington, KY - It is no secret that, as one of the city’s more visible global manufacturers, Lexmark employs a significant amount of people in other countries. But what may come as a bit of a surprise is that, of the company’s 12,200 employees, just 4,000 are located in the United States, with the remaining based in Europe, Canada, Latin America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.
The folks who hold international jobs with Lexmark are a mixed bag of professionals recruited from the respective country’s local labor pool and Americans who accept international assignments from within the company. While this practice is common among global manufacturers, employees who take on international jobs are often presented with both great opportunities and great challenges.
Take Ronaldo Foresti, for example. Foresti is vice president, Asia Pacific and Latin America, for Lexmark and currently works out of the company’s headquarters in Lexington. A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Foresti took his first U.S. assignment in 1979 with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), a leading American computer manufacturer at the time. Having been a single man with a thirst to experience life in the states, Foresti recalled what a shock it was for someone who hailed from an area that rarely dipped below 50 degrees to experience the first snowstorm of his life in the windy city of Boston.
It was his first day on the job, and Foresti woke to find the streets and cars of Boston buried in several feet of snow.
“I remember I didn’t even know what a scraper was — I never knew that thing existed,” said Foresti. “So, I had to use my fingers to clean the snow off the car. And I went to all of this trouble to drive to the office, which was 20 miles away. I arrive at the office and … there’s nobody there.”
Despite this first less-than-pleasant experience, Foresti found the people and the city of Boston to be quite welcoming and adapted well to his new life in the states.
“It’s interesting, because what I found out is that Americans really welcome other cultures,” Foresti said of his first impressions of the American way of life. “Everybody wanted to know what I was interested in, and they were inviting me to their houses. So I did form a very good circle of friends.”
Foresti fell in love with Boston, but when the opportunity to run DEC’s Latin American operations in Houston came along, he enthusiastically accepted the challenge. But DEC was eventually bought by Compaq, and Compaq was eventually bought by HP, and it wasn’t long before Lexmark was eyeing Foresti.
“Essentially, Lexmark recruited me from HP,” said Foresti. “I moved to Miami to manage the Latin American operations for Lexmark.”
Foresti joined Lexmark in 2003 but was promoted to his current position at Lexmark’s Lexington headquarters in 2005. He celebrates his 10-year anniversary with the company this year.
Having always lived in big cities, Foresti admitted he wasn’t quite sure what to expect moving to the relatively small town of Lexington. Once settled, however, he quickly grew to appreciate all that is Lexington — a town that offers most of the amenities of big-city life while maintaining a small-town feel.
“I had never really had the opportunity to live in a city where, essentially, you can go around the circle of the city in half an hour to 40 minutes,” Foresti said. “So, I think everything here is pretty easy.”
Foresti is impressed with Lexington’s “infrastructure,” particularly the city’s Wifi access, which he said is available from virtually anywhere in the city.
“My job is really 24 hours a day, so the nice thing about the U.S. is that, no matter where you are, you have the Internet, you have the television, you have the communications that you can have sort of a virtual office that provides a very good way of communicating around the world,” explained Foresti. “If I tried to do that in Brazil, or in China, or in India, etc., it’s not the same quality. You don’t get the same basics that you get in a place like Lexington.”
As a single man, Foresti said there are fewer challenges adapting to a new country for him than for employees with families. Lexmark employee Todd Hamblin, who is married with three children, is currently undertaking his second international assignment as president of Lexmark Canada in Toronto.
Hamblin began his career with Lexmark in 1999 in worldwide marketing with the company’s consumer printer division. In 2002, Hamblin was approached with an opportunity to become Lexmark’s marketing director for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. And here comes the really good part: the position was based in Paris, France.
“I had traveled some, and I was really keen on doing this, but we had three small children at the time, and I wanted to make sure my wife was in on this with me,” Hamblin said.
The next thing he knew, Hamblin and his wife were on a plane headed to “the City of Light.”
“Lexmark was very wise,” Hamblin recalled. “They sent us over during the Christmas season, so it was absolutely gorgeous — lights and a festive atmosphere everywhere.”
The pair was encouraged to experience Paris [and a bit of its culinary offerings] before making the decision to move there.
“We had one of those just magical evenings,” Hamblin said. “After visiting beautiful apartments and seeing all that Paris had to offer, we were flying home and I was getting ready to get out my negotiating points with Lexmark, to make sure we were covered financially, and my wife stopped me and said, ‘No, no, no. There are no negotiating points. We are going to Paris.”
Hamblin said it was this enthusiasm and buy-in from his wife and family that were critical to a successful transition to an assignment in another country, even if that country was as glorious as Paris, France.
“It’s a different language. It’s a completely different culture. You’re away from family and friends, and you’re creating a new life,” explained Hamblin. “And if you don’t have a lot of energy and enthusiasm at the start, then it can get really difficult.”
After his assignment expired in France, Hamblin spent a few years back at headquarters in Lexington but was eventually asked to take on his current assignment with Lexmark Canada. This time, the transition for himself and his family wasn’t quite the same.
“I think, this time, we underestimated the transition,” said Hamblin. “The schools are quite different, our children are older — we have two in high school. The transition probably wasn’t any more difficult than it was to France, but I think we just had a different approach, thinking that, in some ways, we were just moving to another city as opposed to another country. So we’ve made the transition now, but we had a few more bumps along the road during this first school year than we had anticipated. It’s more complex when the kids get older.”
Both Hamblin and Foresti have words of advice for anyone considering a position internationally.
“In any country, you have to believe in yourself and be flexible,” advised Foresti. “Anybody coming to the U.S. has to have an open mind. You can’t duplicate here what you have in your country. I think the vice-versa is true also for any American going overseas — you also have to have that open mind. I think what the U.S. offers is opportunities longer-term — opportunities to develop your career, to develop your life. “
Beyond having the buy-in from your spouse and family, Hamblin echoed Foresti’s sentiment of remaining flexible and open-minded.
“You need to understand the type of employee you are in your ability to adapt and change,” explained Hamblin. “Are you someone who embraces change quickly and moves quickly in the change curve, or are you a little bit slower? Because even though I’ve taken two assignments with Lexmark, in many ways it feels like a different company in Lexmark Europe, versus Lexmark U.S., versus Lexmark Canada.”
A flexible mindset is a valuable asset, Hamblin said, and being receptive to different approaches and ideas is essential.
“You need to stay very open,” Hamblin said. “The last thing anyone wants to hear in another country is, ‘Well, this is the way we do it in the States.’ So, if you have that thought process, you have to turn that off. You have to be willing to learn new ways to listen and sort of merge your experience with their experience.”