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INTERVIEW with GERMANY'S Düsseldorf Handelsblatt
http://www.handelsblatt.de

 

The following interview was conducted by German journalist and editor Sabine Scheltwort for the prestigious business daily "Düsseldorf Handelsblatt" and Atlantic Research Technologies' Vice President for Advanced Technologies. Excerpts appeared in Handelsblatt in the "Junge Karriere" section as a featured special on Silicon Valley.

Q: Approximately how many open positions are there in Silicon Valley? What's the reason why there are so many vacancies? In which fields (marketing, distribution, etc.) are managers wanted?

A: There are at any one time hundreds or thousands of vacancies for managers at companies in Silicon Valley. These positions could be with billion-dollar companies like Intel or Hewlett-Packard or at medium sized companies or at startup firms. Silicon Valley, being a great technology incubator, needs people who could take new ideas and make them into products. When they have the products designed and developed they then need to manufacture them. To manufacture them they need people who could buy the components that form the product. They need people to test the product. They need people to analyze the potential markets for the product, by country and by industry. They need people to sell the products. Sometimes the customers need to have the products repaired or need technical questions answered. Of course, the companies need people who know how to finance these ventures, and they need people to manage all the managers. This is how in a place that produces so many new ideas in computers, software, telecommunications, information technology, semiconductors, electronic equipment, scientific instruments, biomedical and biotechnology, there is an almost limitless need for Research and Development Managers, Engineering Managers, Quality Assurance Managers, Manufacturing Managers, Materials/ Distribution Managers, Purchasing Managers, Marketing Managers, Sales Managers, Customer Service Managers, Technical Service Managers, Information Technology Managers, Finance Managers and General Managers. Naturally, in this very dynamic little world, people are leaving their present companies all the time for better opportunities. Their leaving then creates vacancies that have to be filled. So the large number of vacancies exists because of the creation of so many new companies and new jobs and the constant movement of managers from one firm to another.

There is a constant need for all these types of managers, but currently, there is a great need for Finance Managers who could arrange the finance of startup companies, as well as the key needs of finding General Managers and Marketing and Sales Managers. Bilingual or multilingual German managers are very much valued because of the developing market in Europe.

Q:  What are the essential differences between working in Germany and working in Silicon Valley?
First of all, I should say that while Silicon Valley is an actual place on a map, "Silicon Valley" is also a philosophy --a business model, and to some, a way of life--  that is being transplanted all over the world, to many different industries and companies. Therefore, I am reluctant to speak in terms of  "Silicon Valley versus Germany." For example, I am working with some German machine tool companies, one in Frankfurt and one in Leipzig, that are implementing certain "Silicon Valley" practices. This is unusual not only for Germany, but it is especially so in the machine tool industry, which traditionally is a very conservative, old-style business, where often people work at the same firms that their fathers and grandfathers worked.  Moreover, in the information technology, computer and software industries of Germany, the mentality and business approach are much more similar to similar Silicon Valley companies than they are to other businesses in Germany.

As to the basic differences between working in Germany and in Silicon Valley, the main issues are job security, management style, and compensation. In Germany, it is quite normal to work at a single company for ten or twenty years.   Because frequent job changes are common in Silicon Valley due to the failure of startups and the large number of new opportunities, a person  who spent ten or twenty years at the same firm would be viewed as a person who is not a risktaker and a person with limited experiences in different company cultures. Success at Silicon Valley startups sometimes is the result of people learning from the successes and mistakes of the many previous companies they worked for, so a person who only knows how one company approaches certain issues is often considered less valuable. The main reason why Germans tend to stay at their jobs and why Silicon Valley people tend to leave their jobs is that German firms try to keep their skilled workers employed at the firm even in bad economic times, whereas Silicon Valley firms either do not care about the loss of skilled workers or assume that laid off workers will easily find jobs elsewhere. With no job security in Silicon Valley, people have no choice but to become risktakers willing to take their chance on startup firms with unproven technologies or young, inexperienced managers. In Germany, job stability prevents people from taking chances, so fewer startup firms or new technologies get developed. What I am saying is that people all over the world are the same, and that it is their institutions that free them or harness them.

Management in Germany tends to be very hierarchical, seniority-based, and of a "command and control" pattern where the boss expects reports or work, then gives more orders to be followed. Think of how many people in Germany you might only call "Herr Doktor Professor" or how many people you only call "Mr. This" or "Miss That" -- never "Wilhelm" or "Inge" and you will see some effects of hierarchical management. If people are not encouraged to speak up and give their opinions to their bosses and colleagues, many good ideas that could result in new products or business will never get started. Many successful German firms try to incorporate a style of management that allows greater and freer discussion from individual managers and staff.  In Silicon Valley, there are some dictatorial types, but they usually do not do too well. If you go to a meeting in Silicon Valley, you might be introduced to Pablo, Betty and Jim --who are all wearing casual clothes instead of business suits and talking equally-- and you might have a hard time guessing what their titles are. It may take a while to learn that Pablo is the Chief Financial Officer, Betty is the President and Jim, who is the older, more experienced-looking of the three, is not even a manager but is a software engineer.

This is not to say that egos are any smaller in Silicon Valley executives than in German management ranks, just that management style appears more relaxed and open in Silicon Valley. To some Europeans and Asians more used to certain formal management styles, Silicon Valley culture looks lazy and disorganized. The fact is that work hours for the average Silicon Valley high technology worker might be 60 hours a week. Managers might work 80 hours a week or more. They get two or three weeks vacation a year and do not take more than a week off at a time. To them, the Japanese business executive who spends most of his weeknights doing business entertainment or the German worker who gets six weeks vacation and spends the whole month of August on a beach are the fortunate ones.

So why would anyone want to work in Silicon Valley? Some people are technology junkies who do not care at all about salary or working hours but who want to make the best technology possible. But most people like the opportunities. There is no single place on earth with more opportunities for a 30 year old to become a millionaire or to be the president of his or her own company. Because stock options are issued, a person two years out of university could, theoretically, become a millionaire. People who in other places in America or Germany who would never have the opportunity to have a job that they helped define and shape get to do this in Silicon Valley. Money certainly is an important factor. Salaries tend to be higher than in Germany, but it is bonuses and stock options that make people work harder. Usually their bonuses are based on their individual efforts and the overall profitability of their company. These bonuses might be equal to 50% of their base salary. Stock options could be worthless or hundreds of thousands of dollars. The financial incentives are quite different from most German compensation plans, which assume that the employee is not likely to leave the company.

Q:  Why don't many German managers want to work in the U.S.?
It makes sense for people to prefer to stay in their own country. Going to another country means you start at a disadvantage in having to learn another language and another way of thinking. Even though many German employees might not like their boss or might believe that they would do better at another company or in another country, with German job security, a generally good standard of living, and very generous vacations, it is easy to forget one's dreams or hopes of self-improvement. By being so comfortable, a German manager can lose much more if he or she quits, goes to the U.S. and fails. It is scary. I don't blame them.

Q: How would you encourage them?
Our firm recruits people in Germany, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the U.S. for positions all over the world. It is OK if a person does not want to work in Silicon Valley. I would never force them. Silicon Valley is not heaven and it is not hell, it is just exciting and different.  But we call people about many exciting and different jobs for people all over the world outside of Silicon Valley. If I thought a man or woman really should consider Silicon Valley,  I would suggest they try to visit the place on a business trip. They might even attend a seminar or industry conference there. They should see how people respond to one another. If the person likes the way people there work, then he or she might do well. If the person is shocked or disgusted or confused, this person probably would not do well in Silicon Valley. Next, I would suggest that the person visit Silicon Valley during a vacation. Relaxed, without pressures from work, one could drive around, look at houses and other attractions, and see if the place would be enjoyable. The person might interview at a few companies.  After that, I would recommend that the person speak to a person, especially a friend or industry colleague from Germany, who moved to Silicon Valley and who could explain the pluses and minuses of working there.

Q: If our readers are interested in working in Silicon Valley, how could they get in contact with you?
We heartily welcome all your readers to learn about our firm by visiting us at our Atlantic Research Technologies website, Atlanticresearch.Com. It is at http://www.atlanticresearch.com. Jobseekers could send us their CV through our internet application form. We are currently in the process of developing our international pages more fully, but until then, there is more than 200 pages to read, a free online career guide, and international business, venture capital, human resources and other useful career links.


 


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