Visiting CEOs emphasize adapting to global market

Cameron Koch

Taco Bell, caramel coloring and foreign customs all came together Thursday as the Hays Watkins Visiting CEO Lecture Series brought Ted and Mary Nixon to WKU on Thursday to share some of their lessons on “Going Global”.

Titled “Going Global: Lessons from the Road” the Nixons gave a presentation that discussed traveling all around the world for their companies and the many roadblocks and lessons to be learned from dealing with a global market.

Ted Nixon is the CEO of D.D. Williamson, a company that creates artificial and natural food coloring. DD Williamson is the world’s largest manufacturer of caramel coloring used in products such as Coca-Cola and soy sauce.

Mary Nixon, a WKU alumna, serves as vice president of Tax and Internal Audit at Yum! Brands, the company responsible for fast food giants such as KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.

Though both successful business leaders, the focus of the lecture was less about numbers and more about learning how to adapt and accept cultures in which they find themselves doing business in.

They stressed how important the global market is in today’s economy, showing that in 2006, 48 percent of Yum!’s profits came from outside the United States.  In 2011, that number leapt to 73 percent of Yum!’s income.

In front of a packed Grise Hall auditorium, the Nixons informed the crowd of many of the diverse customs they have had to adapt to as they visited foreign countries, such as China and Russia.

Mary Nixon told of a custom in Russia that it is rude not to drink a shot of vodka when offered, but only when offered the second time. The proper way to go about it, Nixon said, is to politely refuse the first offer but accept the second.

“You’re not going to change the culture of a country,” Ted Nixon said.

His wife continued the thought, and said the ability to change your operation and adapt your business model to the needs of the country is critical to success in the foreign market.

“It’s understanding all those unique circumstances that you really have to wrap your head around,” she said. “It’s an enormous challenge, every country is different.”

The couple also offered some helpful hints when traveling abroad, such as to always drink bottled water instead of tap, learn some basic words of the countries language such as “hello” and “thank you” as well as how to deal with jet lag and drastic time changes.

The Nixons said wherever they go, they try to immerse themselves in the local cultures. Ted Nixon encouraged everybody in attendance to learn a second language and to go abroad in the world.

“It teaches you so much about other people and cultures,” he said.

Mary Nixon took a moment to state what trait she believes makes the best leaders.

“Empathy,” she said. “People who are really successful are able to meet people where they are.”

Daniel Burton, a junior studying business and administration, said he enjoyed the lecture and thought it could be a great networking opportunity.

“There were some interesting points on foreign customs and foreign culture,” Burton said. “I thought those were interesting topics and then the structure of Yum! Brands.”