Jason Popp is a senior global business executive with more than 20 years of leadership experience. Popp is comfortable operating in complex international environments and has spent almost 10 years living and working outside the United States. He seamlessly combines operational and direct profit and loss management with rigorous strategic thinking and is obsessive about delivering outstanding financial results.
Currently, Popp serves as the EVP of International at Global Experience Specialists (GES), the world’s leading provider of exhibition, event, and entertainment experiences. He leads a team of almost 700 GES employees based outside of North America.
Popp’s specialties include business turnarounds, global operations, international business startups and greenfield investments, business strategy, mergers and acquisitions and due diligence, and successful leadership of diverse groups.
BusinessInterviews.com: Tell us about your experience working internationally. How does this fit in with your current role at GES?
Jason: I’ve spent my entire career doing business in an international setting. I’ve been lucky enough to spend almost 10 years living and working abroad in some amazing places — from Budapest to Barcelona to London.
I’m a true generalist — something that is becoming pretty uncommon in business. Early in my career, I spent time in sales, marketing, and finance, and I even had a brief stint leading a system implementation. Because I was working in Eastern Europe just after the Berlin Wall came down, I was exposed to leadership positions very early in my career, and that was invaluable.
I was fortunate to start my career with Royal Dutch Shell in Europe. I worked with some terrific people and had a great mentor. I left to get my MBA at the Harvard Business School in the U.S., but then I headed back to Europe to work in strategy with L.E.K. Consulting. While there, I worked with companies across the continent. I left L.E.K. to join GES, where I could combine my true passions: international business and driving business performance.
At GES, I lead our global business outside of North America. Our businesses span multiple cultures and economic environments. We’ve created an outstanding and diverse team that includes people from 25 different countries. This diversity makes us a great place to work, and it makes us a more effective solution provider for our customers.
BusinessInterviews.com: On average, how much time do you spend outside of the U.S.? And what advice do you have for other business professionals on managing stress and busy travel schedules?
Jason: Hectic travel schedules are common for international business leaders. I travel quite a bit — probably about 50 percent of the time. As frequent travelers know, it’s not a glamorous life. In fact, it’s often the exact opposite. Showering at airports and changing in restrooms is not fun, but it’s part of the life.
If you don’t manage travel effectively, it can take a big toll on your health, productivity, and relationships. The first thing you need is a supportive spouse and flexible family. Being away for long periods of time also puts pressure on the other members of your “home team” and requires everyone to step up. Outside of that, I find there are some other basic things that work to try to ease the stress.
First, stay healthy. There’s nothing worse than being sick on the road. You’re taught this in kindergarten, but it still rings true: Wash your hands. Germs are everywhere, and you’re more susceptible to sickness when you’re tired. Hydration is also important, and I don’t mean malbec.
Second, try to stick with routines from home if you can. For example, if you wake up and read the newspaper, do that when you’re abroad. If you’re a runner, get in your early morning run. I still follow my Wisconsin Badgers, and I check in on the previous day’s scores when I hit the ground overseas.
Third, try to “clear the deck” before getting back home from an overseas trip. I know not everyone likes working on flights, but it works for me. I use the trip home to catch up on visit reports, action items, and follow-up emails. This way, you can focus on your family when you get home.
You also have to face the reality that you are simply not going to be present for some events at home. You’ll miss some family activities and parties and the minor holidays (especially those U.S.-only holidays). This requires setting priorities. I have traveled on my own birthday four of the past five years, but I haven’t missed the birthdays of my three children. I came very close to missing one birth, but that’s a story for another day.
Finally, try to enjoy the experience. Having the world as your business playground is a real gift. There are times when I look around and realize I’m in Abu Dhabi, São Paulo, or Paris. I think about how lucky I am to be able to combine a job with an opportunity to see and understand our world a bit better.
BusinessInterviews.com: You work with a variety of clients across the globe. What are a few pieces of advice for how business professionals can manage multiple global relationships?
Jason: You need to regularly work at your relationships to remain top of mind when people are on the other side of the world. Also, understand the importance of personal relationships in other countries. Outside of the U.S., this is often how you get the job done.
Try to “package” your meetings — you can’t be everywhere all the time. And find ways to leverage your trips to meet multiple clients or partners. For example, I try to attend major industry conferences and trade shows because I can check in with multiple people in one trip.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the biggest barrier for most companies trying to go international? How can they overcome this barrier?
Jason: Well, it isn’t easy, and I know many companies struggle with this quite a bit. I’ve seen companies that feel the pull to go global, but unfortunately, they’re unable to handle the complexities and time investment. They take their eyes off their “home market” and end up actually destroying value.
Global business is challenging for many reasons, including the various languages and currencies and the time differences. Traveling abroad results in long workdays, but the workday can also be stretched when conducting global business from the U.S. On countless occasions, I have set an alarm for 3 a.m. and shuffled down to my home office to conduct a two-hour conference call with folks in multiple countries.
Cultural differences can also be a significant barrier — it’s as if you need a variety of decoder rings. I think the biggest barrier is having the knowledge to create and execute a business plan that meets client and shareholder expectations but is carried out in an entirely different business environment. To do that, you need a great team.
BusinessInterviews.com: How would you describe the ideal employee for a company looking to expand internationally? Who should it hire to get the job done?
Jason: The thing I love about global business is that it provides that “extra challenge.” The ideal employee needs all the characteristics that are required in a successful businessperson, such as being a creative problem solver, a good communicator, and an effective manager. However, you also need to show flexibility and curiosity, bringing a special energy to the role.
You need to be flexible because business is simply done differently around the world. You need to be curious because you need an open mind to understand different cultures. And you need to be energized because, well, you’re often running on fumes when you work in a global environment.
BusinessInterviews.com: What apps or resources do you rely on to help organize your days and international calendar and responsibilities?
Jason: First, I would say use your “supplier base.” By that, I mean the airlines, hotels, and rental car companies that you use frequently. For example, I’m a frequent flyer on United Airlines, and it has bailed me out of many situations over the years because I’ve been a loyal customer.
I like to use TripIt to organize my itineraries. It does the work of a good assistant by combining flights, hotels, confirmation numbers, maps, and all the other essentials into one document.
FaceTime is great for catching up with your family. It isn’t like being there, but it’s better than just a phone call — particularly if you’ve been away for a long time.
Finally, I find some type of note-taking app is essential. I use Apple’s Notes app on my iPhone. Sometimes, my best ideas or deepest thoughts come in the middle of a flight over the Pacific Ocean or while I’m waiting for the Tube in London. You need an easy way to capture those thoughts.
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