Tonya Strickland

Through a business consultation project, two Cal Poly professors brought top-notch graphic arts concepts to the Middle East in September and came back with unparalleled first-hand experience in working with another culture.

Employed by the Graphic Communication Institute at Cal Poly (GrCI), an “outreach arm” of the graphic communications department (GrC), professors Kevin Cooper and Malcolm Keif traveled to The Kingdom of Bahrain, an island-nation located in the Persian Gulf. There, they attended a three-day session to educate executives on strategic management concepts in the printing industry, said Lyndee Ehlers, GrCI special projects manager.

The GrCI provides professionals with Cal Poly-caliber resources, input and training by providing professors’ knowledge and other services to people in the industry, she said.

“We were exposed to new and different cultures, which enhanced our sensitivity to them,” Keif said in his trip report. “We were able to introduce Cal Poly’s graphic communication expertise to an international audience and form new relationships to foster future opportunities. Overall, it was a significant life experience and we are grateful for the opportunity to be part of it.”

Cooper said that his exposure to a variety of cultures and their business practices is “always enlightening.” He added that he was able to experience places he had never been and see what the unknown is really like.

“When you visit places personally, you realize how similar we really are to others, and that people typically are after the same goals in life and business,” he said.

Keif explained the advantages of international consulting, as well as the exposure to other cultures as helpful inside tidbits for his professional knowledge and in the larger scope of GrC industry know-how.

“(It) has helped me to better understand the global environment we live in,” he said. “GrC is highly influenced by outsourcing to developing countries. Seeing businesses in other nations helps me to know more about the challenges faced in other cultures.”

Focusing on lean management, Keif said one way to improve efficient production is to empower employees, so the overall company has the potential to become more competitive.

“Gulf State’s companies are entrenched in top-down, traditional company structures,” Keif said. “There is little room for innovation unless you are the senior leader.”

Cooper said it was challenging to consult on this issue because it wasn’t merely an isolated pattern in a certain company, but an overall culture of the industry in the Middle East. This means including workers in decisions about their jobs and not having a strict management rule.

“It will take a shift in thinking about the value of control versus trust in management style,” Cooper said. “On the bright side, they recognize this and are open to it; it’s just a matter of helping them understand how to change their cultural styles over time to be more effective competing.”

Both professors said their experience with this project has added to their prospective on the industry and on Middle Eastern culture. They plan to take these insights back into the classroom to enrich the student learning experience.

“Exposure to the industry always brings credibility to the classroom,” Cooper said.

Harvey Levenson, head of Cal Poly’s graphic communication department, said in a news release that the consulting project has helped put a new spotlight on the department.

“We are now positioned with a faculty having the knowledge and experience to influence the international graphic communication community,” he said.

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