Immigrant Leadership Is Needed to Reinvent America’s Corporations
After last week’s blog, many of you asked me to expand upon the concept of “immigrant leader” and its roots. The immigrant leader is closely related to the entrepreneur – the entrepreneur with experience, the entrepreneur who can find opportunity when no one else can.
This entrepreneur operates much like the immigrant, without boundaries. His endeavors are not industry specific, economically specific, or socially specific. They are only opportunity specific.
Unlike most people, the immigrant and the entrepreneur are not motivated to find the perfect job, the perfect salary, or the perfect industry. Instead, they’re motivated to discover great opportunity. The field before them is the universe, without boundaries, expectations, or rules of engagement.
The immigrant leader believes that great opportunities are rare only to those who can’t see them.
The immigrant leader proves that great opportunities are abundant time and again through her ability to see past the social, political, or economical labels placed on the opportunities all around her. The secret of the immigrant is that she does not idealize her work. Instead of wading in the waters of half commitment until something finally moves her, she dives headlong into every opportunity, knowing that many opportunities are hidden behind the labels a culture or society gives them. The immigrant leader immediately goes about sowing opportunity with her own hands, then growing it, for she knows that it is the only way to keep control of the opportunity.
Some say that immigrants are a drag on the economy, but the opposite is true. Immigrants are creating companies and jobs at a rate that outpaces the native population. They are seizing more opportunities and in doing so, creating more for themselves and others.
A classic article by Bronwyn Lance of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution provided surprising research that supports this immigrant wisdom. In an attempt to quantify the contributions of immigrants, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (AdTI) researched a well-known indicator of technological innovation—issuance of new patents—to measure immigrants’ inventiveness and spirit of enterprise. Examining 250 recently issued U.S. patents chosen at random, AdTI found that over 19 percent of the patents in a random sample of 48 were issued to immigrants alone or to immigrants collaborating with U.S.-born co-inventors – twice their proportion in the U.S. population. The immigrant inventors identified in the study included researchers, executives, entrepreneurs, and an MIT professor. Four started their own businesses, generating over 1,600 jobs.
People say that great opportunities are rare, but this is true only for those who don’t know where to look. The immigrant leader knows that great opportunities are always reaching for you. We must all learn to reach back.
The world is redefining itself. The global economy is resetting itself. As such, America’s corporations and its leadership are reinventing themselves. Immigrant leaders will play an integral role in providing a fresh new perspective to enterprise.
Indeed, it’s already happening. Some of the largest and emerging corporations in the US are being led by those that embrace the immigrant perspective. Here are just a few:
- Amazon: Jeff Bezos
- Avon Products: Andrea Jung
- PepsiCo: Indra Nooyi
- Xerox: Ursula Burns
- Zappos: Tony Hsieh
- AT&T: Ralph de la Vega
- Alcoa: Klaus Kleinfeld
- Coca-Cola: Muhtar Kent
You probably noticed a good percentage of women on this list. In the weeks ahead I will address why women in particular embrace the immigrant perspective and what it stands for. Like immigrants, women leaders are naturally wired to pioneer passionately, anticipate crisis and manage change, and to see things that others don’t. Women are innovation-minded, socially responsible and serve to deliver a cultural promise.
The immigrant perspective on business leadership is very real, and more of it belongs in America’s corporations during this period of survival, renewal and reinvention.