“In the Trenches”: A talk on international entrepreneurship

By CarolAnne Poyman

Staff Writer

On March 25, students gathered in Gailor Auditorium to learn about International Business from experienced international entrepreneur Bernard Wolff. His talk, titled “In the Trenches: International Business for Entrepreneurs with Limited Resources,” covered a range of topics, from emerging business landscape and marketing channels, to the pros and cons of business partners. Wolff, a Sewanee alumn (C’64) and Vietnam veteran, told students about his extensive experiences with founding small international companies, mostly in the chemical and textiles industries, and how they took him all around the world – including Argentina, Thailand, China, Spain, and India, and helped him establish strong business relationships and learn new cultural practices. Combining strategic information, funny anecdotes, and serious advice, Wolff thoroughly engaged his audience with highly relevant and relatable descriptions of the character of international business. One such anecdote related to the importance of knowing cultural practices and manners. For example, he discussed how in China, you might be asked to demonstrate your respect by participating in drinking strong alcohol, often an abundance that left some foreigners with gastrointestinal issues and the hangover of a lifetime. He spoke further on how his time serving in the Navy in Vietnam fostered close ties with local people, and ultimately led him to pursue international business.

Relating back to Sewanee, Wolff strongly emphasized the value of the liberal arts education he received here, praising how it encouraged “flexibility in learning new things” and taught him the importance of such principles as working honestly, and competing fairly. He further commended the quality of the professors and the strong influence of the Episcopal faith, and how it helped teach him that “Integrity is paramount… It’s really important that your word is your word.” Wolff also spoke on how the effects of globalization such as increased communication, advanced technologies, and extensive travel opportunities have affected international business enormously. One of the most interesting topics he spoke on was the concept of the “majority fallacy” a smaller company should not choose to sell their product to a larger company or in a “hot” selling area, but should instead search for less served markets in a different area, where there will be less competition and your business will be more valued. Bernard Wolff’s talk was followed by a reception at the Business House. Students left the talk with an informative and thorough handout, and a reminder of the value of a Sewanee education.