Episode 71 – Breaking Silos, Changing Lanes

Episode 71 Breaking Silos Changing Lanes
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 71 - Breaking Silos, Changing Lanes
/

“Instead of having the silos of foreign language department here, business school here, engineering program here, I’ve worked very hard to transform, at least within my career, to turn silos into what I call an Algonquin wigwam. In an Algonquin wigwam, everybody is under one roof and no one has any spots. So, I would tell people, ‘If I were a college president, I would destroy departments and colleges and move in foreign language people next to philosophers, next to mathematicians, next to engineers, next to hotel and tourism management people.'”

Steven Sacco tells the stories in this podcast that make the episode title clear and compelling, but I’ll start here with this: language is the tool for every aspect of our lives and work. We artificially limit language to a course about language in academia. We articifically limit the languages spoken to just English in business and industry. When we do that — and it is how our industrial approach to education works — we leave tremendous assets locked up.

We leave humanity in silos and tracks that do not use human potential and create articial boundaries that lead to personal hopelessness and, across societies, distrust and division.

If we, rather than placing human learning and activities in reinforced silos, follow the steps of attentiveness, customizing, monitoring, and making adjustments (the steps Steven observed in the work of his father and the life of his mother), we replicate purposefully the pathway to empowering everyone – our students, our customers, our employees, and ourselves.

Steven’s life and work demonstrates the breakthroughs and wins for individuals, educational institutions, businesses and organizations when silos a brought down and lanes are crossed.

I invite you to realize how important this podcast is for us as we face a challenging world. There are those who will stand in the way of hope for all, opportunities for all, welcome for all, clinging to their silo and their track. Some will stand purposefully and defiantly in the way. Many, I pray most, will cling not out of malice but out of confusion, fatigue, overloaded senses, distraction, sheer inertia. But blockage, however it happens, still stops the hope and progress and achievement we need.

Ponder over what you hear in this podcast. What successes do you see based on “getting out of your lane”? What freedom for people worldwide opens up? What’s keeping us siloed?

What might be in the meaning in your life and work of these three steps presented in this podcast, and my parenthetical additon to their meaning in our societies?

Customize. (Differentiate. Diversify.)

Monitor. (Invite. Include.)

Make adjustments. (Provide opportunity. Provide equity.)

Enjoy the podcast.

Scroll down for full transcript.

Testimonial

Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore

Testimonial

Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL

Testimonial

You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht

Testimonial

Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.


Transcript

Norah Jones:

I am delighted to welcome Steven Sacco to be my guest today on the podcast. Hi, Steven.

Steven Sacco:

Hi, thank you for having me.

Norah Jones:

It’s my delight. I had noticed so much of your presence on LinkedIn in particular before I had started doing podcasting. But since I started this podcast back in September of 2020, your presence has been there a lot as far as noting and helping to share the podcast. So, thank you so much, Steven, for everything that you’ve done.

Steven Sacco:

It’s my pleasure.

Norah Jones:

Well, tell us then, you’re professor emeritus of French and Italian and co-director emeritus at San Diego State’s Center for International Business and the Department of European Studies, the Center for International Business and Research. What is it that especially you are sharing with the world in those positions and now since your status of emeritus?

Steven Sacco:

Well, first of all, I’ve always been a silo buster throughout my career. And instead of having the silos of foreign language department here, business school here, engineering program here, I’ve worked very hard to transform, at least within my career, to turn silos into what I call an Algonquin wigwam.

Steven Sacco:

In an Algonquin wigwam, everybody is under one roof and no one has any spots. Algonquins slept in different spots all throughout the wigwam during their lifetime so there’s that intermixing that continued on. So, I would tell people, “If I were a college president, I would destroy departments and colleges and move in foreign language people next to philosophers, next to mathematicians, next to engineers, next to hotel and tourism management people.” And then everyone always tells me, “Well, that’s why you’re not a college president.”

Norah Jones:

I’m voting for you. If such a voting were possible, I’m voting for you right now. I love that destruction and then reconstruction that you’re talking about. And, Steven, you know how strongly I believe that language is a human phenomenon, is understandably based on our history in the United States and in other cultures where studies of Latin had placed language studies as part of the disciplinary areas. But that, as a human construct, it does much better, not siloed at all, but incorporated into all disciplinary areas. So, I’m resonating with you on that one.

Norah Jones:

I also noted, if I might, Steven, that, in your biography which is on my website, you were talking about your father’s business philosophy which you adopted and there were three keywords there that struck me so much as far as language integrated in this way. Customizing, monitoring and making adjustments. And that strikes me that that’s what you do with the language enterprise.

Steven Sacco:

Yes, my father has been the major influence in my life, my mother as well. My father taught me how to love languages because he spoke a modicum of language with every one of his customers. So, he had Cantonese launderers and restaurants, Greek restaurants, Hispanic restaurants. And so, here I was as a little kid memorizing all the little monologues, soliloquies that he was giving to his customers and he always made them laugh.

Norah Jones:

Interesting.

Steven Sacco:

And so, I memorized all these and my mother then, on the other hand, taught me to value cultures because she constantly had people of different cultures at our home. So, it’s from those two people that I got that. A funny story, my business career ended very quickly in college, my freshman year. My father wanted me to major in French and business. He said, “No just majoring in French.” But then, unfortunately, he died in the middle of my first quarter and then I got two Ds in accounting and that ended my business career.

Norah Jones:

Oh, my.

Steven Sacco:

My formal business career. But I still always had in my head what I learned from sitting in a truck with my father selling janitorial supplies, which he did for 27 years, manufacturing nothing, his whole key to success was customer intimacy. And that I’ve tried to adopt whether we’re teaching Japanese online at Hewlett Packard, working with the US Navy Seals or the United Nations’ World Food Program in Morocco and Tunisia, everything is customized and we’re constantly in tune to the needs of our customers. And that basically started with my students as a high school teacher and it continues on teaching Italian-American studies at the University of Calabria. Those same three principles hold in every single thing that I do professionally.

Norah Jones:

You delineated there three aspects of work, either past or current or ongoing, namely your students, your work with the University of Calabria and also with some of the clients, some of the many clients that you have. Give us some more of the story of what you do in those three areas of influence, please.

Steven Sacco:

Well, let me give you an idea with a current client. This client, who doesn’t want to be named and doesn’t even want his country named, wants me to create a tourism and a hotel management program in a South Asian country. And so, the first thing I told him was, because he was expecting big campus, where do we set everything up, and I said, “Stop. Let’s back up for a second. Buy me a hotel and we’re going to train the students to run the hotel and in between times of running the hotel, everything from being a maid to being the hotel manager, we’ll have our classes in our breakout rooms. So, we’ll have the formal but we want them to learn by doing.” And so, the guy said, “Where do I send the money?”

Steven Sacco:

So, that’s where I will be a college president because he’s going to name me the college president since it’s the project that I’m creating for the school. So, we’re looking around right now for a hotel to purchase and then we will start advertising so that, basically, the students get their education, the lender or the funder gets money back from the money that we make and then we create in the South Asian country which really desperately needs tourism and hotel management. We basically create the group of future practitioners.

Norah Jones:

It’s the learning by doing, it’s the hands on.

Steven Sacco:

Yes.

Norah Jones:

In what other ways do you express that in those other areas of your influence?

Steven Sacco:

Well, basically, when I think about my students in French West Africa who I still continue to work with in universities there, it’s interesting that they all have three internships in order to graduate. So, an engineer in French West Africa basically goes by the French system and so they have to do 40 hours a week times 10 weeks, so that’s 400 hours each summer times three summers. So, that’s 1,200 hours of practicum and you got to remember that most American business schools today do not have an internship requirement. And so, their students face jobs that say we need somebody with two years of experience in an entry level job, they don’t have it. My students in Cameroon and Ivory Coast, they have that because they have 1,200 hours of working with companies. So, basically I try to take that theme and incorporate it in every single educational model that I help to create.

Norah Jones:

You especially, then, are embedded in work that you just expressed at West Africa and you have an article that you have recently shared with me that focuses on the importance of understanding the real usage of languages, in particular, from my reading of it, English and French in West Africa. Can you describe the rationale for the article and then the content and the impact of that article, please?

Steven Sacco:

Well, my major area of research which I still love to do, I’m still a researcher and I couldn’t do research very much because I was an administrator for over half of my career. And, when you’re an administrator, you’re not writing articles, you’re solving problems on a daily basis. Basically, since my retirement in 2014 at age 61, I got tired with academia, got tired of writing reports, going to useless meetings and all the politics involved with different groups, that I decided to, at age 61, start my own consulting company but I still conduct research. So, my research right now is in workplace language use. So, interestingly, in the field of workplace language use, English is the lingua franca of global business according to my competitors. And so, I said to myself, “That doesn’t make sense given all of my years in French West Africa.”

Steven Sacco:

So, I started contacting people on LinkedIn and then I followed up with Women in Logistics Africa, which is a group of women who do global supply chain management and logistics, there’s over 400 of them. And then I went to a language school in Abidjan, in one of the largest ports in Africa and did a study with the owner of the language school and his students and what we found out is that English is not the lingual franca of global business. And certainly in Francophone Africa, basically it’s a continental economy of over 200 million people that will grow to 800 million by the time I celebrate my 100th birthday and run yet another half marathon.

Steven Sacco:

So, these findings run counter to what the field is saying. And, even in companies like Rakuten, which a famous Harvard researcher studied, I would bet anything, if I installed cameras, as an ethnographer myself, I would find Japanese workers who are under, by law, must swear that they’re going to always speak English, that they’re working in small groups in Japanese.

Norah Jones:

Interesting.

Steven Sacco:

And the same thing in Taiwan or anywhere else in the world, companies that are claiming that English is their official language, what I’m finding out behind closed doors is that they’re working in their native languages. When the American or the English speaker comes by, then they revert back into English but there’s no company, not even Unilever or Nestlé’s, that is working at 100% in English. Not even American companies, like I found out in my 2015 study, there’s bilingual workplaces even in the United States.

Steven Sacco:

Yeah, the idea that 100% English, which companies are claiming, I’m telling those CEOs and their boards that that’s not the case.

Norah Jones:

Why the hesitancy to not encourage bilingualism in business settings?

Steven Sacco:

Well, they claim this Tower of Babel effect. If you’re speaking French and some are speaking English, it’ll be gobbledy gook and productivity will suffer. What I’m finding out is that these companies, and we’re talking 135 multinational corporations, they basically are closing the eye or turning their head to their workers working in French in French West Africa and Francophone Africa, but obviously requiring them to work in English when French is not the language of the client or the customer or of their colleagues in other countries. So, they still have to work in English, but in Francophone Africa, French basically dominates by about 60% to 40. In any one of those 135 multinational corporations, many of which have English as their only and official language.

Norah Jones:

Repair my understanding here as needed, okay? I’m reflecting on other conversations that I’ve had throughout the years, and in particular with those who have appeared as guests on this podcast that sense that, somehow, knowing more than one language will make people confused. And that it is not really, I don’t want to say possible, people will intellectually say possible, but emotionally, it doesn’t seem to come naturally to those who are monolingual to imagine that people can quite easily incorporate multiple languages into their lives. Is that part of what’s happening here with these businesses?

Steven Sacco:

Part of it is the dominance of English or what they perceive as the dominance of English. And it’s not to say that the French West Africans that I work with, they need to know English and I’m trying to help their universities in translating some of their courses so that they’re taught in English. So, engineering, math, science courses taught in English so that they can graduate at C1, which is the level that companies want, versus B1 which is the reality. But for me, that’s what people say about math and science. I’ve never been able to learn math and science but I’ve studied 31 languages and I work regularly in five and I can probably read in 12 to 15.

Steven Sacco:

So, it doesn’t mess me up and I’m 70 years old and one of the reasons why I study language is to keep from getting dementia and other diseases like that. But Polish kids, during World War II, learned Russian, German and Polish. So, if kids can do that, and we are seeing that in bilingual schools all throughout the United States, there’s no problem at learning multiple languages at one time.

Norah Jones:

Thank you, Steve. How would you take a look at how folks around the United States in particular here, for just a moment, might consider what you do and its impact on how they themselves might approach their jobs, encouraging language education at all ages, potentially, considering what languages can do for their organizations, businesses and schools? What are some reflections that you have?

Steven Sacco:

Well, first of all, the movement in America for bilingual education and I’m on the board of the Montessori Language School in Chicago where they teach Chinese, Japanese and Spanish. That is a phenomenon that is blossoming in America and not so in other countries around the world. And so, if I had had that opportunity when I was a child, first of all, my parents didn’t even speak Italian to me because they wanted me to be American. But when they were telling secrets in Italian and in my native dialect Calabrese, we were picking it up very quickly and we ended up code switching in my neighborhood in Chicago, an Italian neighborhood where we would speak partially English and partially Calabrese. And we still do that today, I still do it with my children.

Norah Jones:

Neat, awesome.

Steven Sacco:

So, there’s that and I’m trying to build upon that question because there’s so many things that I could say. But high school language teaching, I need to say because I was a high school language teacher for five years, is almost worthless other than giving students a good introduction to language and culture and getting them pumped up to go and study languages overseas. So, when I arrived at San Diego State, we already had a movement in place but I built upon that so that all of our international business majors had and still have to study at a business school overseas, take at least three business courses taught in the target language and compete with native students. So, let me give you an example in French.

Steven Sacco:

If students, American students go to the Sorbonne today, they go to the international branch because they can’t hack it in the real Sorbonne. My students go to the Groupe ESSEC, which is the best business school group in all of France and one of the best in all of Europe, and they must compete with French students on their campus in their target language. They have to write their exams in French, they have to learn how to write exams in French, not thinking like an American, and then they have to do a semester long internship. When they come back, their C1s or C2s. At least when I was at San Diego State, we were the only school in any discipline in the United States that required our students to do that. And for that, the Institute of International Education gave our International Business program, they declared us the best study abroad program in America.

Norah Jones:

Wow.

Steven Sacco:

So, we’re competing against liberal arts schools, the Harvards and the Yales, the Stanfords. And our program won because they had to do content based study abroad and, number two, we pioneered transnational dual degree programs where our students could study two years, for example, in Mexico or Brazil, two years at San Diego State and graduate with two diplomas and be functionally bilingual. That’s basically what we did. And, again, where did we learn that? In many cases, I learned that from my father.

Norah Jones:

Isn’t that fascinating?

Steven Sacco:

Because here he was in Chicago speaking foreign languages when he could simply, like his competitors, could have sold in English.

Norah Jones:

And there is a statement of some impact, I can imagine, when I ask you this question. What has the impact been then on the lives, the work of those that were engaged in this program? How might it be or how has it been different from those who did not have this transcultural experience?

Steven Sacco:

Well, first of all, it got us ranked, nationally ranked in US News and World Report. So, since 2001, I started in 1997, since 2001, and we’re celebrating our 20th year, we’ve been ranked in the top 10 or 15 International Business programs in America. So, during my administration, we’ve always been ranked higher than Harvard, Yale, MIT and Stanford. And we’re talking about San Diego State, a fourth quartile institution, what I call a junkyard dog institution. A junkyard dog is it’s got this big scar over the eye, one eye is missing, it’s real ugly looking but it’s got blood that is really rich and innovative, so to speak. So, my students, when I left in 2008, 30% of them were making, and they’re in their 20s and 30s, were making more than me and I was making a six-figure salary. That gives you an idea of how successful they’ve been and they are now.

Norah Jones:

Where does the world go with this? Steven, what kinds of impact, what kind of counseling have you done? What happens out there to, either recognize and connect, or, where it’s not existing, replicate some of what you’re doing or make new breakthroughs?

Steven Sacco:

Let me give you an example in a military context. As I mentioned, I work with the US Navy Seals, this is pre 9/11, but I’ve worked with them afterwards. And I spent a year at the Amphibious Base in Coronado with a colleague just studying them virtually in ethnography because they’re very quiet, they don’t want to tell you anything. But when we created their language program customized for them, probably 80% of the course that was later taught in South Asian and Middle Eastern languages at San Diego State, basically 80% of the course was culture. We didn’t want to teach them how to kill the Taliban. Obviously, they already know how to do that.

Steven Sacco:

We wanted to work with them in understanding how chieftains in the Hindu Kush operate, the role of men and women, the role of Islam. We wanted them to be as culturally expert as well as linguistically expert in Pashto, Dari, Farsi and Arabic so that they’re not getting into trouble like they did in the movie that you saw where three out of the four Navy Seal platoon members were killed. They didn’t speak Pashto and they didn’t know how to communicate with the people who obeyed the shepherd and his son who discovered them, they didn’t know how to talk their way out of trouble. And it’s funny because the Navy Seals, later on, basically stopped their language instruction because they said they didn’t have time.

Norah Jones:

Oh, my.

Steven Sacco:

And then you’ve got that, yeah, I can’t remember the name of the movie, but I read the book. And basically, in my opinion, it was largely a language issue that they got into trouble and three out of the four platoon members were killed.

Norah Jones:

Yeah, devastating. And to have gone to such a decision-

Steven Sacco:

Lone Survivor, it was called. The book and the movie.

Norah Jones:

Lone Survivor? Lone Survivor?

Steven Sacco:

Yeah.

Norah Jones:

That’s a hard story to even follow up on because of the moving backwards. What other stories can you tell of those who have, contrary to moving backwards, have recognized the power of what you’re saying and doing and have increased their approach to bringing language and culture in front of young people and adults?

Steven Sacco:

That’s a hard one. I need to think about that. Can I give you another example then maybe it’ll generate some ideas in my head?

Norah Jones:

Of course, please do.

Steven Sacco:

The US Department of Defense, starting last year, created a $3 million grant program over five years to teach critical languages to junior ROTC students. What I’m working with with a client in San Francisco is to provide, in the future, the largest number of heritage speakers but Chinese speakers in the future. But again, the goal is not to teach future ROTC students to kill Chinese, the goal is for them … Obviously, a military option always has to be on the table, but we want to train those future students, when they join the military, to be able to explain to their superiors why the Chinese are doing what they’re doing, to understand the historical origins of their thought, the political origins, how it comes into play with the Chinese Communist Party, why does China want Taiwan back and how do we respond to China in a way that’s not going to provoke them even further.

Steven Sacco:

But the goal is realizing that many of these junior ROTC students will leave the armed forces after a certain number of years and will become international business practitioners, or diplomats, or workers in different types of NGOs. So, in essence, we’re not just preparing future ROTC members and future military, but we’re not telling this to the Department of Defense, obviously. We don’t write this in a proposal but we are training them for careers where their knowledge of Chinese language and culture is going to be critical for their employers or for the State Department or whomever.

Norah Jones:

Thank you for sharing that story. It’s an extension of something that caught my eye in your article where you talked about, in your high school classes, redesigning some of your upper level classes to have the students do translations that you were asked to do in order to experience French, both the culture and the language. Can you describe what it is that happened and that you did?

Steven Sacco:

Yeah, it was my first basic language for specific purposes course. It’s interesting. In the fall of 1979, when I was a youngster with a mustache and a beard, I had a company, still exists today in Salem, Illinois. In South Central Illinois, population 7,000, literally less than an hour from the American Association of Teachers of French headquarters and this company, Bettendorf Stanford, contacted me one day because they build cutlery and they still manufacture cutlery that they sell all throughout the world. And so, they came to me with a stack of letters coming into them from France and they wanted me to translate them and they were willing to give me the generous price of $5 a letter.

Steven Sacco:

Well, when you’re a high school teacher with five preps and you’re coaching sports and all those types of things and you’re doing study hall, you’re in charge of study hall with 180 kids elbow to elbow, you don’t have time for that type of thing. So, the idea came to my mind, just like it did with my grandfather, who, in 1917, decided not to have a fish market but to sell fish on a little coach with horses and go around town selling fresh fish or like my dad did with his company. Basically I thought, “I know I can train my students,” because the year before, at the University of Illinois, I had been in the class teaching the first French for business course that had ever been taught.

Steven Sacco:

And so, I used my principles, the course focused on commercial communication, and I taught my French three and four students how to translate letters from French into English. If it had been from English to French, that would’ve been too complicated for them. But French to English, they could do once they understood the culture involved in commercial communication and with me checking over their work to make sure that it was correct before we sent it back to the company. So, basically, when the students completed their letters, I paid them $5 a letter. I never told the superintendent and the principal, it’s probably illegal what I did but-

Norah Jones:

Statute of limitation. Statute of limitation.

Steven Sacco:

Yeah. Unfortunately, they’re both deceased and they can’t throw me in jail. But some of my students were making more than they were making in McDonald’s working as a consultant. Here they are, 16, 17, 18 years old, doing their first consultancy with a global company located in the heart of nowhere in Southern Illinois, population 7,000 people. It’s claim to fame, it had a McDonald’s.

Norah Jones:

There you go. And, in this case, Bettendorf Stanford, to translate the letters, phenomenal. What do you counsel others based on your experience? You’ve provided a variety of insights but what are some of the more specific statements of philosophy and of approach to language, language education, cultural education, attitudes in the world. What would you say from the point of view of how you approach things and how you’ve counseled others?

Steven Sacco:

Well, I’ve tried to counsel and I have counseled my French colleagues from K through 16 and also in other languages. You got to remember, in the International Business program, students had an option of one or more of 11 languages. But the average French teacher is way more than a French teacher. The average French teacher is really no different than me except that I have a little bit more experience and I ran with that skill set. But hidden within the skill set of every professor and every teacher who is willing, because a lot of my colleagues in 18th century epistolary novel will tell me, I don’t do that. Ca ne se fait pas., We just don’t do that type of thing.

Steven Sacco:

But for those who are interested in global business, they all have within them, unknown to them in many cases, the skillset, basically the same one that I have today. They may not have had my father and my mother but they still have the skillset. They had the language and knowledge of other cultures, they know how to study other languages which was the key to my students. Because when a student in international business who graduated in French but got hired by a Japanese company, they got hired because the company knew that that student knew how to learn yet another language and another culture. And so, some of my colleagues are starting to do that, they’re going off on their own or they’re combining academia with a professional life and working outside of the cloistered monastery. Remember, for me, universities are cloistered monasteries with nuns and priests who do nothing but pray, okay? I believe in going out of the monastery and helping people and doing things and interacting and not just remaining in the cloistered monastery.

Norah Jones:

That’s a beautiful image, thank you very much. What do you hope that those that are not knowledgeable about business like you are, that are skilled in understanding other areas of societal life can do to leverage their skill sets in a way that you, in particular, have focused on and helped others with a business viewpoint?

Steven Sacco:

International corporations basically are language and culture laboratories. Okay? They all operate regardless of where they’re located, who they sell to. As long as they’re global, they have to know, and especially if they’re buying, then they can buy in any language they want. But if they’re selling, like my dad taught me, they need to sell in the language of the customer or the client. So, most language instructors and professors love language and cultures but they don’t quite realize that multinational corporations, basically, are one big language and cultural laboratories and it’s really, really fun to work with them and helping them to become more global. Oh, that reminds me, just to give you something that hooks up with that.

Steven Sacco:

In 1992, I left Michigan Tech to start a brand new language department at Boise State University. And the Dean told me, “It’s your program, baby. You run with it like you want.” Well, that was his mistake in telling me that because I never did conform to the norms of being an academic. I was “Ne kulturny,” as they say in Russian, uncultured because I didn’t stay in my silo. What I did was I was in a moving truck driving across country and I found out that the Idaho Department of Commerce was meeting and I called up and I asked for permission to have 15 minutes to present at their conference.

Steven Sacco:

Now, you got to remember, I’m in shorts and a tank top. All my clothes are in the other moving van and so, I come in, I introduce myself, I apologize for my clothes but I said basically one thing. “We’re here in town to help you grow your global profile. We want to work with you, we want to partner with you in our course development, in our internship programs and the future grants that we write.” Do you know what the reaction was?

Norah Jones:

What? Mouth open.

Steven Sacco:

As we say in French, bouche bée. They looked at me and came up afterwards and said, “Not even the business school has ever approached us in this way.”

Norah Jones:

Wow.

Steven Sacco:

And so, basically, in my program I found out from, the Idaho Department of Commerce and the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce, that our students needed to have double majors. If you’re just in French, what are you going to do with the French? You got to have some kind of support. So, basically, our students at Boise State majored in Spanish healthcare, Spanish and business, Spanish and criminal justice, French and business, German and engineering. In the four years that I was there, we ended up accumulating more Spanish majors than the University of California Berkeley.

Norah Jones:

Oh, golly.

Steven Sacco:

In four years and those students realized that the combination of those two basically was the best formula in order to be able to get a job in the global marketplace. And to give you an idea, the Idaho Department of Commerce got their first grant, same thing with the Boise Area Chamber, partnering with us. We got several Department of Education grants partnering with them and reviewers basically would say, “We’ve never seen this before.”

Norah Jones:

Interesting.

Steven Sacco:

We normally give to silos that want to improve their silo. These guys basically just ripped out the silos and they created this Algonquin wigwam. And so, that’s the way I’ve tried to be since that time in 1979 when, unexpectedly, a major international corporation located in a small town, headquartered there, basically told me that get out of your silo and help us, a company that’s paying the taxes for your school and your French program.

Norah Jones:

Language as a tool versus just the topic as a true breakthrough and what a very practical history you have shared with us today. Steven, when you take a look at the audience listening to this podcast, what is it that you would say before we end, please listen to this, please remember this, please understand this, please do this? However you would like to interpret that invitation. What must they hear from you before we can call this a complete podcast today?

Steven Sacco:

Well, I think, first and foremost, the silo breaking because, unfortunately, in multinational corporations, they have their own silos. Okay? We got to break those silos. Marketers need to be with project developers who need to be next to accountants, who need to be shoulder to shoulder with their management structure. And we’re not seeing that in multinational corporations, we’re just basically seeing another dimension of academia. We’re still everyone’s in silos. If you’re an engineer, you got to be in this silo, don’t leave and they use that famous line, stay in your lane, which is one of my most detested phrases.

Steven Sacco:

But I think corporations need to see that, as they hire our students, the more languages they have, you should be happy about that because, if they’ve studied languages, especially abroad, they know how to approach customers who come from different language groups and cultural groups. They’ll know how to communicate with them. And the more effective that they communicate with them, the higher your sales are going to be, the higher your levels of productivity are going to be.

Steven Sacco:

So, don’t get mad at the Women in Logistics Africa because they work in French, be happy and help them enhance their English so they can get better in their English. And, when need be, if they need to know other languages, give them the opportunity to learn other languages to represent that company in whatever endeavor they might have.

Norah Jones:

Help grow competencies and get out of that lane. Right, Steven?

Steven Sacco:

No, get into every lane, change lanes whenever possible. Now, I don’t do that when I drive but, when it comes to academia and when it comes to global business, change lanes whenever possible. I learned a little bit about that in Napoleon’s army.

Norah Jones:

How so?

Steven Sacco:

Napoleon’s Grande Armée was very different than every other country’s army. Every unit, basically, instead of … The Austrian army, for example, had, okay, here’s the artillery, here’s the calvary, here’s the infantry, go into battle. Napoleon created different smaller units that had all three of those components together so that they can be more mobile, they could move faster. So, when the Austrians can only March three miles a day, Napoleon’s Grande Armée could march 10.

Steven Sacco:

Speed in business, in academia, in the military is everything. Whether you’re in the Ukraine fighting the Russians right now or you’re looking for new markets in another country, speed is critical and flexibility is critical. So, Napoleon’s units, being able to move in different places versus having this big, huge army trying to move, which is just way too slow and cumbersome, that’s the way we have to think in terms of unit structure within academia but also within companies.

Norah Jones:

My father, were he alive, if he had heard Napoleon’s approach, would be thrilled to have heard that story. And applying it to the way of thinking about education and business, so insightful. Steven, thank you for your stories and your insights today.

Steven Sacco:

Oh, can I give you one more quote-

Norah Jones:

Please.

Steven Sacco:

… since you love Napoleon or since your father loved Napoleon?

Norah Jones:

Go for it.

Steven Sacco:

Napoleon once said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake, it’s bad manners.” So, if other companies decide to be siloesque, you be movable with moveable pieces and rapid in your decision making and in your movements like many successful companies are doing today. Where did I learn that? Not from my accounting class in which I got a D, but from my father who never went to college.

Norah Jones:

A great, great quote and story and insight. Thanks, Steven, for all of it today. Appreciate it.

Steven Sacco:

My pleasure, Norah. You take care. God bless.

Become a Sponsor

One thought on “Episode 71 – Breaking Silos, Changing Lanes

Leave a Reply