Global Employer Summit: Realizing the Untapped Potential of Global Talent in NEO

Expert Strategies + Global Talent = A World-Class Cleveland

May 31, 2017


Panel Discussion: The Global Economy & Northeast Ohio Business

Moderator: Elizabeth McIntyre, Editor and Publisher, Crain’s Cleveland Business

Jack Schron, President, Jergens, Inc., and member, Cuyahoga County Council

Dr. Nizar Zein, Chief of Hepatology and Chairman of Global Patient Services, Cleveland Clinic

Peter Clarke, General Manager and Director of Regional Operations, InterContinental Cleveland

Baiju Shah, Chief Executive Officer, BioMotiv

Michele Connell, Managing Partner of Cleveland office, Squire Patton Boggs


“There is no such thing as a local business. Every business operates in a global economy, every business has global ties,” said McIntyre in kicking off the discussion. She then asked that each discussant offer a brief description of why they were on the panel.

Peter Clarke, General Manager and Director of Regional Operations, InterContinental Cleveland for the past 7 months, said that his parent company has 5,000 hotels in 100 countries, but he noted that international flavor is something they maintain at each property as well. “Right here in Cleveland, there are 36 languages spoken here, and 40 countries are represented.” He said the hotel was a strong business supporter and viewed itself as an extension of the Cleveland Clinic. “We provide a culture of service to all of our guests,” he said.

Treating international patients dates back to the first year the Cleveland Clinic was opened, said Dr. Nizar Zein, Chief of Hepatology and Chairman of Global Patient Services for the world-renowned medical facility. Being an international player has always been a part of what makes the Clinic the most diversified healthcare provider in the world. “Each year, we see about about 5,000 patients and their families, so 20,000-25,000 people each year come to Cleveland for care,” he said. “We see the sickest population in the world.” And the Clinic exports its intellectual capital as well, with facilities in Abu Dhabi, and the largest hospital in downtown London set to open in 2020; large projects are also in the works in China and Toronto.

Michele Connell, Managing Partner of the Cleveland office of Squire Patton Boggs, said her law firm was one of the Global 100, with approximately 1600 attorneys across 22 countries, with over half of those outside the US. Squire Patton Boggs was founded in Cleveland 100 years ago but didn’t have its first overseas office until 1970, she said. Today, it handles clients of all sorts and sizes, both those coming in and leaving.

Baiju Shah is Chief Executive of BioMotiv, the mission-driven development company associated with The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development, a national initiative centered at University Hospitals in Cleveland. The company’s focus is accelerating breakthrough discoveries from research institutions into therapeutics for patients. Current projects include a partnership with New Zealand University in cancer. “As a patient,” he said, “you want the best medicine developed in the world, not just Cleveland.” BioMotiv has business partnerships around the world, so his Cleveland-based team has to be competent in all aspects of business cultures.

Jack Schron, born and raised in Northeast Ohio, explained that his manufacturing firm, Jergens Inc. (no relation to the hand cream), makes things for manufacturers all across the globe. And he uses international talent for their skills. “We brought a lot of Hungarian toolmakers here during the 1990s,” he said. Today, his firm has offices in China and India. He noted his company created a business condominium in Asia to help small businesses thrive. “Now is the time to get engaged,” he encouraged the audience.

To start the general discussion, McIntyre asked about workforce development and training, and whether there were barriers to finding and hiring the right talent:

“We are always looking to assemble the best-connected talent,” said BioMotiv’s Shah. However, visa-related issues pose significant challenges to hiring the best talent trained at US institutions. He said companies in general are trying to find ways to hire the right individuals. And while he has seen some changes in recent months, there has been more noise and fury than actual change.

Squire’s Connell said there has to be 100% alignment between workforce development and training and business development overall. “Getting technical skills is critical,” she said, “but we’re missing the connection on the technical side.” She did note that the region is growing talent here in the engineering schools.

The biggest challenge to talent development of the local population, according to Schron, is that they “are missing that excitement about making stuff.” He noted that the Cleveland Clinic runs its own machine shop to make prototypes and needed equipment. To address the region’s needs, he started Tooling University, a place to teach the needed hands-on skills and encourage the mid-level talent person to come to this country. “We can start the greatest company, but we need that next tier of support,” he said. As for sponsorships and the visa lottery, Schron said he believed they are a reasonable business investment for his company.

When asked why it was important to welcome diversity, Zein noted that its necessary for business. “We’re interested in having people come to us,” he said. “Last year, patients from 130 countries came to the Clinic. It affects our reputation.” The most important factors, he said, are diversity of community and how welcoming communities are to travelers.

“My role is to hire the attitude and train the skill,” said InterContinental’s Clarke. “Our skills can be trained, but I cannot train an attitude.” His hotel offers IHG Academy four times a year where they bring people who don’t have a job into the hotel for a 6-week program, and see if they can find a skill in the hotel that they can do. The program has been successful here in Cleveland, he said, and they plan on continuing. One thing they learned from a program in China—“travelers want us to recommend things not in tourist books so they can talk about their experience in Cleveland.” And it’s critical that his team be sensitive to each traveler’s culture, he said, “things like pointing with an open hand, not a finger, so you don’t unknowingly offend the traveler…it’s a skill you can train but it needs the right attitude.”

Because patients started coming to the Cleveland Clinic in 1921, it’s very first year, dealing with international travelers has been a part of the Clinic’s DNA, said Zein. His own staff represents 20-30 countries. Because of the sensitivities around the need for and receipt of medical care, the Clinic has a formalized cultural sensitivity training for staff, including senior management. “We talk about spirituality and healthcare and talk about how spirituality affects how people accept death and illness.”

Our economy is growing, said McIntyre, but only modestly. What more could be done?

Schron said there are many great assets in the region and he noted that many are doing the same things. “We need to recognize what’s happening in hospitality, medical, and manufacturing as driving factors for the region.”

Zein pointed out the correlations between so-called “global cities” and “successful cities.” While noting the difficulty in defining a “global city,” he said there are studies that have looked at the links between diversity of a city’s population—who lives there and who visits—and its economic prosperity. He cited the example of Bath, England, which for centuries has drawn medical tourists from around the globe for its natural hot springs. “Bath was the first English city to get street lights and it got sewers before London,” he said, alluding back to Dany Bahar’s (an earlier speaker) comments on immigration and the spread of knowledge.

“Centers of strength within Cleveland include the number of nonprofits doing amazing work,” Zein continued. “What is lacking is a citywide strategy that would include all three (hospitality, medical, manufacturing). Why not provide medical packages for companies to come here, or provide hospitality packages for business travelers…?”

“Global cities are poly-ethnic in nature. We are global city,” Zein said, “but we have a long way to go to be recognized as such.” And many in the room shook their heads in agreement.

The InterContinental’s Clarke noted there are intangible aspects of a successful city or region, and he posed a series of questions: “How do I feel? Do I feel safe? Do I feel welcome? Do people push me aside? Do I offend when I try to speak? Is the public transportation good? What are the WOW factors?”

Using his own transfer to Cleveland, he noted that while “Cleveland has plenty [of WOW factors],” it took his wife 7 or 8 hours to find enough to say yes to the transfer. “It’s very segregated, but we can pull it together.

“Cleveland is a very big small city,” Clarke said, “it’s got everything you want in a city, it’s just not well organized or packaged so you know where it is.”

Cleveland’s WOW factors—those things that are Cleveland’s unique characteristics—are what Squire uses to attract new junior lawyers, according to Connell. But she added a third vote to the fact things are not well organized for newcomers. “Getting them to here is difficult,” she said, “but once here, we show very well. We are welcoming for sure.

“The lack of traffic, the accessibility to the lake—where you can even surf I’m told,” she laughed, “these are things people realize the value of. These are selling points, particularly as we focus on diversity.”

“One thing we undersell,” said BioMotiv’s Shah, “is the people factor in Cleveland. When we think about moving people in, people wonder if they’ll feel comfortable: Will I be around people I’m excited to be around…future colleagues, is there a career path for me in Cleveland? All of these things matter and they are all right here.” And he agreed the marketing of the city could use some help, particularly from employers. “We need employers to be involved. We need private sector advocates. We need help with the gaps,” he said, noting the gaps in services that immigrants or students would find easily available in big cities such as Boston.

Noting that Cleveland reportedly has 117 distinct ethnic groups, McIntyre asked the panel if the local firms reach out to local ethnic groups as a way to draw talent from abroad.

“Absolutely, yes, we do that,” said Clarke. He said the hotel had found that an effective way to find solid employees.

The Clinic’s Zein was a bit more reserved, noting that such outreach was done on a case-by-case basis.

When an audience member asked about corporate on-boarding processes for newcomers, Connell noted that the process is dependent on “what the new person is expecting. It requires a lot more personal discussion.” She used the example of bringing someone in who’s used to living in downtown London, England, and taking the Underground (London’s subway) to work every day: “That’s going to be very different if they end up in Solon and we don’t discuss options upfront; they could end up leaving in 1 year, rather than 2 or 3 or 5. It’s definitely a challenge with limited travel options.”

“It’s also what you do with your employees,” said Schron. “It’s what you communicate to employees. We want everyone to know who is coming in and what that person’s job will be. We remind them that 15% of our business is directly related to imports/exports…so this person is also a customer and contributes to your job.

“Even in the manufacturing sector, it’s the soft, touchy, feely stuff that matters,” said Schron. “We try to get that big little city conveyed—it’s people on both sides of this box.”

All members of the panel encouraged local employers to take advantage of the talent base already here, by hiring those already here who want to stay but need to be sponsored. Employers were also encouraged to offer more internships, externships, and sponsorships, as well as offering other international business options, such as sending someone from here abroad, or using third country locations to get people closer, if not in the US proper.

–Reporting by Janice T. Radak for Global Cleveland