Andy Doyle, ILR BS '94, MS '96
From Ithaca to Tokyo and Back Again
Andy Doyle, who recently returned from an international assignment, sat down with Robin Remick of ILR International Programs to discuss his international career path, international programs at ILR, and to offer some advice to current students. Andy is currently in Global Rewards Policy & Planning, Merrill Lynch Leadership & Talent Management, New York City.
RR: Welcome back, Andy! Let’s start off with why you came to the ILR school and how you got your start in Human Resources Management.
AD: I came to ILR with every intention of becoming a sports arbitrator—my plan was ILR, law school, and on to the front lines of major league contracts. But that was before landing in George Milkovich’s HR 260 class, a.k.a. ‘HR for beginners.’ I could never have imagined where that would lead—it must have been destiny too because I believe it was the last time Professor Milkovich ever taught that course to undergrads.
He began the first day drawing analogies between a compensation plan and a table—who knew? I won’t plot the details here but it was definitely a new way of thinking about pay, and I was hooked! I started going to office hours, learning from the master, even wrote a paper that he really liked, and eventually I became George’s research assistant—much to the chagrin, by the way, of ILR’s legendary icon of the labor movement, George Brooks. I’d taken Professor Brooks’ Intro to Labor Unions class to prep for that career in sports arbitration, and when he offered to introduce me to some labor folks for a summer internship I thanked him but explained that I had some work lined up with Prof. Milkovich. What happened next I will never forget. His shoulders sunk, he shook his head in disbelief, “Milkovich? You’re going into HR?! Oh, not another one to HR. That’s the dark side!” Among my ILR friends this became known as my “Star Wars” moment. We had this image of George Brooks being Yoda, and Milkovich—with that intense look and dark beard—being Darth Vader, and me as young Skywalker.
By the time I was ready to graduate, Milkovich’s own research had taken a sharp turn toward international. His work in Japan and with HR practitioners at Toshiba led to the CAHRS-Toshiba Internship, allowing an ILR student to spend a summer living and working in Tokyo. I was in a five-year undergrad/graduate program and planned to spend that summer working on my thesis, but when George put the internship application in my mailbox with a sticky note telling me to look it over and fill it out, I had no idea at the time what I was in for.
RR: It sounds like that Sticky Note was a real turning point in your life?
AD: The Toshiba experience was fantastic. I had been very interested in Japanese management practices, which were a really hot topic in the late 80s and early 90s, so it was a great opportunity and in fact was a huge turning point in my life.
I became so fascinated with what I was learning about the way the company worked that I entertained thoughts of changing my thesis. In the end I stayed with the original topic (expatriate compensation) but in some ways I did two research tracks at the same time—the other being Japanese HR systems. At the end of a work day I’d often get together with a few English speaking guys in Toshiba for dinner, Karaoke, or just touring Japan. Gradually I learned a little bit of Japanese, which really opened things up. The combination of working in a Japanese company and getting to know Tokyo made for an amazing overall experience.
By Fall I was back in Ithaca working on my thesis, with a side trip to Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana with Prof. Milkovich, who was in the process of establishing a linkage with the MBA program there. It was there where I realized that my intention to go into academia to teach international HR would probably not go too far without first getting some real work experience. So, I contacted Toshiba and asked if they would be interested in having me work full time. Luckily, they were. The original idea was that I would go there for two years before returning to Cornell for a Ph.D.
RR: What did you do to prepare yourself for working in Japan?
Before heading East this time I was determined to learn the language. I arranged for private study at Cornell that followed the FALCON curriculum and was taught by FALCON instructors, but with a schedule that allowed more time to work on my thesis. I spent as much time in the language lab as possible, but with a thesis to write and other research to do I didn’t get to spend as much time in the language lab as I had hoped. FALCON is really based on total immersion. It is a terrific program if you do it right, and I think my “lite” version of it at least gave me some strong fundamentals to continue my study once I got there.
I also did a lot of research on working in a foreign country. I had been to Japan once, but I was a special guest the first time. The second time I would need to earn a living and produce results. Some of the research helped, but much of it would turn out to be counter-productive – it just wasn’t real. I was lucky my colleagues at Toshiba were such nice people because I sure made quite a few gaffes along the way.
RR: Tell us what happened.
It was tough in the beginning. I mean, Toshiba really liked the idea of having this international influence in the office but they didn't know what to do with me. I was the first full-time non-Japanese employee to work in HR at HQs and they really wanted it to work. Needless to say, so did I. Initially my job was structured more like an internship where I did a lot of project work, but as each short assignment wrapped up I knew that if I was going to last for 2 years I would need to create my own work. I began making cold calls to other Toshiba units in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the U.S. seeking projects I could assist with.
Along the way I was able to get on a project team developing a training center for Toshiba subsidiaries in South East Asia. This became the basis of the "International HR Planning Group," Toshiba's first initiative from headquarters to support and assist HR organizations around the world. The idea was to come up with a global strategy that would be linked to Toshiba's business strategy. I worked as a core member of this group the rest of my time in Toshiba, which turned out to be 3 years. I joined Merrill Lynch Japan in 1998.
RR: What made you decide to leave Toshiba to join Merrill Lynch? Didn’t you say you were going to return to work toward your PhD?
AD: I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in Toshiba for three years, and I wouldn't trade those three years for anything. Some of my best friends today I met during those three years, including my wife, Yukiko, and I am still very closely connected to Toshiba. I still always buy Toshiba products where I can. The Toshiba experience opened my eyes on many fronts, and really made me learn some things about myself. I like teaching and researching the answers to questions, but I was really enjoying being a practitioner of HR, especially as Asia was really booming. I struggled with the decision, and as George [Milkovich] always framed the question very well: "You probably will make it in academia, but who knows? You really seem to have knack for working through organizations. You're good at this. Stay at it for a few more years and see what happens. You are still young and you still have time to come back."
Once I decided that I was going to pursue a career in HR, I thought I needed a job where the learning curve would be steep. Things had reached a stage for me at Toshiba where I was limited by the fact that I could not read or write business-level Japanese. I could hold my own in some meetings, but I just wasn't there.
RR: Why did you choose Merrill Lynch?
AD: Merrill had just made the deal for Yamaichi Securities, and given my experience in Toshiba I thought I could bridge the cultural gaps and help Merrill bring Yamaichi into its culture. But what I didn’t count on was how much I had to learn about the culture of a Wall Street firm! I felt more like one the Yamaichi employees being acquired than a Merrill employee trying to help others fit in!
RR: You seem to have made it work. Tell us about your career in Merrill Lynch.
AD: I started as a compensation manager and after a year moved into a generalist position, covering basically all of what is known as the “back office” –the support functions – tech, finance, etc. I later got a regional role with Merrill’s Pacific Rim fixed income business, which gave me a chance to use some of my experiences in Southeast Asia with Toshiba.
By February 2001 I was on to New York City to work in Merrill’s corporate compensation group. That lasted about a month and a half before I was heading up what was the first of many staff reductions to come at Merrill. It was the beginning of the market slide, the tech bubble had burst, so I became the point person to lead a process to eliminate 3000 jobs. Then, September 11th happened.
RR: How were you affected by the events of September 11th?
AD: I was in the building right next to the Trade Center that day. I witnessed some awful things. We weren't able to return to our building for 4 or 5 months so Merrill employees were scattered all over the tri-state area in make-shift offices. I moved into a compensation role for a couple of business units and, at the same time, had to start looking for a new job within Merrill. They offered me an opportunity to return to Tokyo as the head of HR for Japan.
I would be lying if I said the events of September 11 didn't influence my decision to return to Japan—Yukiko and I had a young son and were expecting another child. It was tough because we had really just moved to New York and, absent any real work experience in the U.S., I thought it was important to acquire some in the states and in Headquarters. Still, head of Japan was a great opportunity—one I never thought I’d get so quickly—and I was reluctant to turn it down. That, coupled with the post-9/11 uncertainty in the U.S., we headed to Japan.
The first year I was co-head of the HR Group for the Japan region, the following year I was sole head for the region, and in the final year my responsibilities expanded to include all HR functions that side of the world, the Pacific Rim, as far west as India, as far south as Australia, as well as China and Korea.
I thought I would be there for a good 5 years. As it turned out, we implemented a lot of things quickly and put together a great team. With them in place the stage was set to be called back to NYC to work on some new initiatives in the Compensation area. In some ways I’m happy to be back, my family is here and I’m getting that U.S. work experience I lacked, but the Pac Rim position was my dream job, a real culmination of my experience and really enjoyable. While it was a little disappointing to come back so soon, I’m also finding that I can have some influence on what’s going on in Asia and that’s been rewarding. So, after ten years, I’ve come full circle (at least for round one).
RR: One round indeed! Now that you have completed one round, do you have any advice for ILR Students who are thinking about an international track today?
I guess the first suggestion would be to keep your goals in mind when choosing both extra curricular activities and coursework. They can often compliment one another. If it can increase your exposure to international issues, languages, cultures, even food, take advantage of it. When I was a student, electives were largely limited to ILR. We seldom left Ives Hall. I’m told that has changed a bit, so take advantage of it!
The rich and diverse resources available at Cornell are something I felt I took some advantage of but woefully underutilized. I didn’t realize the scope of what was available until my last 2 months there! I mean, who knew Asia Studies was right next door in Uris Hall? (Editor’s note: The Einaudi Center has area studies programs covering the world, walk over, or logon, to see what they offer.) I found all sorts of contacts there for people working in Japan, information about funding and exchange opportunities, etc. In fact, it was there where I learned about the Japan-U.S. Bridging Foundation that provides scholarships to students who want to get experience in Japan. Later, as head of HR Japan, I became a sponsor of the program. So I think a lot of people don’t use all the amazing resources at Cornell. I certainly didn’t.
My second suggestion would be to get out of Ithaca! Consider study abroad, international internships or volunteer work outside of the U.S. I remember the students who took semesters abroad – they would come back and talk about nothing but their experiences. It used to drive me crazy. Then I went to Japan myself and then I got it. I would seek these people out on campus. And that’s a good segway to the third suggestion: get to know the international students in your classes.
The ILR student body is much more diverse today, and that’s a great thing. Share experiences and perspectives, make a point of working together on group projects. I think that was something I figured out probably a little too late. At the end of my academic career it dawned on me that by forming groups with a bunch of people just like me it was the same as doing it by myself – we had similar skills sets and similar points of view and no one was bringing anything new to the project. But you work with someone from a different background (and a lot of times that could be an international background) and they would have a very different way of approaching a question. The results are bound to be much better, much more reflective of a global workplace.
Not only can you learn a lot from one another, but it prepares you much better for the real world. At Merrill we have people from all over the world here in HQs. Our vice chairman is Egyptian, the head of our most profitable group is Korean, the head of risk is Japanese. With such diversity we ask ourselves how to meet everyone’s needs and at the same time educate and make the firm aware of differences in a respectful way without falling into generalizations about people. That’s something I experienced in Japan. I read all sorts of business books before I went to Japan about what to expect, but the truth is I didn’t meet anyone like the books described. The people described in those books fall within 2 standard deviations on the bell curve, the average Japanese person, the average Korean person, the average American person.
In international business, as in anything, it’s more complex. You are dealing with the outliers. There are layers—the fact that someone is working for Samsung and attended one of the best universities in the world, they speak a couple of different languages—that itself sets them apart from the average and then of course their experiences make them unique. So beware the “airport books” that draw generalizations because in business—as anywhere—you may never meet the “average” person. You can actually be offensive because you assume the other party is not aware of your own customs, etiquettes, etc. Very often as Americans we don’t speak any other languages and we are a very insular country…we know very little about the rest of the world compared to what they know about us. So we go to these countries having read one of these books and, with the best intentions, we insult everybody!
My final piece of advice is to ride the wave – you never know what opportunities are going to come your way. Each wave sets you up for the next, and you never know where it may lead. Be flexible, adapt. Yes, a plan is a good thing to have but I really think that I’m much happier and more successful for taking detours and riding the wave of the opportunities that were presented to me.
RR: Any other advice would you give, either to the ILR School or to students who are about to graduate?
AD: One of the biggest and best U.S. exports today is education, and those programs competing with ILR are starting to set up programs overseas--and not just for executives, they are also starting to open degree programs to students who don’t have the wealth to attend school in the U.S. It can be prohibitively expensive for students from Asia to attend school in the U.S., so some very good colleges are taking their curricula, professors, and technology abroad. They are either partnering with local universities or even building their own campuses. Temple University has a campus in Tokyo, Michigan and Harvard have programs in China, there are other examples as well. I definitely would like to see Cornell continue to be a leading school in International Labor Relations – I’d love to see the school get more active in that.
One of our jobs as alumni may be to go back and try to assist in bringing some reality into the school. I screen many résumés and unfortunately ILR students really don’t sell themselves very well. For example, some students would put on their résumé the courses they took ILRCB 201. There’s nothing wrong with saying ILRCB 201, it is a great course, but as a hiring manager what does that do for me? I happen to know what 201 means because I am an ILRie, but other hiring managers who did not attend Cornell are not going to know that. What did you learn? How does it help you solve problems? How does it help your critical thinking? Its tough because sometimes students may feel pressured to fill up their resume and don’t have a lot of experiences yet.
But ask yourself something – is there anyone at ILR that didn’t take ILRCB 201? Does this do anything to set yourself apart from your peers? It’s a product of the ILR school’s success in a way because so many of the firms want people from that program that they begin to learn what ILRCB 201 is, and for some of the big recruiters there – that’s fine, they’ll hire the person and live happily ever after. But then that ILRie wants to get an international experience or an opportunity with someone who doesn’t recruit at the ILR School every year – they really need to sell themselves in terms of other Cornell students and basically everybody else in the world competing for that job – because even with all the great experiences you are getting at Cornell, if it doesn’t come across on that piece of paper, you may never get the interview.
I guess one of the other pieces of advice I would have for the school would be around setting expectations for the students. In Merrill we have hired a couple of ILRies, but one issue that comes up is that ILRies come in having been trained by some of the best minds in the world when it comes to HR and strategy, so their head is set for 30,000 feet. They come in and we give them a 5000 feet project rather than one dictating strategy for the entire firm like they learned to do in a case study, and they get frustrated and bored.
It’s hard for the firm because we have these great people who are so smart and we want to keep them, but formulating and directing the HR strategy for the firm is what the Head of HR does – and we each have a piece of that but you need to learn to crawl and walk before you run. I am not sure how we fix this – because that’s the best part of going to Cornell – it was great going to Lee Dyer’s class and talking about HR strategy with CAHRS guest speakers. I can remember when Dennis Donovan was head of GE’s Industrial Power Systems and he gave us an example of what he was working on and Lee had us write a paper on it. It was a great project, and I learned a lot, but it was a while before I was working on such projects at Merrill – I had to pay my dues first.
In organizations there are the non-tangibles that students need learn along the way too, i.e. organizational culture, politics, personalities—if we could introduce some kind of self awareness/political diplomacy class into ILR that would be great because that kind of intelligence as much as anything is how you succeed, especially internationally. One must tow a fine line between respecting other people’s culture and being flexible but also being assertive and getting things done.
In a Japanese firm like Toshiba you have a top down organizational culture and you are not supposed to question your seniors. On the other hand, you also don’t want your leaders to be embarrassed by something or make a misstep. So knowing those two things, you have to know which lever to pull to get the initiative forward. Just as important is learning how to present things.
A lot of students have asked me over the years about a formula for managing a career. There isn’t one. Or if there is, I’m still learning it. I mean nobody knows which way business is going. A couple of years ago everybody was talking about China, now people are hedging their bets a little bit and talking about India. Before China it was Korea and before that it was Eastern Europe. The whole thing will change again. Rather than try to predict the future, make the most of your current situation and then be ready to grab the next wave that comes by.
- Andy Doyle, ILR BS '94, MS '96