Lorenzo Fornaroli is the perfect person to talk about international career development, as all through his illustrious career he’s used it has a motor to accelerate his personal and professional growth.

Lorenzo was my guest for episode 17 of International Expansion Explained, and I shall be dividing our discussion into two parts as there was just so much goodness in there! This first part will look at professional and personal growth, whilst the 2nd part will take a closer look at some supply chain related topics.

For anyone who has been reading my blog posts for longer, this was the 2nd discussion I’ve had with Lorenzo – you can find my summary of the first one here where we talked about managing global logistics operations when you’re starting in export.

Introduction to Lorenzo Fornaroli

Lorenzo Fornaroli - international career development can fuel personal and professional growth

Lorenzo Fornaroli is a senior executive in global logistics and supply chain management with 30 years of experience across industries, markets, company cultures in operations, strategy, continuous improvement, 3PL (=3rd party logistics) management and E2E (=end to end) supply chain optimisation functions. 

Lorenzo started his career in international trade in Italy progressing to leadership roles with both multinationals and start-up companies in the UK and Switzerland (IBM, HP, P&G, Cisco, Oodji, Honeywell) and 3 years at Huawei’s HQ in China. He’s worked 1 year in Saudi Arabia on the NEOM project and is presently supporting McBride on a company-wide supply chain transformation to improve business performance and service levels to customers in the FMCG/Retail market. 

Lorenzo holds a MSc (with Merit) in operations and supply chain management (University of Liverpool), a Six-Sigma green-belt certificate and has completed executive education in AI, IOT, Cybersecurity (MIT) and Digital Transformation (IMD). 

He brings a wealth of international experience having lived and worked across multiple countries and cultures developing competencies and progressing through change and adaptability with a mindset on continuous learning and personal growth.

Lorenzo’s Journey: A Case Study in International Career Development

Lorenzo’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of a global career. His experiences working in various countries showcase the incredible opportunities and growth that can be achieved if you consciously craft your career.

Italy

He started out in his home country of Italy. Working in a warehouse to earn some money before doing his compulsory military service gave Lorenzo some initial insights into the world of logistics. Loading and unloading trucks showed him how the business of supply chain management looked from the bottom up, as he spent his time checking items off packing lists (yes, with a pen & paper) and driving forklifts.

Scotland

Lorenzo’s time at IBM in Scotland saw him transition to a technical support role keeping him in international trade, logistics, and supply chain management. This leap marked the beginning of his international career and his first immersive experience in a foreign culture.

Geneva

A move to Geneva brought Lorenzo to the heart of international business. Working with companies like HP, Cisco Systems, and Honeywell, allowed him to hone his skills in operations, leadership, and continuous improvement. Geneva became a hub for his international exposure & potentially the main motor of his personal and professional growth, with especially his time at Honeywell teaching him a lot in terms of mindset and the importance of continuous improvement.

China

Lorenzo’s decision to move to China was driven by a desire to acquire new skills and remain marketable. He embraced the challenge of learning about Chinese culture and business practices, gaining valuable insights into decision-making processes and the importance of cultural awareness. Fixing operational issues across the globe and improving relationships with suppliers and customers helped Lorenzo learn a lot about joining the dots between supply and demand.

In China, because I didn’t speak Chinese (I had learned a little bit towards the
end) I was a good observer. I was understanding by observing people “why
are they not communicating”, “why are they not taking a decision”, “why’re they’re waiting” or just because I didn’t know
what they were talking about in some occasions where meetings were in Chinese, I would wait and observe and understand. So that was very good
school of humility because you come with a lot of skills and experience but then they put you back to zero because you
cannot communicate so that’s been a very good
experience to to learn to observe, to take time before you take a decision.

Lorenzo Fornaroli

Saudi Arabia

Lorenzo’s journey took an intriguing turn when he joined NEOM, a visionary project in Saudi Arabia aimed at creating a futuristic, sustainable city. His role as a Director of Supply Chain Services in NEOM provided him with a unique perspective on planning for the city of the future. Working on projects that involved food, media, technology, water, mobility, and energy, Lorenzo was at the forefront of shaping a groundbreaking development.

During his time with NEOM, Lorenzo had the opportunity to collaborate with professionals from diverse backgrounds and expertise, further enriching his international experience. He played a pivotal role in planning and implementing supply chain strategies to support NEOM’s ambitious goals.

Why New Challenges are Good for Personal and Professional Growth

Embarking on a journey into international career development can be both exhilarating and daunting. Lorenzo’s story illustrates the importance of embracing change and new challenges in one’s career. He moved from having a focus on technical skills (ie the nuts & bolts of getting goods from one side of the world to the other) to more of a focus on leadership and management skills, managing international teams, suppliers and customers.

During the past 30 years the whole supply chain industry has evolved hugely and become more digitalised meaning that to remain abreast of developments, Lorenzo has needed to gain new skills

To thrive in international career development, you need to adopt a growth mindset so embracing change and seeking out new opportunities will challenge your existing skills and expand your horizons. Recognise that personal and professional growth often thrive in the face of uncertainty and change – just sticking to the easy tasks in life won’t bring you the same levels of success. Remember it’s the grit in the oyster that causes the pearls to grow!

How to Retain Integrity in International Markets

Integrity is a core value that should never be compromised, regardless of the context or location. Like your reputation, this is something can be destroyed within minutes with one wrong decision. Lorenzo emphasised the importance of maintaining integrity in the international business arena (he’s even left positions when he felt that this was necessary in order to remain true to his own strongly held values). It’s especially crucial when dealing with diverse cultures, where the interpretation of what constitutes ethical behavior may vary.

To retain integrity in international markets, our recommendations would be:

  • Familiarise yourself with the ethical standards and business practices of the countries you’re work in (think about where your personal boundaries are so that if you’re placed in a tricky situation, you’re clear where you stand).
  • Build strong relationships based on trust and transparency – your values should be clear from the start to your colleagues and other stakeholders.
  • Seek guidance from mentors or colleagues who have experience in the region: they may have valuable suggestions to you about dealing with difficult situations that contradict your values without giving offense to others.
  • Always prioritise ethical decision-making over short-term gains – your reputation can be destroyed easily as I mentioned above, but takes much longer to repair.

Benefits of an International Career for Professional and Personal Growth

Lorenzo’s journey led him to work in various countries, from Scotland to China, gaining a wealth of experience and knowledge along the way. These international experiences offered him not only professional growth but also enriched him personally. These are some of my key takeaways from our discussion:

Adaptability is Key

Lorenzo’s experiences emphasise the importance of adaptability in international career development. He highlights the need to be flexible and open to change, especially when transitioning between different countries and cultures. You’re not going to enjoy this kind of professional development trajectory if you’re not open to change and evolving!

Make sure you research & understand the culture of any company that you are thinking of joining. This is true in your own country, but especially important if they are based in a completely different market to your own.

Observation and Learning

Don’t forget the value of observation, especially when language barriers exist. Learning to understand non-verbal cues and patiently observing meetings or interactions can provide valuable insights into decision-making processes and cultural nuances. Like Lorenzo, I’ve also had the experience that when you don’t understand the language, you can focus more deeply on trying to grasp what’s going on through the non-verbal queues. This can be especially useful during critical negotiations.

Soft Skills and Communication

International career success often hinges on soft skills such as cross-cultural communication and relationship building. Lorenzo highlighted the need to adjust communication styles to suit different audiences and the importance of building trust through effective communication. This is especially key in all kinds of leadership roles.

Of course, you can’t learn the language of every nationality that you come into contact with as a global professional, but it does help to learn just a few words (on the plane on your way there if necessary). I don’t just mean the very basics to be polite but also the key vocabulary of your industry, even if it’s just enough to grasp what the topic is about. eg if you presently have a problem with a production delay, learning to recognise the word for “production delay” might help you to better read the situation and diffuse bad feelings.

Change Management

As you progress in your international career, you may find yourself working on change management initiatives. Lorenzo’s experiences show that leading change across different regions and cultures requires a unique skill set that combines technical expertise with adaptability and cultural awareness. This isn’t just something that you can just learn by doing an extra course or qualification, it’s a skill rooted in experience that takes time to learn.

Balance Professional and Personal Development

Watching the recording of our discussion again to prepare this post, I really feel that Lorenzo’s career arc underscores the potential for personal growth alongside professional development. Living in different countries and experiencing diverse cultures can lead to personal transformation, boosting self-confidence and resilience – but only if you’re intentional about it.

Of course, everyone’s personal situation is different, but living in different locations also allows you to develop different personal skills outside of work. eg if you live in an alpine environment you might learn to snowboard, or make sushi in Japan.

Whichever way you look at it, working outside your home country will move you outside your comfort zone and force you to learn, adapt and grow!

Networking and Mentorship

Networking with colleagues and mentors who have experience in international settings can provide valuable guidance and support. Both Lorenzo and I have realised that making the effort to get to know a range of professionals from various backgrounds will expand your network and contribute to your growth.

When you have some kind of challenge in a foreign country, it’s good to have a varied network that you can turn to for advice as your immediate colleagues may not understand what it’s like to be living eg as an expat.

Global Perspective

Exposure to international markets offers a global perspective, allowing you to understand how businesses operate on a global scale. Lorenzo’s experiences in different regions have given him insights into market trends and practices worldwide. Living and working in a different country provides a deeper understanding of its culture and decision-making processes.

Broadening your business horizons in this way enhances you cultural intelligence and fosters a deeper appreciation for diversity. It also provides you with a more holistic view of global markets and their drivers.

Value of Career Progression

You can see from Lorenzo’s story that his career progression from technical roles to leadership positions within international contexts demonstrates that international career development can lead to advancement within an organisation. It showcases the potential for upward mobility in such careers.

As I’ve said a few times though, you need to be intentional about this as Lorenzo has been. Sometimes, expats who are sent abroad by their companies are effectively pushed into a backwater as they are no longer aware of what is going on at head office or outside their expat bubble. So if you are looking to use international postings to further your career, you need to think about what it is that you want to learn or which experience you hope to gain and be clear about when you believe it will be time to move on.

It's evolve or die, really, you have to evolve, you have to move on otherwise it just becomes stagnant. - Craig Charles

When Lorenzo didn’t receive the recognition for his work that he expected in certain places, he analysed his role and that of others before deciding whether to stay longer or move on to the next challenge where he would be better appreciated.

Professional and Personal Growth is at the Core of a Successful Global Career

It can be challenging getting started in an international career, but for sure it is a step that will accelerate your learning process compared to doing the same job in your home country. Whilst you might consider Lorenzo to have had a bit of a portfolio career, you can also see that he’s always been intentional about developing his skills and searching for new experiences. Consequently, he’s also been able to reap the rewards in terms of progress and development as well as a worldwide network that he can call upon if needed.

Here’s just a quick run down of some of those main learnings:

  • Take time to make decisions and prioritise facts over emotions.
  • Being impulsive is not always beneficial, especially in certain situations.
  • Travel and explore the world, but also consider taking more time before committing or putting feelings in writing.
  • Learn to focus on facts and leave emotions out, as it helps in making better decisions.
  • Maintain a higher level of emotional control, especially when engaging with people.
  • Respect, integrity, and empathy are crucial in relationships and professional life.
  • Living life according to your values should be a driving force.
  • Engaging with different cultures and developing social skills is essential in an international world.
  • Business success involves both technical aspects and relationship management.
  • Growth and expansion can be achieved through acquiring qualifications and broadening knowledge.
  • Continued growth while staying true to your values is key.
  • Logistics, supply chain, and customer service are areas with great potential for development and value-based engagement.

So, if you’re contemplating an international career, take the plunge and embark on an adventure that will certainly shape your future in ways you can’t yet imagine. Your journey, like Lorenzo’s, may be the key to unlocking not only your full potential and but also to achieving both personal and professional fulfillment.

Full Video

You can find the full discussion with Lorenzo here (please also subscribe to my YouTube channel if you didn’t already):

If you want to get in touch with Lorenzo or hear more about his work you can do so here:

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