GLOBAL OPPORTUNITY (n) The prospect of advancement, achievement, or success, anywhere in the world

XPLANE

  • 34 employees
  • Offices in Portland and Amsterdam
  • 99 percent of revenue from outside oregon

The design and business consulting firm Xplane makes its home in downtown Portland, but a fifth of its revenue comes from outside the US. (Clients have included Procter & Gamble, Raytheon, Britain’s Royal Mail, and BASF.) That means every new hire is seen as a passport to the company’s future and its internationalist outlook. 

“The creative employee of the future has to be a globalist,” says Xplane CEO Aric Wood. Wood’s not alone in that view: British writer and business school professor Lynda Gratton argues that smallish companies like Xplane that work internationally reflect a transformation as profound as the Industrial Revolution. “Organizations are operating in a global context even if they don’t have a presence overseas,” Gratton recently told the New York Times. “This is true for individuals, too.”

Xplane does run a branch office in Amsterdam—the direct flight from PDX comes in handy—but stands apart in how it hardwires globalism into its work. “Our whole company is built around agility,” Wood says. Portland-based employees can apply for two-year stints in Amsterdam, after which they rotate home. 

“My job is about helping people understand ideas,” says associate creative director Tim May, who recently returned home to Portland from four days in Senegal and spent six months of 2010 in Amsterdam helping open that office. That understanding, he contends, is particularly important when “rhythm and culture” are different. 

“In Senegal, you keep your mobile phone well charged, because the power goes out,” he notes. “In the Netherlands, there’s a whole culture around informal, handshake business deals. You learn to navigate.”

As CEO, Wood also sees employees’ broader horizons as a business asset. 

“If you’ve been doing something—anything—for a while, you develop retrograde amnesia and forget what made you great at it in the first place,” he says. “Working abroad is a great way to stay sharp.” As for the complexity of running a company on two continents: “The best way to build shared culture is to buy plane tickets.”

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