15th annual International Business Career Conference expands students’ understanding of global business

by | Mar 4, 2024

Alum Steve Hamilton, the chairman and CEO of CSI Leasing, delivered the keynote address during last Friday's conference at Anheuser-Busch Hall.
Incoming College of Business Administration Dean Shu Schiller welcomes students to the International Business Career Conference

Incoming College of Business Administration Dean Shu Schiller welcomes students to the International Business Career Conference. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Professor Joseph Rottman welcomed more than 150 registered students from the University of Missouri–St. Louis and other schools across the region to Anheuser-Busch Hall Friday morning for the start of the 15th annual International Business Career Conference.

“Today, we have alumni, we have executives, we have students, we have faculty and staff to share what it is like to have an international career,” said Rottman, the director of UMSL’s International Business Institute, as he set the stage for what was to come throughout the daylong conference. “From the keynote to the panels to the breakout sessions, we hope that you walk away from today having a better picture of what an international career looks like, and how to get it started.”

Shu Schiller, incoming dean of the College of Business Administration, was also on hand – one month ahead of her official start date – to offer some opening remarks.

“I know you’re in for a treat today, to be able to listen to these experts from industry, to learn from them, to hear their life stories and how they have been changing the world,” Schiller said. “The world is big today. … Technology and innovation continue to connect the world and level that playing field. I think all of you, your innovative ideas, will be able to expand it further, so down the road, when you open your business – on the moon or Mars or anywhere you’d like to get it started – please remember this place, right here and right now, and a beautiful, brilliant idea from one expert or speaker at this International Business Career Conference.”

As has been the custom since its inception, the conference was planned and led by UMSL students. Business majors Kimberly Barrera Gonzalez, Kate Nelson and Peter Tran had been working to organize the event since last year with guidance from Renita Miller, the program manager for the International Business Institute.

Steve Hamilton, the chairman and CEO of CSI Leasing, shares background about himself, including his love of racing, during his keynote address at the International Business Career Conference

Steve Hamilton, the chairman and CEO of CSI Leasing, shares background about himself, including his love of racing, during his keynote address at the International Business Career Conference.

They invited Steve Hamilton, the chairman and CEO of St. Louis-based CSI Leasing, to deliver the keynote address.

Hamilton, a native of Northern Ireland, spent his teenage years in St. Louis and earned his BSBA at UMSL in 1977 before moving to Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned his law degree in 1980. He used his talk to describe how CSI Leasing – which was founded as a business to lease technology equipment in 1973 in Oklahoma City – has grown into a global enterprise with offices in 37 countries and equipment located in 50 countries.

Hamilton has had a front-row seat and played role in that growth. He joined the company as a corporate attorney in 1983, serving as general counsel from 1988 until 1999, and eventually moving into the C-Suite.

CSI launched its first international subsidiary in Canada in 1995 and moved into the United Kingdom in 1999 with the acquisition of McKenzie-Hughes Computers Ltd. in Sheffield, England in 1999.

The company has kept up steady international expansion over the past 25 years, moving into Mexico and Central and South America, spreading across Europe and into Asia. In 2016, it was acquired by Japanese parent company Tokyo Century.

International expansion can’t be done haphazardly.

“Before we go to any place, we need to have some expertise about the local culture,” Hamilton told the students.

It’s key to understand the language and customs in any country before engaging successfully with clients. Hamilton shared pictures of some of his own meetings with Japanese colleagues from Tokyo Century to reinforce the point.

Tim Nowak, the executive director of World Trade Center St. Louis, moderates a panel discussion with Brian Garcia, Ashley Shepherd and Al Li

Tim Nowak, the executive director of World Trade Center St. Louis, moderates a panel discussion with Brian Garcia, the vice president for global franchise support at Enterprise Holdings; Ashley Shepherd, the director of P-8 & C-40 program management at Boeing Global Services; and Al Li, the founder and managing director of Artis Commercial Capital.

He also discussed other factors that can make global business a challenge, from currency exchange to tax laws and their implications, international trade regulations, human resource laws, different time zones, the condition of local economies, foreign policy and geopolitics, and supply chain and distribution mechanisms.

Students – including a group of high school students from St. Joseph’s Academy – also heard from a panel of St. Louis-based business leaders – Brian Garcia, the vice president for global franchise support at Enterprise Holdings; Ashley Shepherd, the director of P-8 & C-40 program management at Boeing Global Services; and Al Li, the founder and managing director of Artis Commercial Capital – moderated by Tim Nowak, the executive director of World Trade Center St. Louis.

They talked about their unexpected paths into international business and offered encouragement for students to seek out opportunities abroad.

“I would encourage all of you as you’re listening right now not knowing maybe what you want to do, go and explore and then go explore again and again and again,” Shepherd said. “I earned a finance degree with my education and never would have thought I would have gone from a finance career to do a strategy-type role and now as a program manager leading an organization. You never know where you’re going to go, so take some of those strange opportunities that get thrown at you.”

Li described the experience of going to China and how it changed his perspective.

“I think for me, if you look through the lens of opportunity and possibility, you will inevitably go international,” he said. “When I went to China for the first time, I was realized this economic world is just way larger than I thought. I started thinking about the opportunity and possibilities.”

The conference also featured workshops on topics such as technology and sustainability and that showcased the experiences of expatriates as well as UMSL alumni working abroad.

There was also a networking lunch that gave students a chance to meet and ask questions of the practitioners.

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens
Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

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Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

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