Before the internationalists, protectionists, and nationalists coined the word “globalization,” Americans like my father were carving out the path for the integration of international markets and the expansion of consumer cultures across the world. I research and write about the dynamics of globalization and the links between the local and the global because, subconsciously, I am trying to understand my own past. I am a product of globalization; I would not be part of this earth if in the 1960s the Alabama-based Continental/Moss Gordin Gin Company had not decided to expand its operations beyond the American market and if it had not strategically assembled an international sales team that included bilingual personnel like my dad, Adolfo Tijerina.
Employees like Adolfo were the pioneers of the globalization of the market. Departing from all the industrial nations, engineers, top managers, middle managers, sales representatives, scientists, and technicians entered the emerging markets with the intention of modernizing, developing, opening and managing new markets for export and internal consumption. Colombia was one of those markets.
Before Adolfo, American technicians and scientists had arrived a few decades earlier in order to plant the seeds of globalization. They successfully transferred American Upland cotton into the Colombian and other Latin American markets together with the insecticide industry that also accompanied the commodity and capitalized on the market’s expansion. Adolfo’s arrival into the Colombian market in order to supply local and foreign producers with top-of-the-line machinery, “know-how” and technology, was part of a much larger Latin American strategy.
The global cotton industry was looking for cheaper production and distribution centers. Companies directly and indirectly linked to the cotton industry were beginning to re-strategize as domestic production became more expense due to higher living standards and social policy initiatives such as the abolition of Jim Crow laws. For European producers, it was the independence movements across the African continent that jeopardized their colonial production strategy. New parts of the world needed to produce and sell cotton to the world; Latin America was hand-picked as one of these regional production markets.
Thanks to the World Bank and other multilateral lending agencies, various countries across Latin America began to industrially produce cotton. Leveraging on the multilateral efforts, the American cotton industry was well on its way to capitalizing on the expansion of the cotton markets in its “back yard.” Continental/Moss Gordin responded with its own international business strategy, supplying these emerging markets with machinery, technology and services, contributing to the fulfillment of the World Bank’s economic development and modernization goals.
Adolfo was in the middle of the globalization of the cotton market and I do not think he ever realized it. Before language skills became a key soft skill of the contemporary business world, he was positioning his company above its competitors simply because he knew the product and was bilingual in Spanish. His language and cultural navigation skill-set not only allowed the company to advance its international strategy but it strengthened the company’s capabilities in these markets. The fact that he was bilingual set him apart from other sales representatives that inundated the Latin American market during the 1960s and 1970s, and it was the reason why he became an important asset and key component of the company’s global strategy.
Yield increases in Colombia meant that more machinery was needed and more services were demanded, which meant that there was even more reasons for Adolfo to continue serving this and other regional markets. It is how in one of those trips, he met my mother and soon after I was born.
The lifestyle of the international sales representative was exhilarating at first but the lack of stability eventually took its toll. Companies like Continental/Miss Gordin did not care about the psychological or emotional impact of the job, all they cared about were quarterly and annual results. Apparently not much has changed in the world of international business.
The reasons why my parents’ marriage did not work out, why Adolfo left his job at the multinational corporation, and why life dealt us a particular set of cards is part of another story. The fact is that the initial experiment of globalizing the market never took into account the impact that these market strategies would have on the key stakeholders themselves. The human consequences are never considered, just like community and environmental impacts.
Nobody in Continental/Moss Gordin even wondered what the impact of its global strategy would come to represent in the life of Adolfo Tijerina. The consequences of globalization were uncertain at the time, the experiment was in its initial stages. The same experiment that would eventually motivate American business owners to move their operations overseas, not calculating what the local consequences would be. Nobody envisioned what the ramifications of closing paper mills and shoe factories in Maine would be, but all you need to do is take a walk around Old Town or Millinocket.
I was a product of the experiment. I have to thank Continental/Moss Gordin for being on this earth, without their international business strategy I would not be around to tell the story. Nevertheless, I am also saddened that the expansion of the company into Latin America had a negative effect on my dad’s life and for all of those who were close to him. This was, of course, before the times of Corporate Social Responsibility. Nobody knew, for example, that cultural adaptation was important or that work-life balance was a key component of long-term sustainability of an employee exposed to life on the road in the international market. In any case, he was an integral part of the experiment.
This short glimpse at my father’s experience is my way of explaining why I am interested in issues of globalization and why I am obsessed with the connections between the local and the global. As I said before, I am a product of globalization. If it was not for the expansion of global cotton production I would not be here; it was thanks to Continental/Moss Gordin’s strategy to tailor to the foreign and not the local market. The rise of cotton production in Colombia increased the odds of me being born; incredible but true. The red carpet treatment with which foreigners were welcomed in Colombia increased the odds even more, not to mention the fact that my mother was also bilingual in English.
Forty plus years of the globalization experiment shows that there is no turning back. No matter how big and sturdy the walls of isolation are, the market will continue to expand and new technologies and innovations will create even more and unimaginable markets, just like the global market constructed around cotton of which my father was an integral part of.
I look forward to continuing linking the local with the global and the local with the global throughout this year. I also look forward to your comments and feedback. Happy 2019!
 Phillippe Leurquin. “Cotton Growing in Colombia: Achievements and Uncertainties.” In Food Research Institute Studies in Agricultural Economics, Trade and Development, Volume 1, Issue 1, 1453-180. Food Research Institute, Standord University, 1960.