by Paul Ingevaldson

What It’s Like To…Be an American Abroad

Dec 15, 20042 mins
IT Leadership

When I joined Ace in 1979, I didn’t have a passport. And other than my military service in Vietnam and some R&R in Taiwan during active duty, I’d been to Canada and Mexico; that was it.

About 13 years into my tenure, I started traveling extensively, to the point where I now travel more than 100,000 miles a year. I’ve been to more than 70 countries where Ace does business, including Saudia Arabia, Israel and China. I feel comfortable virtually everywhere, and I have friends all over the world.

Of course, that wasn’t the case at first. Part of my job was to develop Ace business in other countries, so there was often a social component to my visits. The dealers always wanted to talk about American politics, and I quickly realized that they knew more about the subject than I did. They asked me questions about our economy and foreign policy that I couldn’t easily answer. That made me uncomfortable, so I started reading more about the world.

Now when I visit my dealer friends, I can hold my own during discussions of foreign affairs. But I have to be careful what I say. I can’t express too strong an opinion (and I do have strong opinions), because I don’t want to offend my hosts. The sensitivity of these conversations puts some pressure on me, but I’ve come to enjoy my diplomatic role. Sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief at the end of a five-hour discussion, but I never feel drained. I’m exhilarated. I’ve worked hard so that I can have the opportunity to experience different cultures and to have intelligent conversations about my country. Had I remained culturally ignorant, I wouldn’t have built so many relationships, and relationships are everything in international business.

—As told to Meridith Levinson