Best of both worlds - I didn't know there was more than one

Call it a poor choice of words. Call it a slip of the tongue. Call it a typically goofy, US-centric view of the world.

I'm not sure what to call it. I just thought it was kind of strange.

A couple of weeks ago at the SAS Institute user conference in Sydney I met up with a guy named Lee Richardson. Lee is SAS Institute's director of Asia-Pacific operations - the individual whose responsibility it is to ensure that the best interests of SAS Institute's customers, employees and partners - not to mention the business itself - are served in this part of the world.

Lee doesn't actually live in Sydney. Nor does he live in Singapore, or Hong Kong, or Tokyo, or anywhere else in the region. Lee lives in North Carolina, close to SAS Institute's headquarters in the tranquil town of Cary. And that's just the way Lee wants it.

"I feel like I have, from a personal point of view, the best of both worlds," Lee told me in a fine southern drawl. "I get to live in wonderful North Carolina, which is a great place to live; and at the same time I get to deal with some of the most exciting cultures, countries, economies and people in the world, like China, India, Korea, Hong Kong. So I just feel like I'm a very lucky person."

Isn't that just super? Lucky Lee has the best of both worlds. He gets to do all those fun things in our world without having to actually live in it.

(Personally I kind of like living here, but as Lee says, "It takes all types.")OK, maybe it's just me making another mountain out of a molehill, jumping on an innocent comment and blowing it all out of proportion for the self-serving sake of scraping together some column fodder.

Loves the lifestyle

It's just that the more I think about it, the more confused I get. If Lee gets such a kick out of dealing with all those exciting people and cultures in this part of the world, I simply don't understand why he seems to find it so inherently and naturally preferable not to live here.

Not that Lee doesn't have the credentials to deal with all those different people and cultures, mind you.

"I studied Asia in college and I went to India in 1975 and then lived in Japan twice in the '80s," Lee noted. "So this is pretty much my career. I sometimes think about what I might do if I didn't do Asia-Pacific or international, but I have a hard time figuring out what it would be."

I have a hard time figuring out a lot of things. Like how on earth you can effectively manage a region you prefer not to live in. Fortunately, Lee explained it to me.

"I travel over to Asia, like I am now - this is, I guess, my third trip this year," he said. So he reckons he makes it over four or five times a year. "I'm really happy doing this," Lee said.

That's nice, Lee. Time to go home now.

I suppose I wouldn't be making such a production out of this were it not for the fact that I have spoken with the SAS people in the local trenches - those who have chosen to live in this part of the world - and I can tell you that they feel they're not getting the support they need from the home office. They're not particularly upbeat about SAS Institute's performance in the region, and they leave you with the impression that they feel sort of abandoned. They don't think the folks back in the comfort of the executive suite - from SAS co-founder and president Dr Jim Goodnight on down - appreciate the importance and the potential of the Asia-Pacific market. I have to think things might be different if they had a boss who was one of them, and who was in a better position to stand up for them.

Of course, SAS Institute is far from being alone in this respect. Quentin Gallivan, Netscape Communications' Asia-Pacific vice president and general manager, works out of Netscape's headquarters in Silicon Valley (Netscape - don't get me started). George Billman, Forte Software's Asia director, has elected to keep his distance as well - he, too, is in the San Francisco Bay area. Mike Samuelian, Asia-Pacific director of Vinca, the standby server people, is safely tucked away in the seclusion of Orem, Utah. You could probably name other examples off the top of your head.

Proving a point

So I don't mean to come down too hard on SAS Institute or Lee Richardson. In fact, truth be told, I actually first met Lee a couple of years ago in North Carolina (which is indeed a very nice place) - he's certainly a pleasant enough guy, and I'm really just poking a little fun in order to make a point about an issue that I (and many other people with whom I have spoken) do take seriously. I should also mention that SAS is, as we reported last week, making some impressive inroads in China, and Lee could no doubt tell all sorts of stories about the deals he's helped broker in the region.

But all kidding aside, I cannot be alone in my concern that Lee's "best of both worlds" comments bespeak a we-and-they mind set that is alien to the type of global orientation that successful businesses need to foster.

What I'm trying to get at is this: There aren't two worlds, Lee. There's only one.