Alan Derrick, owner of Derrick Design & Remodeling in Huntsville, Ala., is no stranger to volunteering. "I like to volunteer so I sleep better at night," he says. "And I pick the things that will help my company from a marketing standpoint."
When the University of Alabama at Huntsville’s Community Connections program asked Derrick to host a Russian professional for a four-week business exchange earlier this year, he jumped at the chance. Of course, involvement with the program led to quite a bit of publicity for Derrick’s company: An editorial written by the Russian professional who worked with Derrick Design and Remodeling appeared in a local paper, and the same paper published an article on Derrick’s subsequent trip to Russia.
In addition to the marketing opportunity, Community Connections gave Derrick the opportunity to trade business practices and cultural information with Marian Klimkina, a marketing manager for a residential construction company in Tver, Russia.
The program, which is a partnership between government, nonprofit organizations, and business, aims to bring mid-level professionals from countries of the former Soviet region to the United States for short-term internships at small and mid-sized businesses and organizations. The professionals observe a successful U.S. business first hand and take that knowledge back to their companies in Russia.
"The main thing [Klimkina] got out of the trip was how companies in the United States make customer service such an integral part of business," Derrick says. "Over there, it’s almost a foreign concept." Some companies, like the one Klimkina works for, have grasped a hold of the customer service concept and are benefiting.
After hosting Klimkina, Derrick joined a group heading to Russia for a business summit in September. The goal was to create dialogue between U.S. and Russian professionals that would give a boost to Russian businesses operating in a struggling economy.