By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Vienna, Austria -- the son returns

I have been in Vienna, Austria, invited by the Office of the Chancellor (prime minister), to give a "distinguished international lecture" to an executive education program for senior Austrian public managers.

This is a nice honor, but what made me especially excited to go to Vienna for this is that my dad, now almost 89, was born in Vienna but fled the country in 1938, at the age of 19, after Hitler took over Austria. He was lucky enough eventually to make it to the US. Austria was a country badly plagued by anti-Semitism -- indeed, a quite large proportion of Austrian Jews survived the Holocaust because they had no illusions about Hitler's intentions.

We had originally hoped that my father might actually be able to come and be in the audience. However, his health didn't permit it. Instead, he prepared some remarks, in German, reminding listeners about the fate of Austrian Jews but also wishing a new Austria prosperity and peace. Although I gave my lecture in English, I also composed some remarks in German, to go along with my father's. I shared my own personal reaction to coming to Vienna, a town my father left because, as I said, "as an Austrian Jewish citizen he was no longer welcome in his own country."

It was also very moving to have in the audience a classmate of my dad's, with whom my dad reconnected about 25 years ago. I recognized him to the audience before I started my speech and gave him a hug. I had had lunch with him, his wife, and his daughter, the day before the lecture.

On a different note, I was surprised to see Starbucks in Austria, indeed right near my hotel in the center of town. Given that Austria more or less invented coffee houses, this seems to be bringing coals to Newcastle. I mentioned this to my hosts, and they said Starbucks competed through offering services the incumbent coffee/pastry places didn't, such as takeout services. When looking for a place to have breakfast Sunday morning, I discovered that Starbucks also open on Sundays at 6:30, while other places open between 9 and 10.

There's a lesson there for businesses trying to break into the U.S. government marketplace. Often such business try to compete by asking for special treatment of one sort or another. This example reminds us that the best way for new entrants into the marketplace to compete is to be better than the established firms.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 23, 2008 at 12:09 PM


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