Global opportunities

Briggs & Stratton, ManpowerGroup CEOs share export advice


Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:08 pm

Wauwatosa-based Briggs & Stratton Corp. and Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup are two of Wisconsin’s largest companies and do business all over the world.

Briggs & Stratton chairman, president and chief executive officer Todd Teske and ManpowerGroup chairman and CEO Jonas Prising will share their international business expertise at the Wisconsin International Trade Conference on Tuesday, May 10, at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. Teske will be the keynote speaker during the breakfast program at the conference and Prising will be the keynote speaker for the lunch program.


Todd J. Teske
Title: Chairman, president & CEO
Company: Briggs & Stratton Corp.
Location: Wauwatosa
Industry: Engine manufacturing


Jonas Prising
Title: Chairman, CEO
Company: ManpowerGroup
Location: Milwaukee
Industry: Staffing

In advance of the event, Teske and Prising were interviewed by BizTimes Milwaukee editor Andrew Weiland. The following are excerpts from those interviews:

BizTimes: Your companies are doing business all around the world. To get us started here, what foreign markets is your company currently selling goods or services to?

Teske: “We market, sell and service products in over 100 countries on six continents.”

Prising: “We operate in 80 countries and territories and have over 3,000 offices.”

BizTimes: What do you see happening with the economy in those foreign markets that you do business in? How do the economies of these markets compare with the United States right now? 

Teske: “Generally, we see the United States market as being stronger than many of the international markets that we serve. Our primary international markets are Europe, Brazil and Australia. The Brazilian economy is struggling and is currently experiencing a recession. Europe seems to have stabilized; however, there seems to be caution based on recent moves made by the European Central Bank. Australia has been struggling in recent years due to the decline in mining, but seems to be stabilizing.”

Prising: “Post-recession economies globally have strengthened, and businesses are adding to their payroll to respond to growing demand for products and services. Our most recent Manpower Employment Outlook Survey gives cause for optimism: 39 of 42 countries and territories anticipate increasing their staffing levels in the second quarter of 2016. We are seeing some signs of slowdown, too, though. We believe parts of the global economy – including some countries in Asia and Latin America – will continue to experience softening as the result of demographic and economic influences. In the U.S., we are seeing positive signs, with high employment, rising wages (albeit slowly) and an uptick in productivity. The U.S. labor market is strong compared to the global situation, with the economy still generating a sufficient number of jobs to keep the unemployment rate down. However, one thing is certain: we now live in a world of ‘certain uncertainty,’ where increased volatility may be here to stay. It will become increasingly difficult to anticipate where growth may come from. As a result, organizations and individuals need to be more agile in order to better adapt to this rapidly evolving environment, and a key differentiator to success is attracting and developing talent with the right skills.”

shutterstock_194554931BizTimes: According to federal data, Wisconsin exports declined from about $23 billion in 2014 to about $22 billion in 2015. Why do you think that happened? Do you think the state’s exports will rise this year?

Teske: “The strengthening of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies has had an impact on Wisconsin exports during 2015. It is more expensive for foreign customers to import products from Wisconsin. Although some currencies seem to have stabilized in 2016, I believe the strength of the dollar will continue to weigh on Wisconsin exports for the remainder of the year.”

BizTimes: Is the strong U.S. dollar making it more difficult to export your goods or services? If so, how is your company working to overcome that challenge?

Teske: “The strong dollar is making it more difficult to export goods abroad. Innovation continues to be key for driving demand for our products around the world. Delivering a strong value proposition helps offset the increased cost of products caused by a strengthening of the dollar.”

Prising: “Simply put, no. We are not a commodity producer, we are a provider of talent and in that respect a strong U.S. dollar does not contribute to our business aggregates. All our revenues are matched with our costs in local currency in the countries where we operate. Our reported results fluctuate with currencies, but this is a currency translation effect.”

BizTimes: What advice would you give to companies that want to increase their export activity?

Teske: “Local markets can differ in many ways from our domestic market such that a product designed and developed to meet domestic needs may not be appropriate for international markets. It is important for companies to understand local market needs and then determine whether they can create value by developing new products or modifying existing offerings to meet those local needs. Also, depending on the type of product, it is important to have local support to serve customers.”

Prising: “Choose markets where your product and services can be competitive and fit market needs well. From a talent perspective, you’ll need to understand the skills you will need to achieve your business goals, and how you will find, attract and retain those workers in any given country requires careful thought and planning. Talent is as critical as capital as a key economic differentiator. If you are looking to expand abroad, hiring individuals with a global mind-set combined with local expertise will be critical. You will also need to ensure your employees are able to adapt to changing business needs. Building learnability into training and development will ensure your workforce is agile and can respond to continued technological advances and disruption. Learnability is the ability and desire to learn quickly to increase one’s ability to contribute to the current world of work. Globally, talent shortages continue to escalate, so developing a robust and sustainable workforce strategy for overseas operations will be critical to success.”


BizTimes: Looking ahead, are there any new foreign markets your company hopes to enter in the next few years?

Teske: “We see opportunities for further expansion in South America, Latin America and Eastern Europe. We are also looking for ways to participate in the economic growth of India and China.”

Prising: “We are always looking to grow our business in strategic markets, and to expand to geographies which meet the needs of our clients. We are already the most globally present company in our industry but are always exploring new markets for opportunities to deliver our services.”

BizTimes: What parts of the world are going to be the best export opportunities for Wisconsin companies in the next few years?

Teske: “Developing countries continue to be a source of export growth for Wisconsin companies as industrial machinery is the largest export category for the state. Developed countries that are focused on replacing and enhancing infrastructure can also be a source of export growth. Continued advances in global health care will be a source of growth for medical and scientific instruments, which were the second largest export category for the state in 2015.”

Prising: “There is no general rule of thumb in terms of markets that are of interest for a specific company; it depends on the relative strengths of their products and services for any particular market. Generally speaking, although many emerging markets are more volatile, their economic growth is expected to outpace many more developed markets. Asia has particular strength in terms of their population growth, with more people coming into the idle class and generating faster growing consumer markets.”

BizTimes: Which industry sectors in Wisconsin are going to have the best export opportunities in the next few years?

Teske: “I believe the top three export categories (industrial machinery, medical & scientific instruments and electrical machinery) have solid opportunities for export growth over the next several years. Wisconsin companies are very innovative, which helps us remain competitive. However, it is important that government policy at the state and federal levels be favorable toward exports. This includes fair trade and tax policy that allows for our companies to compete in a highly competitive global economy.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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