While growing up in the back country of Cody, Wyoming, Jerry Christensen never imagined he would one day travel to 65 countries across six continents. Now, Christensen draws from his international experience to teach about current issues happening in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria as an adjunct professor for BYU Continuing Education. Christensen’s class, MSB 596R: Business German, is part of the Global Business and Literacy minor offered through the Whitmore Global Business Center (GBC) at BYU Marriott.
After traveling to so many places, Christensen says his favorite place to visit is Switzerland—the first country he traveled to outside the United States and where he served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His time in Switzerland forever changed his life, sparking his passion for traveling.
“Although German is difficult, the language resonated with me,” Christensen says. “When I came home from my mission and studied at BYU, I learned other languages, including Danish and French. I still dabble in languages and have picked up some Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish. I enjoy learning languages because they help me understand culture—how people from other countries interact with one another and what those people value.”
Studying Danish proved to be useful for Christensen, who began his postgraduate career in Denmark. He graduated from BYU with his bachelor’s degree in humanities in 1984 and received his MBA from the University of Utah in 1987. He started his career in Copenhagen, Denmark, as an IBM international market researcher. He then shifted to the IT industry, working for several language translation companies. He also worked for Novell, a computer networking company, for 10 years, where he built its international programs and served as the vice president of marketing.
After leaving Novell, Christensen became a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” starting four different companies in the psychometric industry with his colleagues. “The psychometric industry is the science of testing or evaluating a person’s knowledge,” Christensen explains. “We revolutionized the industry by using technology to accomplish tests that normally would be taken using paper and pencil.”
After selling his companies, Christensen technically retired, but his career path took yet another turn—he started teaching.
For the past 12 years, Christensen has taught several classes at BYU Marriott, including marketing courses and Business German, during which students read and discuss case studies written in German. Students also look at the economies of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and profile German companies, including BMW, Nestlé, and Bosch.
One German company Christensen finds particularly interesting is the car company Volkswagen. A few years ago, Volkswagen discovered some of its engineers had fabricated data to ensure its cars could pass the diesel emission standards of the United States. The scandal cost the company nearly $18 billion.
“When Volkswagen found out about the scandal, what was this company to do? Deny it? No, they stood up and took the bad press,” Christensen explains. “The company executives said, 'We are so sorry about this.’ They worked to make things right with owners around the world who had purchased their cars. That is the German way.
“One repeating pattern I’ve seen throughout history that I try to teach my students is that Germans know how to climb out of difficult situations,” he continues. “That’s why Germany currently has the fourth largest economy in the world, despite facing several challenges in the past, both political and economic. Germans know how to bounce back, and resilience is one of my favorite things about German culture.”
The GBC, which is one of 17 Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) in the United States, recently gave Christensen a CIBER grant to research the Volkswagen scandal more in-depth. With the help of the grant, he will also write a case study about how the company recovered from the scandal. As part of CIBER, the GBC receives funding that aims to help faculty and students learn more about international business.
Ultimately, the best part of teaching about German businesses for Christensen is interacting with students. “The Business German class can be summed up in one word: evergreen,” he says. “Every semester, without fail, I feel sad about losing my amazing students, but then in the semester that follows, I have new students who are just as amazing.
“Since my class focuses primarily on current issues, the course is repeatable, so sometimes I have the same students two or three times,” Christensen continues. “I enjoy the opportunity to share my love of the German language and different cultures with my students, and I hope our discussions expand their perspectives on international business.”
Writer: Sarah Calvert