Skills That Open Doors

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Willie Monteiro: Speaking Fluent Business

UMD Alumnus Willie Monteiro  
A proficiency in languages helped launch James "Willie" Monteiro's transnational career.  

Becoming proficient in a language is one of those skills that opens doors. Minneapolis native, James "Willie" Monteiro, '84, knows. As a UMD student majoring in business and German, he spent a summer working for Control Data. One day, on his lunch hour, he bumped into Willi Illbruck. Oblivious to the fact that Illbruck was a notable German industrialist and internationally known yachtsman, Monteiro used his "sehr gut Deutsch" and struck up a conversation. This impressed the multinational manufacturing magnate. "He offered me a job on the spot, but I couldn't take it," said Monteiro.

The offer had to wait until Monteiro graduated from UMD and tried his hand at jobs in Minnesota. But in 1988, Monteiro took a position at Illbruck's company in Minneapolis.

Monteiro often traveled to another of Illbruck's manufacturing facilities in Leverkusen, Germany, and even lived there for a time. Monteiro's final adventure as Illbruck's employee took him to South America from 1990 to 1992. He set up a new manufacturing facility in São Paulo, Brazil, making automotive parts for Ford and Volkswagen plants around the world.

In 1992, Monteiro returned to the U.S. He identified a need for a business-to-business manufacturing facility. "We make products for companies that have a specialized need. We make foam components for medical, industrial, and sports equipment," Monteiro said. Along with a partner, he opened Flextech Foam in St. Louis Park, Minn., which today has grown to a productive and profitable company with 40 employees and an international client list.

Monteiro's experience illustrates the change globalization has brought to transnational markets. Monteiro, who is proficient in Portuguese along with German, now echoes what he heard from his UMD German teachers, Frau Harriet Viksna, George O'Brien, and Jonathan Conant: "Language skills are in demand."

Those Who Can, Duluth

Written by Cheryl Reitan, 2013

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UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,

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