Student Visits Japan and China

Lucas Motta studies international business, marketing

May 23, 2011

Lucas MottaLucas Motta's trips to Japan and China this year have given him unmatched insights into international business and economic development. At the same time, his classes and co-curricular activities have honed his skill and interest in marketing and communication.

The contrast between Japan and China could not have been more vivid, according to Motta. The senior from Grinnell, Iowa, who is majoring in Integrated International Studies, visited modern Japanese corporate headquarters and primitive rural Chinese villages.

His trip to Japan focused on his research into how Japanese corporations, traditionally reserved toward outsiders, have succeeded in the wide-open world of international marketing.

"I made my initial inquiries at about 40 Japanese companies that have 'gone global'," Motta said. "Just six responded."

While American businesses put a lot of information about themselves on their web sites, Motta said he found Japanese corporations had much less information on their sites -- such as whom to contact if you wanted to arrange a visit.

"Japanese companies have a high wall of privacy," Motta said. What works with a lot of American corporations -- calling up or e-mailing a public relations department to set up an appointment -- did not work with Japanese corporations.

Motta says he turned to Mat Matsuda, associate professor of Japanese at Knox and a native of Japan. "Professor Matsuda helped me a lot, translating, making contacts and setting up appointments, giving me cultural tips -- there's a lot more non-verbal communication."

Professor Matsuda accompanied Motta to Japan. "Mat was a great mediator," Motta said. "You had to have the right number of gifts for your host -- four is an unlucky number. And you don't wear anything that draws attention to yourself."

In his research, Motta said he discovered that Japanese companies compete by cooperating. "They are competitive, but there was a lot more cooperation among competitors than I expected."

Motta said his study of marketing -- both in class and outside of class -- with John Spittell, professor of business and management and executive-in-residence, helped prepare him to explore international business.

Lucas Motta with Japanese educators at Knox
Lucas Motta, left, guides a tour of the Knox campus in May 2010 by a delegation of visiting educators from Japan.

"My class with Professor Spittell was one of the most 'real' classes I've taken," Motta said. "We looked at a case study almost daily. I learned to think from the consumer's point of view." Before leaving for Japan, "I met with Professor Spittell weekly, to fine-tune the questions that I was going to ask the Japanese executives."

A few months after his trip to Japan, Motta was off to rural China. While the contrast between the countries was stark, the juxtaposition was coincidental: "My brother lives in China, and I had always wanted to go there," Motta said.

"The majority of my time in China was spent in the countryside," he said. "I visited one village that got electricity just five years ago." Motta wrote in his blog about the trip that he was "the first visitor to the village that did not come with a tourist group."

"It was a culture that lives totally the opposite of the way that we do. They don't have our technology, but they're striving and surviving."

"Surviving and striving" -- words that also apply to Motta 's experiences playing football at Knox. "At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to do it -- coming right out of high school, you see the guys who are seniors, and you feel out of your league."

But by the time his senior year rolled around, he was one of those guys -- a four-year starter, third on the team in tackles, and earning the respect of teammates who elected him a co-captain. "Football also taught me a lot of time management skills," Motta said.

Motta has carried his management skills through to the area of sports promotion -- working with Spittell and Knox Public Relations Director Karrie Heartlein to develop a series of activities to draw more fans to Knox Prairie Fire baseball games.

"My goal was to generate interest in the community, to give people reasons to come to the games," Motta said. Working with community organizations and youth league teams, he said, "I had to figure out what's important to people, how they can benefit from showing up at a game."

Motta is aiming for a career in sports marketing -- a field he started looking at in earnest at the start of his senior year. "I've always liked communication, people to people, and there's nowhere like the U.S. for sports marketing."

Motta also had to figure out how to make his baseball promotion plan work in his absence -- as his trip to China overlapped with the start of the baseball season. Job interviews for positions in sports marketing also took him away from campus during the season. JUNE 2 UPDATE: Lucas Motta received an internship in marketing with the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL.

"I had to teach someone else the plans in three weeks," Motta said. "I relied on Hannah Basil and the Business Club -- she said that attendance was up." After a first effort, Motta knows that he's laid the groundwork for future fan promotions. As a life-long Chicago Cubs fan, Motta also knows that fan support goes beyond a year-to-year won-loss record. "It's the atmosphere and experience at the game that makes a personal connection with the team."

Lucas Motta in Japan
Above, Lucas Motta with some of his Japanese hosts; at right visiting Pure Blue Jeans, a Japanese denim clothing company; at left, with the manager of the Kyoto Miyako Hotel, where Motta stayed. "We planned to present five 'Knox College' pens," explains Knox faculty member Mat Matsuda. "But we lost one of the pens, and four is an unlucky number inJapan, so Lucas removed one, which left three in gift package that he is holding." Below left, Motta brings down a Grinnell ball carrier in the 2010 season, below right, he forces a fumble in a 2008 game against Eureka.
Lucas Motta