An architecture major at the University of Virginia, Diana Hage embarked on a semester in Vienna to view some of the most stunning architecture Europe had to offer. What she discovered was what she really wanted was a global career. She returned to the U.S., changed her major, and upon graduation, studied for and passed the Foreign Service Exam. Waiting to be posted, she took a job with IBM, which led to a 20+ year career there. Now CEO of RFID Global Solution, Diana is leading a fast-growing and dynamic enterprise software company that has designed and led some of the world’s largest radio frequency identification deployments for global aerospace, airline, and electronics manufacturers. In our interview, Diana shares how studying abroad helped her develop language and intercultural skills that she drew upon throughout her global career.
IES Abroad: As a student at the University of Virginia studying International Relations, how did you get interested in this area of study and why did you decide to study abroad in Vienna?
DH: When I enrolled at the University of Virginia, I was in the architecture program and was very interested in European art, design, and architecture. Because of this interest, I decided to spend time overseas and visit major European capitals – Rome, Paris, and others. Vienna was definitely on the list. Part of my family history is German. My grandparents were of German heritage and spoke German, and my dad’s native language was German. So, I had a family affinity for Germanic regions in Europe, and I was interested in architecture. The German-speaking programs that were available at the time were in Freiburg and Vienna. I opted for Vienna because of its deep history, music traditions, and architectural prominence.
IES Abroad: What were some of the most influential memories from your time in Vienna?
DH: Growing up, my parents traveled frequently. My father worked for IBM and often travelled to Europe. On occasion, I would go on trips with them, but this was my first time being abroad alone and for that length of a period. I truly took advantage of being in Europe. I studied and took an interest in my courses, but I also took advantage of the culture and events that were continuously being promoted by the Center, which most certainly included the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera). I went and saw Leonard Bernstein for 10 cents! I also remember the beautiful Christmas markets. Throughout the semester, I lived in a dorm with other international students from all over the world – Japan, Turkey, and other parts of Europe – but I wasn’t meeting as many Austrians as I had wanted. I opted to stay over Christmas break because the Center staff had arranged for us to stay with local families in a mountain village, Kitzbühel, for the holidays. The family I stayed with made smoked trout for our Christmas meal, and I remember the incredible torch-light marches and all the townspeople parading through the snow-covered village streets. It was magical and gave me a profound interest in the Austrian alpine culture.
IES Abroad: What type of personal and professional impact did the experience have on you?
DH: Studying abroad made me even more aware of the very rich cultural heritage that precedes American society. It made me profoundly aware of the art and design that dates back thousands of years, and I had a heighted interest in history as a result. Additionally, I decided I wanted to go into a global career. When I returned, I changed my major to International Relations. While I was at IES Abroad, I studied international law, and took several foreign languages – German and Russian. I still liked architecture and design, but I decided I wanted to go into international business as it would give me the opportunity to travel and meet people from other cultures and interact with them.
IES Abroad: How did you find your way from being an International Relations major to the technology sector?
DH: I was interested in joining the State Department, so I took the Foreign Service exam in December before I graduated and I passed. I was waiting for an appointment to be posted to an embassy from the list of candidates. In the meantime, my father, who worked for IBM, suggested that I interview with IBM and get experience working for a company that has large global reach. I was hired and worked for IBM for four years before going back to business school. Then, I returned for a 15-year career, working in a variety of areas including corporate strategy for emerging businesses. I worked on market strategies for several new business units, including one focused on RFID, which stands for radio frequency identification. It was the potential of the sector that was so exciting. It was viewed as the “next big thing” after the internet. The internet was viewed as technology for people; RFID as technology for assets and machinery to interact through a global interactive web. I was leading IBM’s global business unit for wireless sales and services for several years.
IES Abroad: What led you to your current position at RFID Global Solution?
DH: I was recruited out of IBM by a business partner, and I joined ODIN Technologies. The company had a very compelling vision for how this industry and technology could evolve. Shortly after I joined, we won a contract with Airbus. I was the only member of the management team who spoke German, and most of Airbus’ manufacturing took place in Germany. So, I was traveling back and forth to Europe, launching and establishing the relationship with our European customer. I supervised 4-5 engineers from the Budapest Technical Institute, and we conducted all our business in German. All of my prior background came into use in this small start-up company. I had built very successful relationships that I have maintained for years since then. I was then recruited as CEO to lead RFID Global Solution. The firm was looking for someone with both large company and small start-up experience, who also understood the airline industry. I happened to have those three skill sets. It was a very seamless fit.
IES Abroad: What are some of the most exciting and innovative projects RFID Global Solution is working on today?
DH: Our company offers an asset management solution to companies using wireless technologies. We primarily track assets in the technology industry (automated inventory management for data centers), healthcare industry (tracking hospitals’ mobile equipment), and the aerospace and oil & gas industries (tracking parts in the assembly line and work orders). Most of our clients are large Fortune 1000 companies who have a global, complex supply chain and are looking for ways to keep track of their global assets for compliance, productivity, and inventory management purposes. We are working on really innovative, global supply chain projects for the electronics and airline industries. We have grown very quickly, and have been on the Inc. 5000 list the last three years.
IES Abroad: What skills have been most important to successfully navigating your global career?
DH: Being in Vienna was the first time I was by myself for 4-5 months, and I had to learn how to navigate my surroundings and interactions with people from all over world. Everyone in my dorm was from a different country; it was incredibly interesting. In my career, I have been able to fit in easily in a variety of international settings. I appreciate and respect the value of different cultures, and I have a desire to learn enough about the culture so I can operate effectively socially and in business. Being reasonably fluent in a European language has certainly helped my career, as well as knowing how to incorporate culture into different business settings. For example, I led a number of large global teams while I was at IBM. Being conscious of how to interact and build personal rapport and being open to cultural differences has been essential in building relationships.
IES Abroad: You sit on the Board of RFID Professional Institute, an international education and certification group providing certifications for the RFID Industry. Tell us about your role as co-founder and why it was important to establish this non-profit organization.
DH: In the wireless industry, there are a number of certifications, for example, Cisco offers certifications in networking technology. Nothing comparable existed in the RFID industry, and there was a need to formalize the professionalization and certification process. We are setting the global standard and raising the visibility of the industry. We have brought together training organizations, marketing and PR firms, hardware companies, etc. I joined the board to network with individuals throughout the industry and help establish standards. It is a global board, and we have contributors from every geography. The first exams were launched in 2014 and are now offered several times a year in U.S. and Europe. They are also available in Latin America and South America.
IES Abroad: What advice do you have for STEM students, or any student interested in technology, who is on the fence about studying abroad during undergrad?
DH: STEM students should find opportunities over winter break or summer session for travel overseas. It is incredibly important. They should work on collaborative research teams with participants from all over the world. U.S. colleges are intentionally bringing students to the U.S. for these types of programs. It is important to create opportunities for shorter overseas stints so that all people have the opportunity to see the world from other perspectives.