In many ways, the story of Aperian Global begins in the Land of the Rising Sun. Ted Dale and Ernest Gundling may have American passports, but Japan brought them together as business partners for life.
It’s a genesis story worth reflecting on as Aperian Global celebrates its 30th year in business this December. Ted was born in Kyoto, the son of missionary parents; he experienced life in Japan as a foreigner until it came time to go to college in the United States. Ernie set out to Japan as a Buddhist monk and a student of the Japanese language, and later spent time there doing field research as part of a Fulbright dissertation research fellowship.
“We both had a shared love of Japan, and fascination with the Japanese culture – rooted in our experiences as students and residents,” Ernie says. “In the late 1980s, Japan’s economy was booming, and American companies had a real lack of knowledge about how businesses operated in that culture. We saw an opportunity to create resources and make them widely available to those who wanted to learn more.”
Going by the name of “Intercultural Training Resources Incorporated,” Ted had begun giving seminars on “How to Work With Japanese” to Silicon Valley workers and executives in the late 1980s. Some tech clients asked him to create video training tools with a similar focus for wider audiences.
Around the same (pre-internet) time, Ted met Ernie, who worked for Clarke Consulting Group, a company that focused on U.S.-Japanese relations. The two quickly hit it off as professional partners and in 1990 decided to join forces to create the video assets.
“We shipped out videotapes – actual tapes – to companies and individuals around the world,” Ted said. “It’s amazing to think about the level of logistics and production involved, looking back at the process from the heart of the digital age today.”
Their first collaboration was a video training series on Japanese culture, released in 1991; Ernie wrote script material and shot video footage while living in Japan, while Ted co-wrote, filmed, and produced the videos in California. Additional video series on “Working With China” and “Working Globally,” focusing on helping Westerners do business in Asia, followed over the next several years, along with related services.
As the internet became more available to mainstream users and businesses, clients began asking Ted and Ernie to create an online tool that would incorporate their growing library of video content and help organizations navigate successfully in various cultural environments.
The result? Aperian Global’s flagship online learning tool, GlobeSmart. True to its roots and mission, the platform emerged with the help of two Indian web developers based in Des Moines, Iowa (truly walking the cross-cultural talk). The original version featured information on 10 countries; three decades later, the number is close to 100 and growing. The founders have always taken care to provide high quality, original content based on extensive interviews with local managers in each country as well as expatriates who have substantial work experience there.
By now, the name of Ted and Ernie’s company had changed to “Meridian Resources,” and the two had started hiring staff. Kris Schorno was the third person hired by Ted and Ernie; 29 years later, she is still at Aperian Global.
“When I started in 1991, we worked with a lot of the same Fortune 100 companies we still work with today,” Kris says. “At that time, our mindset was to produce resources and training programs that were so professional no one would know that we were a company of three people and a lot of friends and family helping out. We’ve come a long way since then in terms of our employees now located in offices around the world, but I’m pleased to say that same professional mindset and dedication to customer service remains.”
In 2006, Meridian merged with Eaton Consulting Group (ECG), creating a global business platform with representatives worldwide. The two firms were complementary; ECG’s presence on the East Coast of the United States and in Europe paired perfectly with the West Coast and Asia-focused work of Meridian Resources. Employees of the combined entity also brought together a growing body of expertise in supporting expatriate assignments, global teams, cross-border mergers, and the development of globally inclusive leaders.
A year later, Meridian Resources became “Aperian Global” (from aperire (Latin) = to open, to provide access to). This became the new brand identity for the vision and mission that Ted, Ernie, and all employees of the combined organization continue to share with their clients. Aperian Global has expanded since then to include new offices in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific, hundreds of colleagues and associates around the world, and new products like the Inclusive Behaviors Inventory (helping individuals to assess themselves on key dimensions of inclusion).
“We started discussing possibilities for working together during a walk on the beach, and drew up our ideas for this partnership in the sand,” Ernie says. “Thirty years later, I’m proud to say that the principles and ideals that infused that first discussion are still at the heart of everything we do at Aperian Global.”
“I believe we’ve been able to make a positive impact on a lot of lives over the years,” Ted says. “We came together initially as business partners with a mission to help facilitate better understanding and teamwork across differences, both locally and globally. These days, people are more connected than ever through communication technology – but the fundamental issues that divide them are still present. Aperian Global is there to help bridge differences across borders of all kinds. It’s good to see how far Aperian has come over these 30 years – and I’m even more excited to see what can be accomplished together with our global colleagues in the future.”