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Spotlight on Working Abroad

Natalie DebouvryNatalie Taylor Debouvry started early planning for her career abroad. Now a group manager for EPCglobal Inc., this University of Tennessee alumna travels the world in support of a new international product identification system—the next step beyond barcodes.

"EPCglobal is leading the development of industry-driven standards for the Electronic Product Code," says Debouvry ('98 engineering), who manages the company's global standards group. From her home base in Brussels, she travels frequently as she works on planning, implementation, and European and Asian adoption of the technology.

EPCglobal is a not-for-profit standards organization that partners with industry to set standards, train users, and implement technology to identify any item in the supply chain of any company, anywhere in the world. Members of EPCglobal include some of the largest international manufacturers and retailers, Debouvry says.

The Electronic Product Code identifies individual items. Each product—a wristwatch, for example—has a unique product code and serial number stored on a radio frequency identification tag. Using a special reader, the item can be tracked through the entire supply chain and information about it shared in real time throughout the world. Radio Frequency Identification is used to track products. The EPC technology is particularly useful to combat counterfeiting, assure the quality of food and pharmaceuticals, improve customer service in the retail sector, and speed product repairs.

Thinking Internationally from a Young Age

Debouvry had an international career in mind as early as high school. "I studied French and did the Rotary Club international exchange program the summer I was 16.

"UT gave me the skills to become a successful engineer and a well-rounded student." She was a residence hall assistant for two years and says that experience helped her learn how to work with different personalities and challenging situations. She also was a member of Delta Gamma social sorority.

UT is a tradition in Debouvry's family. Her parents, Ernest and Jan Taylor, are 1968 graduates. Ernest Taylor is president of the executive search firm Beech Hill Group in Newnan, Ga. Her brother, Allen, graduated from UT in 2004, and her grandmother, Mildred Alexander Price, was UT's first majorette in 1937.

Debouvry says her day-to-day schedule is constantly changing. "In a month, I will probably attend three to four physical meetings or conferences anywhere in the world — Asia, North America, Europe.  A typical day in the office would include preparing for these meetings, conference calls with work groups to build the standards, listening to the community to learn where new standards are needed, and helping with implementation and adoption."

Debouvry says international careers don't happen without some effort. You typically have to work in the United States for a few years before getting a good position abroad, she says.

"I began my career at Buckeye Technologies in Memphis as a quality engineer. After three years with Buckeye, I was recruited by DHL Express as equipment engineer for Europe, Asia, and the Middle East." When DHL merged with two other companies, she was promoted and subsequently recruited by EPCglobal.

"International positions are limited, and your company must prove to the host country that your skills cannot be found in that country," she says. But the experience is "extremely rewarding."

Debouvry—whose husband, Gino, is a native Belgian—says Americans working abroad can choose to live as expatriates or to live in the host country environment. "I recommend living among the locals. A key to making your experience personally profitable is to not judge the host country versus the United States, but to view it as different."

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