Enhancing Leadership Through Diverse Experiences

May 25, 2021

Alex Kapper was born in South Korea, then adopted as an infant and raised on a farm in rural Illinois. Growing up, no one in his family looked like him. As an Asian American with a German surname, he has experienced—often from well-intended people—stereotyping and racism throughout his life. Dealing with those challenges has given him a broader perspective about diversity and inclusion, and he applies those lessons to his leadership approach.

Today, Alex is General Director of International Operations and Corporate Development for Progress Rail. He leads a global team for Caterpillar, and while he says he “could never fully identify with any of the labels that are meant to describe me,” his experiences help make him a more inclusive leader. 

“I believe the causes of racism are human nature and the way people attribute experiences into belief. However, it is also within human nature to build relationships with different people, learn new complex ideas and value all human life. It is in everyone’s ability to overcome the tendencies that lead to racism,” he says. 

Alex Kapper and Family
Alex Kapper

Alex believes in managing people as individuals and focusing on their motivations and what drives them. “On the surface - if you have someone on the team who is Brazilian, for example - whatever you conclude from that, it’s very thin,” he shared. “You get past that surface-level understanding of people, and we are all very different. But, yet, we are similar; we all want to be respected, valued, supported.” 

Even while seeing recent news about violence toward Asian Americans, Alex is still hopeful. “If sharing ‘Stop Asian Hate’ helps people to become more reflective and embolden people to speak out against the racism, then let that be the outcome. It can be a significant step in the right direction. But we can all do more to ensure racism is not tolerated,” he said. 

Alex shares that he is taking responsibility to do better, too. “Through all my experiences, I am still guilty of asking about a person’s origin or heritage if I hear a non-native English accent. Even if my intent is to better understand and connect with people, I surely made some feel unwelcome and discriminated against. I will ask better and more relevant questions. I will use the part of my brain that can understand more complex situations. I will look for disconfirming evidence when I start to generalize ideas about groups of people. I will prepare for the eventual racist questions and be ready with humor and grace to help people understand that race really doesn’t matter. I will admit when I make mistakes or make someone feel unwelcome. I will share more of my stories.”

He says we can all do more to ensure racism is not tolerated, including: 

  • Start seeing people as equal humans
  • Start new relationships
  • Start honest conversations
  • Start sharing your stories