On the ground overseas experience - the new must have?

Ed Marsh | Jun 12, 2011

Related Benefits

It's an easy intellectual exercise.  The advantages of expanding your market internationally are potentially substantial.  There are clear benefits which can accrue across numerous measurable financial and operational areas.  But what about less tangible ones?

More capable managers

I've recently read two articles which argue that managers with substantial overseas experience are more capable.  One piece (Harvard Business Review:  Be a Better Manager: Live Abroad) takes a rather academic approach to the question.  (Admittedly the authors seemed to have a clear idea of their anticipated outcome as there is little exploration of cause or consequence - managers who have lived or traveled extensively abroad are more creative.  Any chance people who are more creative are more likely to travel more or live abroad?) It finds that generally substantial foreign experience is associated with more foreign experience.

Taking a more operational angle, in McKinsey Quarterly Jeffrey Joerres outlines an emerging trend of "reverse expat."  Beyond expats: Better managers for emerging markets - The CEO of Manpower argues that the era of the Western expatriate manager is ending. It’s time for a local approach.

He argues that there are skills to be learned in different operations - skills which capable managers can amalgamate into their own tool set to be employed properly while accommodating local cultural norms.  Key is this "mind-set of empathy, collaboration, and dialogue. Simply imparting functional skills is not enough."



At the end of the day success in international business is about empathy.  You must not necessarily embrace the culture or practice, but you should be genuinely interested and keenly attuned to adapting your style and objectives to it.  And as you become more creative and empathetic through those experiences, guess what?  You become a more effective manager and leader in any circumstance.

So - take your business global.  Develop revenue and leaders simultaneously!