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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Qualities of a successful international manager

One of the best known facts in business is that the foundations of a successful company lie with its staff. Without them, the best product in the world, supported by the most comprehensive company strategy, is still likely to struggle.

The success or failure in business rests largely in the hands of the staff. As such, the person appointed to head up operations will carry rather a lot of weight on their shoulders and it is important that they are up for the challenge!

While the prospect of an overseas posting may appeal to many staff, the wrong person in the wrong position could prove disastrous to company’s strategy.

Not only is the international manager responsible for business growth, they also act as the figurehead for the organization – ambassador to the concern country. In this role, the ability to speak local language fluently is a significant advantage and an even greater strength is the ability to read and write also. To be successful, ‘ambassador’ should be mature in both age and attitude, well presented and able to adopt a very diplomatic approach to business relationships. Entertaining is a still a significant part of business dealings and a good international manager will be able to combine diplomacy with an enthusiasm for socializing.

Not a job for the faint hearted, they should be both a company expert, and industry leader. They will need to rely heavily on their industry knowledge to navigate the local maze. The challenges that exist in international business should not be underestimated and the manager appointed to head up operations should well find himself functioning in quite a different way from the one ‘back home’. It is important that differences are understood by everyone in the company, as even apparently simple issues can lead to undue pressure if an agreed solution is not outlined early on.

They must have a willingness to learn, as there will always be something new and surprising on the horizon in foreign countries. Not only do they need to understand a new economic and political environment, additional challenges will come from understanding the language, culture and social environment. The importance of an open mind cannot be overstated.

Staff who have had the experience of heading up another international operation are generally better placed to lead a company than someone without international experience. With fast changing economic and political environment, International business development is extremely challenging for executives posted overseas.

It is also important to consider the strategic stage of the company when selecting key staff. The skills required when establishing a new operation are quite different from those needed to consolidate an established business, which are different again when the company is expanding into new environments in a familiar market. Similarly, different organizational structures place different demands on managers. The person required to head up a joint venture will draw on a different set of skills than the person operating a wholly-owned-foreign-enterprise.

Above all else, companies should consider the appointments as carefully as they would consider every other aspect of company strategy, ensuring each unique part of company’s operation works in harmony with the others.

An article Prasong Uthaisangchai
Senior Executive Vice President and Director of International Banking Group, Bangkok Bank

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