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The international manager

Since the 1980s there has been a trend for large companies to think globally: producing goods or delivering services and selling them, all over the world. And when companies operate at international level they need international managers. What is an international manager and is such a person easy to find?

Soft skills

According to a recent survey, the top characteristics of an international manager include many soft skills, such as the ability to work in international teams, adaptability to new situations, sensitivity to different cultures (and awareness of own cultural background), and relational skills. The manager should be self-reliant and have an open, non-judgemental personality.

Another important characteristic is strategic awareness: the manager should have a global view of his or her contribution at work. In other words, the manager should think "world" and not see work responsibilities and needs soley from the perspective of his or her own national background. An international manager must become quickly involved in matters affecting several countries. For example, he or she must be sensitive to, and aware of, the market requirements of a wide range of countries right from the start.

The current position

A recent survey of EU companies reported that the proportion of managers with international experience ranges from about 1% in some UK companies to 80% in one Swiss company. In many firms, only 5-10% of managers are likely to have international experience.

Companies are beginning to recognise that they do not have enough high-quality people for their international activities. They often have problems releasing experienced people from existing operations in order to resource and lead new international ventures. Indeed, there are signs that a shortage of internationally-skilled people may be an important constraint on firms' global ambitions.


How can a company develop international managers with international skills and perspectives? The only way is through direct international experience either by participating in international task forces or, more importantly, by working and living abroad. Such experiences open people's minds to the fact that things are done differently elsewhere and encourage them to think in a wider context.

Developing the international company's management resource is a demanding exercise. Should there be an elite group of managers given international experience as part of their grooming for top jobs? Or should the international experience be offered to a wider group of managers who are already the backbone of a company? Should the company favour local managers over expatriates? Can the cost be justified? If a company answers "yes" to the last question, considerable resources and effort must be spent in preparing managers for international assignments. Lanaguage training, overseas visits, in-house management courses and general management training at business schools are all important parts of this process.

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. not needing help or support from other people
b. understanding of how and why to make detailed and long-term plans
c. to provide the essentials (money or people or equipment, etc.)
d. challenging
e. specially privileged
f. most important support
g. supported by very good reasons



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