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?
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
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
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
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