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Choosing Managers for Your Overseas Operations

The right local manager for your overseas office can boost international business.

Before Mary Bonham opened a branch of her Sulphur Springs, Texas, plastics manufacturing company near London, she faced a slew of decisions. One of the toughest was who should run the new United Kingdom operation.

"You definitely need to have somebody who knows the [British] culture," says Bonham, owner and CEO of 20-person J-B Weld Co. "Going from America over there is quite different."

At the same time, previous stints selling overseas made Bonham wary of hiring someone from the U.K. "It's hard for them to become oriented to the American side [of the business]," she explains.

The answer to Bonham's dilemma? A bicultural manager--someone who understands the culture of both the home office and the foreign country, someone who is able to change hats depending on who they're dealing with.

Envisioning a bicultural manager is easier than hiring one. "They're hard to find," says Bonham. There are many places to look, from the home office to the country in which you're expanding, as well as executive search firms and other multinational companies.

Wherever you look, it's critical to the success of any overseas entrepreneurial venture that the search be made, and made successfully. "To be really effective," says Adrian Slywotzky, founding partner in Boston international management consulting firm Corporate Decisions Inc., "[global businesses] need people who operate in two languages and two cultures."

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This article was originally published in the October 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: From A Distance.

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