Choosing Managers for Your Overseas Operations

After The Hire

Hiring a bicultural manager is usually only part of the solution. It's what you do after the job is offered and accepted that frequently determines the employee's long-term success.

"I'm convinced that even if you hire the right person, that's only the beginning," says Larry Rosenfeld, co-founder of Concentra Corp., a Burlington, Massachusetts, software company with offices in several European and Asian countries. "It's really [about] bringing that person up to speed on what [your company is] all about."

For managers transferred from the home office, the key may be for the business owner to set up in advance a way for the overseas manager to come home. Ask yourself before you even offer the job: What can I do with this employee in the home office in three or four years? Try to develop a useful, challenging position that will require the specific skills your employee has acquired overseas, advises Foster.

A company that doesn't find a good job for an employee who is returning home may not be able to recruit a U.S. manager to follow him overseas, Foster warns. To solve this problem, some firms ask expatriates to hire their replacements from the local population before returning.

Hiring locally creates another problem, however: how to integrate the new foreign employee into the culture of the U.S.-based firm. The most common response is to bring the new hire stateside for a stint of education and exposure.

"Although it takes a reasonable amount of time, it's very effective," says Slywotzky. "And you have somebody who's tricultural--they know their home country, they know the United States and they know the company culture."

That's the approach Bonham is taking with her latest hire. "The manager I have right now is really good," she says, "but I'm going to bring him to America this year and let him get to know the work habits of Americans vs. the work habits of the English."

If you can't find the perfect bicultural manager, don't despair. Two managers, each providing half the solution, may work as well, if not better.

Rosenfeld prefers to transfer one manager from the home office and hire another locally. The local hire provides the immediate cultural expertise. The transfer not only brings experience with the corporate culture but, as an outsider who isn't expected to understand local mores, can get away with things a local couldn't.

In Japan, for instance, Rosenfeld finds American transplants can sometimes circumvent the time-consuming Japanese relationship-building exercise. "Straight talk isn't appreciated from a Japanese," he notes, "but from an American, they'll often accept it."

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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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