Members of the direct selling community cast different opinions when asked if it is better to employ a local person or an expat to lead a business unit abroad. You might want to look at examples to those opinions in an article that appeared on The World of Direct Selling last April: In 100 Words: An Expat or a Local Country Manager?
This time we turn to some of the expat direct sales executives to hear what their personal experiences have thought them. The respondents have been in several countries in their careers, accumulating wealth of experiences.
Angela Cretu, Group Vice President Central Europe, General Manager Turkey at Avon
Current Location: Turkey
“The consumer demand is evolving, while we are all part of a global ecosystem, the needs for personalization, emotional connection with the brand and cultural relevancy are stronger than ever. Therefore, a management with deep insights and understanding of local customer profile is key to enable sustainable success. In this context, the expatriates’ role is to identify, develop and on-board native leaders!
I have worked as an expatriate in the US, Serbia, Russia and more recently in Turkey, Middle East and Africa. In all my expatriate roles I left behind native successors and I feel particularly proud about that. Nobody knows better the local market, culture and people than a native leader. International experience is necessary when market needs unprecedented transformation or when the local talent pipeline is not ready yet to lead through certain market conditions. However, a prolonged expatriate assignment could become a handicap for the business as it slows down people ascension and even business growth long term. Optimal time for an expatriate in any given country is 3-5 years maximum in my view, less or more than that could do more harm than good.
In Avon we strive at all times to become HER most compelling choice, and this can be achieved only with locally relevant leadership. I am finishing my assignment at the end of this year here and I am extremely excited with the potential the team has and with the fact that my successor is a young and talented Turk, developed from inside the organization.”
Sergei Kanashin, Senior Vice President and Head of South Asia at Oriflame
Current Location: India
“Direct sales is based on emotions! Keep people motivated is one of the most important tasks for a country GM! And of course, a person who understand the particularities of the local market is the best fit. Such a person can sense the market and ensure the best and the most relevant communication of a company messages! I believe most of the companies realized it.
Nevertheless quite a few situations when a company decides to send expat to run a country! There are few possible reasons for this. The major ones: if the company culture is important – it is not easy to “virus” it to the market, if local manager has not been infected himself! Therefore a person who already has such an experience would be a natural example, “walk your talk”, for the local team! The other reason – if the company wants to challenge the status quo and make some changes – for this purpose bring an external manager often the only solution! As even great local staff members might be a bit blinkered to issues. And the third possible reason – sharing best practice between markets. A rotation between markets can be interesting opportunity to exchange ideas to enhance business development!
And all these three reasons are the base to pass knowledge and development of local successor!”
Peter Strydom, President of Amway Japan
Current Location: Japan
“I have had the privilege of working with Amway for almost 20 years. Since starting in South Africa, I have spent most of this time in various international or expat roles, being based in Spain, Germany, and my current role in Japan.
My career trajectory perhaps relies on the fact that direct selling today must compete in a global environment and thus needs executives with a mindset to match. If I’m honest with myself though, it would be because I get bored easily and need change. All of the successful expats I’ve met over the years are definitely not maintenance people. So if you are looking to effect change in an organization or move it forward rapidly, then choose the person that is willing to uproot their life and family and go on an international adventure. To anyone considering this path, know that it is hard. It is stressful. Know too that you will likely be burning your bridges because it is very rare that anyone can guarantee your old job back after your assignment. But for us personally, the rewards have outweighed these risks many times over.
Apart from the obvious management experience and career advantage, spending a chunk of one’s life immersed in another culture is an irreplaceable character-building experience. You grow.
People ask me what is the biggest lesson I have learned through all this? I can sum it up in one word: Humility.”