Until recently the road to the top was well marked. Surveys of chief executives consistently reported that more than three quarters had finance, manufacturing or marketing backgrounds. As the post World War II period of growing markets and domestic only competition fades, however, so too does the narrow one company, one industry chief executive. In the new millennium increasing international competition, the globalization of companies technology, demographic shifts, and the speed of overall change will govern the choice of company leaders. It will be difficult for a single discipline individual to reach the top in the future.
The executive recently picked to head Procter & Gamble’s US operations is a good example of the effect globalization is having on businesses and the importance of experience, whether in Japan, Europe or elsewhere. The head of all P&G US business was born in the Netherlands received an MBA from Rotterdam;’s Eramus University then rose through P&G’s marketing ranks in Holland, the United States and Austria. After proving his mettle in Japan, he moved to P&G’s Cincinnati Ohio, head quarters to direct its push into East Asia, and then to his new position. Speculation is that if he succeeds in the United states, as he did in Japan he will be a major contender for the top position at P&G.
Fewer companies today limit their search for senior level executive talent to their home countries. Coco-Cola’s former CEO, who began his ascent to the top in his native Cuba and the former IBM Vice Chairman, a Swiss national who rose through the ranks in Europe, are two prominent examples of individuals who rose to the top of firms outside their home countries.
Some companies such as Colgate–Palmolive believe that it is important to have international assignments early in a person’s career, and international training is an integral part of their entry level development programs. Colgate recruits its future managers from the world’s best colleges and business schools. Acceptance is highly competitive and successful applicants have a BA or MBA with proven leadership skills, fluency in at least one language besides English and some experience living abroad. A typical recruit might be a US citizen who has spent a year studying in another country, or a national of another country who was educated in the United States.
Trainees begin their careers in a two year entry level, total immersion program that consists of stints in various Colgate departments. A typical rotation includes time in the finance, manufacturing and marketing departments and an in depth exposure to the company’s marketing system. During that phase, trainees, are rotated through the firm’s ad agency, marketing research and product management departments and then work seven months as a field salespeople. At least once during the two years trainees accompany their mentors on business trips to a foreign subsidiary. The company’s goal is to develop in their trainees the skills they need to become effective marketing managers, domestically or globally.
On completion of the program, trainees can expect a foreign posting either immediately after graduation or soon after an assignment in the United States. The first position is not in London or Paris, as many might hope, but in developing countries, such as Brazil, the Philippines or may be Zambia. Because international sales are so important to Colgate (60 per cent of its total revenues are generated abroad). A manager might not return to the US after the first foreign assignment but rather move from one overseas post to another developing into a career internationalist which could open to a CEO position.
Companies whose foreign receipts make up a substantial portion of their earnings and who see themselves as global companies rather than as domestic companies doing business in foreign markets are the most active in making the foreign experience an integrated part of a successful corporate career.
Source: International Marketing