Sunday, June 30, 2013

Becoming a Global Leader from a Regional Leader’s Perspective

When Zoe Chang was promoted to become the Asia-Pacific regional marketing head for her company, a major global consumer products firm, she was very excited.  She had been head of marketing for Taiwan for the past five years, and had achieved outstanding results. 

Shortly after her promotion, Zoe flew to the United States to meet with her new boss and her counterparts from the other regions.  She was determined to get an in-depth understanding of the company’s global marketing strategy and its implications for her region.  While in the United States, she also scheduled one-on-one meetings with some potential key stakeholders, such as the Head of R&D and the head of Human Resources.  She spent time meeting with her new boss, hoping to understand exactly what his expectations were and what his perspective was on whether and how to adapt global strategies to fit local markets.  And she accompanied marketing researchers to retail stores where some of the company’s key products were being sold to find out more about consumers and their preferences in the U.S. market.

After returning to Taiwan, she then decided to visit each of the six countries that she was now responsible for and spend time meeting with the marketing teams to better understand their local customers.  While in each country, she took time to explain the company’s global marketing strategies and asked each team how they thought these strategies could be implemented in their market, and where they thought these strategies could be adapted to better fit local market conditions.  She also described her marketing vision for the region, how excited she was to be working with them, and shared some of her expectations. 

Rather than flying “in and out,” as she observed previous executives had done, Zoe made sure to spend a week in each country.  Working with the local marketing head, she developed an agenda for each country that involved meeting with the country head and his functional heads, meeting one-on-one and in groups with the marketing professionals, and visiting retail stores to learn about marketing and consumer practices in the country.  Her evenings were not exactly free either.  She scheduled dinners with several key executives (both from within the subsidiary as well as outsiders, such as key suppliers and government officials) and had at least one group dinner in each country. 

At the end of each visit, Zoe shared with the local marketing head her observations, asked for feedback, and, with the team, identified follow-up actions for her team and herself.  She asked the country manager for feedback, as well as for any additional support or resources that might be needed for the country’s marketing team.

In one country, there was quite a bit of concern and pushback about the pricing for one of the company’s products that were about to be introduced.  Both the country manager and the marketing head were not convinced that the proposed pricing from corporate would be competitive and would generate the expected revenue for the product.  That week, Zoe and the country manager made calls to the Global Marketing head as well as the head of Asia Pacific to express their concerns, and to present data based on market research on competitors’ price points and consumer preferences.  Based on these discussions, the pricing was modified.    

It is too early to tell whether or not Zoe’s approach will lead to outstanding results, but I believe, based on my experience and practices of successful global companies, that Zoe is on the right path to becoming an outstanding global leader.
Let’s examine more carefully what Zoe is doing.

First, it is clear that Zoe is adopting a global mindset.  She understands that while headquarters may be driving global strategies, her role is not simply to push this strategy down to the countries but to make sure that she can synthesize and integrate, adapting where necessary to local market conditions. 

Second, Zoe is making an effort to understand her company’s overall strategy and priorities.  At the same time, Zoe is aware that she needs to align her region to the company’s goals, so a clear understanding of the company’s priorities is important so that she can explain this perspective to her country teams.

Third, Zoe is also making an effort to understand local stakeholders’ and customers’ needs.   As Bartlett and many others have pointed out (Bartlett and Beamish, 2008), one of the key challenges of a global company is managing the tension between standardization and customization.  By drilling down so that she is familiar with each market, Zoe will be in a better position to recognize and recommend solutions that meet both corporate needs as well as regional and local needs.

Fourth, Zoe is building relationships.  She understands that in many Asian cultures, relationships come before task.  People will need to trust you first before they will do business with you, and so Zoe is spending time building relationships.  She is doing this both through formal and informal means, spending time in meetings as well as socializing after office hours.

Based on my experience and discussions with many successful regional leaders, these four practices – adopting a global mindset, integrating the company’s overall strategy and priorities with regional and local needs, understanding local customers’ needs, and building relationships – are key to the success of a regional leader in a global company.

Bartlett, C. and Beamish, P.  Transnational Management, 6th Edition.  (2008).  New York:  McGraw-Hill.