October 30, 2005
Other Reflexions - On US Firms, Business and Valueing International Staff
I had the occasion with my Italian collegue to have an interesting (to people like us at least) reflective conversation about working for American firms and the value place (or not) on overseas experience.
Although it was nothing new, nor particular news indeed as I should say everyone reading my blithering on is likely aware of these things, the issue of the degree of real interest in US firms in their international staffs arose; oddly not in any way connected with my personal axe grinding or bemusement at my organisation schizophrenic approach to regional expertise, but from the Italian's experience on transfering herself to the US after a career with several large international British financial institutions with experience from London HQ right through to high level managerial experience in Asia running operations as the feranji big cheese.
An interesting conversation with a senior officer, I should say, that might be an opportunity to reflect on some wider (than the personal) items.
The primary observation here is despite the chattering in the press and the odd posturing by certain firms (and it is indeed posturing) about the new importance of international business to American firms, in fact in practice little importance is indeed given to it - in fact it may even be a negative. As my Italian colleague said, American firms are afflicted with a particularly serious case of "if it is worth doing, it's done here" kind of myopia that while not absent in Italy, Great Britian and other 'economic centers' is willfully strong in the US.
While my Italian colleague's observation may have been tinged with a bit of irritation with US institutions lack of respect for 25 years of experience in places like London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok, pulling back there does seem to be a generalisable observation with respect to insularity tending to a dangerous (economically speaking)mypoia. The automobile industry is probably the best example of this, as it become extraordinary the degree to which the American automobile industry finds it impossible to break out of its provincialism and gets caught flat-footed time and again by other competitors. Perhaps size and bureaucracy explain this to an extent, but certainly insularity and an extreme version of if it's worth doing, it's done here have an important part.
It would be somewhat boring to merely, however, beat up on the United States for what may be called 'well-known' insularity, however there is a larger competitive lesson with respect to the increasingly globialised economy and an ability to prospect outside opportunities in good time and with intelligence.
Now, on the US side is the vast pool of immigrants pulled in from various sources who have a wider sense of the spectrum of developments in the emerging as well as OECD markets (of course one comes to the US because whatever its insularity, greasing the wheels are the sheer size and internal dynamism of the economy, and relative openness on most measures with respect to trade and investment as well as immigration - although the panicky over-done reaction to 11 September may be slowly strangling some of these advantages for no real purpose at all.)
Reflecting along these lines, an interesting FT article which in part touches on these issues, but is also more angled at the continental European reaction (more dangerous to their economic health) to globalisation and new competitive pressures: False angle on Saxon success
By Charles Pretzlik
Published: October 28 2005 20:04 | Last updated: October 28 2005 20:04.
The author bangs away in a somewhat misplaced way at the racial angle to the "Anglo Saxon" model rhetoric, but hits on an important point with respect to openness and valuing international talent as part of success:
"In particular, the epithet obscures one of the principal reasons for the success of British business and finance: its openness to foreigners.
The City of London today is the world’s most international financial centre – more so than New York. Not only is none of the large investment banks British but surprisingly few of those working in them are. At the really sharp end, in structured products, it seems that almost nobody is British – they tend to be French, Italian or Asian.
If it had been up to the locals, there might still be pigs grazing on Cheapside. It was the Italian bankers, after whom Lombard Street is named, who first shook things up, followed by the Rothschilds, the Barings, the Hambros and, more recently, Sigmund Warburg. Outside the City, Britain has benefited from entrepreneurs such as Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the Saatchi brothers, Sir Gulam Noon and the Tchenguiz brothers – to say nothing of Scots with Celtic roots who built up international businesses.
There is, of course, some exageration there, but regardless it is an important note.
Now, what ultmately is the lesson for the United States? I would offer that one gets the sensation the US is throwing up frightened walls in reaction to the perceived 'foreign' threats, the reaction while falling into what my Italian colleague correctly identified as "the average American's extreme risk aversion" with respect to the unknown or outside, is counter-productive.
The lesson with respect to the MENA region and stated US goals with respect to seeing the region escape its economic doldrums, ex the oil boom, and generate opportunities for a disaffected youth, is simple: Be Local.
Talking to oneself and merely pimping undigested "own models" will fail.
Of course, in closing, my Italian colleague also observed that I gave all the impression of being just like a colleague of hers at her British bank, who "went Asian" and became "more local than British." I suppose something of between a compliment and a warning.
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for the flip side...my experience has been that foreign students will come to the U.S. to get an undergraduate degree, perhaps study for an MBA and then expect firms to have a fight over who will offer them a six figure salary for the honor of having them work there. They believe that being an American gives you an entitlement to riches and that with their added experience they should be rewarded doubly so.
Posted by: Barnabus at November 1, 2005 05:38 PM