Senior Executive-Life Issues

Is there a future for senior expatriate executives in the region?

11 February 2002

My topic “Is there a future for senior expatriate executives in the region?” is a question that someone in my profession is asked everyday.

The September 11 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center , which further accentuated the effects of an already oncoming recession, have made the question even more poignant. All of us who have chosen to live in this part of the world, particularly in Thailand , already recognize that as senior managers, we are up against huge challenges.

In this globalization era, we must assume that most multinational companies that employ us all have long-term goals of localizing senior management. Indeed, in Thailand , we may have been at the forefront of this inevitable march toward placing local nationals in leadership roles.

Just prior to the eruption of the economic crisis in 1997, some MNC for cost reasons began relocating many expatriates, back to their home countries. Many of you in this room undoubtedly remember the rash of going-away parties here in Bangkok , at the end of 1996.

Of course, in isolated cases some MNC?€?s have sent in expatriates for short-term special assignments. However, now more than ever, the drive for localization, is even, more acute.

As senior expatriate business executives in this country, we are all up against serious competition. However, having said all that, I am still convinced that skilled senior expatriate executives, both in Thailand and throughout the region still have many opportunities.

Many local companies in the region that were mortally wounded by the economic crisis have been recapitalized by large foreign strategic investors. Most of these newly reconstituted companies have roles for experienced expatriates. Particularly, they need experienced expatriate managers to help their newly combined-entities transform their businesses into multinational-standard operating platforms.

During the past several years, my company has placed many senior expatriate executives into such companies in Thailand. In one special situation, the newly re-constituted entity required a seasoned, experienced, senior executive, who had the experience and skills to satisfy the rigid demands of international capital markets. This expatriate senior executive received a first-year seven-figure, pay packet – in US dollars!

Many other companies have specifically asked for experienced senior expatriate executives in special turnaround-situations. These companies have pragmatically realized that many local professionals find it very difficult to execute an organization’s, streamlining and downsizing policies.

Many local professionals, often fear that if they let anyone in the organization go, they will be adversely affected because of the Thai culture’s extensive social networks. In most of these situations, our clients demand experienced senior expatriate executives to help the new combined entities build their new operating platforms and infrastructures.

What does this all mean for those of us who are expatriates in Thailand ? Are there other corporate opportunities available to us? What should we do if our companies insist that we localize our operations and prepare to be repatriated home?

Many of you have been here for more than a decade, and may have chosen to make this wonderful country your permanent home? Many of you have Thai families, and this is where you want to spend the rest of your life. I have made this choice.

Everyone who lives in Thailand faces business threats and uncertainty particularly in the current environment. I contend that as expatriates we must use the current crisis to look seriously at new opportunities that were not available in the past. As expatriate business executives, many of you may previously not have considered some of these opportunities.

One option, which you should certainly consider, is joining a large local Thai company. There are more than a thousand local Thai companies with annual revenues ranging from a million US dollars to more than a billion US dollars.

The owners of many large Thai companies are all looking at how best to address competitive and business issues, in Thailand and the region. Many of these companies are now led by Western-educated second and third generation family member shareholders.

Some of these well-run companies were not adversely affected by the financial crisis, and are in a very good position to dominate in global markets. The leaders of many of these companies have told me, they need expatriate expertise to help drive their companies to that next competitive level. They recognize that their companies need the value-added expertise you have, to make them more competitive.

In the past, many expatriates may have argued that they do not want to work for Thai family companies because decisions are always made by the top man. Others have said that Thai companies are infested with too much internal politics. Allow me to pose this question. How many of you work for global multinational corporations, where no politics are involved in decision-making?

I contend that the dynamics within multinational and local Thai conglomerates are very similar. Skilled, senior expatriate executives, who have thrived in multinational organizations, can survive and thrive in local Thai companies. Those of you, who are very familiar with multinational corporate environments, can easily apply those skills in a Thai setting.

Yes, senior expatriate executives are under threat in Thailand and the region. However, I suggest that all of you seriously consider the many opportunities now being offered by local Thai companies.

Many of you may wonder how you may best position yourselves in this “Brave New World” environment. I contend that the best methodologies for finding new business or finding a job are the same. Each individual, should initially carefully identify his or own core competencies. Clearly identify what you are good at when you perform your current multinational job. Certain Thai companies will need that expertise.

Do not expect a headhunter to identify your core competencies for you. You must identify your own core competencies because no one really understands you better than you do. Headhunters, such as me will however, be able to identify the available opportunities.

Remember, that our clients retain us to hunt for people within certain specifications. Our job, initially, is to advise them whether their specifications are doable. Moreover, if we agree that, their specs are doable; our job is then to find people, with those competencies.

Nevertheless, we are always available to talk with, any candidates. We can help you find the best place to position yourself. I am always open to talk to potential candidates. Particularly, we can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. We also want to find out from you what is going on. I hope that after brainstorming we can collectively arrive at a solution, which can give you a better chance for success. All companies are looking for good people who can create value for them.

Secondly, each one of you should identify a list of companies you may want to work with, and, which you believe, will need your expertise.

Finally, research each company thoroughly. Identify the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, determine where your core competencies can add-value to the company. For example, a consumer-marketing expert in the beverage industry was recently hired by a major Thai bank to drive its new retail strategy. I urge all of you to view this as a great opportunity.

You have the requisite skills and expertise to add value by helping them reorganize. There are many such opportunities in the current market. You can create an opportunity by identifying such situations.

I would also urge all of you not to disregard moving to another MNC, within Thailand or the region. Two MNCs in the same industry often may have dissimilar objectives. They may have different strengths and weaknesses. Your expertise may no longer be needed in company A, but company B, trying to be company A, may need, someone like you. It is up to you, to find the company.

Everyone must take charge of his or her career. I also cannot stress enough, the importance of getting connected somehow so you can sell your services. Every one of you must continuously and market your services both inside and outside your companies.

Consider yourself as a business entity, and pro-actively market your services. Even the best headhunters or companies cannot find you if you are not somehow marketing yourself.

Thank you very much for your attention. I will be very happy to answer any questions.

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