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Trade Routes: The Hidden Cost of Expatriate Executives

By: Michael Wynne
Posted: October 26, 2006, from the October 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 4 of 4

According to Alvaro Cadavid, managing director of Spencer Stuart Executive Search in Bogotá, Colombia, U.S.-educated managers are now increasingly available in most countries. Cadavid does point out that U.S.-educated is not the same as U.S.-trained. Many foreign executives have gone to college in the U.S., but never worked in the American corporate environment.

U.S. expatriates are not the only ones exposed to the challenges of decision-making during their learning curve period. Foreign executives coming to work in the U.S., and sometimes referred to as “inpats,” face many of the same problems. They, too, often lack a working knowledge of the American business culture. Again, training can make a significant impact by helping them navigate in the new business culture.

Learning curve performance of local managers improves substantially by intensive training at both headquarters and field operations levels. In addition, during and after the foreign managers’ stay, senior executives who have experience managing foreign operations should mentor them.

There may be no alternative to sending expatriates to manage operations abroad on a temporary basis. It is important to shorten their learning curve, and to replace them with local management as early as possible. The key to accomplishing both of these objectives is to train them and their local successors for the specific cultural and business challenges of their assignments; it will make all the difference in the world.