Edison Gao, CEO of Pro-Matrix & Co shares his views on closing the cultural gap in cross-border talent management for up and coming mainland enterprises that are expanding rapidly in global markets.  

Many China-based businesses are venturing out of the country, investing and expanding their businesses in different parts of the globe.

As expected the cultural differences between Chinese and other nations presents a formidable challenge for both international talent acquisition and retention.

There was a recent case:a US-based business was acquired by a Chinese firm but had to go through three CEO changes in less than two years because of cultural clashes in governance and management style.

The first CEO was a Chinese transferred from the parent company in China. The US staff thought he was tough to work with because apparently he didn’t want to grant staff the space and discretion they would need to be successful.

He was soon replaced by an American but trust became an issue between him and the parent company, with the distance and language obviously not helping. The next successor was a Singaporean who had experience working in China and in the west, and knowing both sides of the cultural tug of war.

He was able to bring stability to the management of the company and align expectations between the US subsidiary and the parent company. This experience highlighted the glaring shortage of talent with experiences of managing in both international and Chinese contexts.

Global employers such as HSBC have the “international manager programme” to groom future business leaders with international working experience and global perspective. The bank hires young and high potential talents and rotates them in different countries to prepare them to work with people from different cultures.

I observed that China’s market leaders such as Fosun is implementing similar plans to strengthen its international management talent base. I think this is a step in the right direction for Chinese companies who aspires to thrive in the global market, not just as a successful company, but also as a preferred employer.

On closing the cultural gap I have spoken to an employee at a US based retailer on her thoughts about the merger with a Chinese conglomerate. The whole management team in US got retained through the post-merger integration, while quite a number of the executives at the Chinese headquarter are returnees with overseas working experience and cross-cultural background. The one speaking with me is very positive about the change and in fact, she sees this as great opportunity for the company to refresh itselfand expand.

Given time I think the merging process between the east and west will be smoother while the globalized Chinese pioneer companies like Lenovo, Haier and Huawei are setting great examples in terms of incorporating with international talents from around the world and developing the corporate infrastructure and cultural system in order to expand their business and organization globally.


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