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Building Successful Global Teams (Part 3)

Posted on Monday, May 25th 2009

By Guest Author Tony Scott

Building Global Teams – Case Studies in Success

The series finishes with a couple of success stories:

We were asked by one of the world’s largest Japanese technology companies to help them find someone to lead their corporate VC organization, which is based in the U.S. The corporate VC organization’s charter was to help identify and nurture early-stage companies in the U.S. that could ultimately either enhance the existing technologies created and developed by our client, or be added to the sales channels developed by our client. In this case, Japanese language capabilities were absolutely not a requirement.

The company evaluated many candidates from the VC arena, but interestingly enough, all of the finalists happened to be non-Japanese Asians who were born overseas, educated both overseas and in the U.S., and had lived in multiple countries. In this case, the company had been burned previously by Americans who didn’t understand and were frustrated working within a Japanese environment, so they were quite sensitive to making sure they found someone who was able to bridge the cultural divide between the U.S. and Japan. They ultimately hired two senior executives who have been very successful for the VC organization, and are held out as a model for the company overall.

Cultural sensitivity is important, but at the end of the day it is also critical to match skills and experiences to a company’s stage of development. We were asked to help a very fast growth, $1 billion enterprise software company with their global expansion — to find presidents for their Japanese and Greater China business units, and a country manager for their French operation. These were similar roles, and all needed the right cultural fit and cross-cultural sensitivity, but different issues arose for each role due both to location and local stage of development.

  • In France, the company was well established, with revenues approaching $100 million. However, our client needed to break the local team out of the French bureaucratic, 35-hour work-week way of thinking. In this case, they needed someone who could manage an established organization, and drive culture change without destroying the existing team.
  • In Japan, they were transitioning from an expat to a Japanese president — and needed to set up the infrastructure necessary to grow the business to scale while working with the existing strong distributors.
  • In China, their operations were essentially a start-up, and we needed to find someone who was very entrepreneurial with the ability to build a team across China, Taiwan and Hong Kong nearly from scratch.

In these three cases, the finalists for the roles all had great cross-cultural experience, cultural sensitivity and flexibility. But other than all of them coming from similar industry spaces, the experiences and personalities of the finalists within each of the three groups were quite different from one another — to fit the development needs of each of geography. They wouldn’t have been very interchangeable at all.

To summarize, what are the key lessons from these cases?

  • The right team is critical to business success — in the U.S., Asia or Europe
  • The wrong person can kill a company — quickly
  • Every company needs to find people that can bridge cultures, but different locations of the same company will require different skill sets that reflect their stage of development
    • This segment is part 3 in the series : Building Successful Global Teams
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