Ahead of his time, General Electric Chairman and CEO from 1981-2001, Jack Welch identified the 21st century business leader as “somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires,” recognizing that emerging businesses would need to send their “best and brightest overseas and make sure they have the training that will allow them to be the global leaders.” This is particularly because business now has a global application. Between sourcing, outsourcing, customer demographic, business partners, and resellers, you might literally be globe trotting. So what does the 21st century business leader really need to look like?
The New Breed of Entrepreneurs
HBR’s Daniel J. Isenberg believes a new starts thinking across borders from day one. In a 2008 article entitled “The Global Entrepreneur”, Isenberg argues that because companies start globally from day one, so must leading entrepreneurs. Gone are the days of assembly line thinking when it comes to sourcing, manufacturing, marketing and selling. These days you’re apt to go where you can get the best and/or cheapest materials and labor; if you’re smart, you’re going to diversify you’re market to where people are buying.
Recognizing Global Opportunity
In a start-up culture, Isenberg notes that the “standing conventional theory is on its head…start-ups now do business in many countries before dominating their home markets.” He cites two reasons. First, is defense, adding that “to be competitive, many ventures…have to globalize some aspect of their business – manufacturing, service, delivery, capital sourcing, or talent acquisition, for instance – the moment they start up.” Second reason is offense. Globalization and technology alone allows companies in one country to harvest opportunities in another that they may not have access to domestically. Why limit yourself to just what’s in your backyard when you can make a buck in someone else’s?
However, this still mostly untapped opportunity has its set of drawbacks. As Isenberg astutely points out, there’s the issue of infrastructure needed to cross distances in global business. Quoting British economist Wilfred Beckerman, he also raises the issue of “psychic distance,” which “arises from such factors as culture, language, education systems, political systems, religion, and economic development.” There’s also a context – or a capital problem – when you factor in regulations, taxes, and other account laden material. Finally, resources may also be stretched to cope with limitations where a start up is not equipped to handle growth.
Clearly, it takes a highly talented entrepreneur to success in a global business climate. Isenberg profiles the new breed of global leader as someone who can “identify opportunities, gather resources, and strike deals…[possessing] soft skills like vision, leadership, and passion.” He also marks on the need for this individual to specify a crystal-clear goals, be capable of building alliances across the board, successfully create supply chains, and be able to organize multinational teams.
Scoping the Horizon: What Global Business Leaders Worry About
Even if they never leave their remote private Polynesian island, these leaders know that what affects one part of the world can invariably affect business. With this in mind, your elite leaders don’t just conduct business in their own existence plane – no, these types are smart, well-read, and know what’s going on in their world. This is what makes a leader; a type of person that can piece two and two together to not only watch the horizon but also predict what will come up on it next. According to the HBR On Point special issue on Global Strategies in an article entitled “What Keeps Global Leaders up at Night,” these types focus on five core issues: economics, environment, geopolitics, resources, and technology.
Ready, Set, Go: Why You Need to Get Global
The nature of today’s business is global and if you’re not going global, someone else will take your place. At least that’s David Zax’s Fast Company featured argument entitled “Why You Need to Go International as Fast as Possible.” Promoting the call to clone yourself internationally, Zax heeds a wise warning courtesy of Braintree CEO Bill Ready: figure out what you’re doing before you mash on the accelerator. This brings us back to square one in the trio of globally themed articles, which is identify you’re objective. Every good leader needs a vision. What’s yours, and can it translate overseas?