Do you have the leadership dna to lead and emerging market business?

It has become a common function for HR in multinational home offices to facilitate deployment of senior executives to various offshore subsidiaries, and it's not any executive who makes the cut. It may well be that a company has to look beyond its suite to finc the perfect one.

emerging market business signiumThe selection of leadership talent to run operations beyond any business headquarters has to be made carefully. The qualities necessary to run a major business are well known and well-articulated. Competencies needed for successful business leadership in an emerging market, however, are somewhat different. The pursuit of emerging markets by any business is often motivated by growth objectives, where local markets had become saturated. The agenda for any offshore operation would, logically, be strong business development. A mature organisation looking to exploit offshore opportunities will likely have a different competency profile among its leadership cadre than what new business development in a foreign country requires. Leadership may boast of rich industry experience, a proven track record and the ability to deliver efficiencies and optimise the current asset base. Yet, for new offshore operations, special lifecycle considerations are to be borne in mind, with recruitment establishing an appropriate leadership profile. After many years of identifying, pursuing and placing emerging market business leaders, even seasoned agents concede that there are no readymade formulae that apply in this challenging arena. Granted, an initial base of competencies applies across all markets, with core requirements including:

  • Commercial acumen and financial accounting savvy 
  • Hardcore technical knowledge and skills 
  • Systems and digital knowledge 
  • Diligence and hard work over long hours 
  • Meeting deadlines and driving results 
  • Brutal honesty 
  • Exceptional motivation (being a self-starter)

While these attributes are a great start, they won't take you all the way in an emerging market. Here, leaders face additional challenges. These markets are prone to financial crises, intellectual property rights are insecure, bureaucratic delay is endemic, infrastructure, products and services are unreliable, local talent is sparse, assessing customer credit worthiness is tough and distribution channels can be messy. Corruption may be rife impeding proper due diligence, and background checks can be difficult. An additional overlay of leadership skills is required, featuring:

  • An ability to deal with ambiguity — where poverty eradication might be declared a priority while unscrupulous tendencies in the seats of power, nevertheless, entrench poverty
  • Transformational vision — where the business becomes an agent of socioeconomic change, requiring a leader to commit to human and community development 
  • Entrepreneurship and innovation — where transformational solutions demand new ideas with profit potential; e.g. transactional banking by cellphone 
  • External awareness — where business addresses 'nonbusiness' issues; e.g. by supporting education in maths, science and IT 
  • Versatility — where bosses multitask to counter a skills dearth

Some agencies will spotlight differences between the Eurocentric business model, believed to have its focus on profit maximisation, and an Afrocentric approach, seen to be focused on care for human relationships, employees and communities. These drivers, however, are not necessarily polarised. They may be complementary rather than contradictory.
It is critical for an emerging-market leader to navigate the realities of the local environment, while being mindful of the business imperatives to make an offshore investment worthwhile.
The leap into emerging markets is not for any business, just as much as leading those operations is not for any leader. It takes a special range of competences and a unique set of qualities to be successful at the helm of an emerging market enterprise. Have you got what it takes?

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leadership, emerging market business

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Signium Africa (previously Talent Africa), a leading executive recruitment company based in South Africa offering head-hunting and leadership consulting services in sub-Saharan Africa. www.signium.co.za