MeF Chairman and CEO Are the monarchs of the business world, and the executives of the highly paid staff they place to oversee global operations from headquarters are their ambassadors. In the golden age of globalization, sending expatriate Western executives to distant emerging markets showed that the place was taken seriously. The model started to feel stale before covid-19 made overseas travel miserable. With zoom and the remote working standard, isn’t it worth mixing messengers around the world anymore?
Often, around 280 million people live in countries other than their own to work. A lot of effort is put into construction sites in the Gulf and Mind Bratt in Manhattan. High-flying foreigners are the most cohesive of these immigrants. Their rewarding status is guaranteed by housing allowances, tuition fees for chicks, annual round-trip flights, and healthy salary increases, if it is to be identified. Some businessmen have built their careers flying from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi via Lagos and have become lifelong business travelers.
The business case for expatriates has started to develop in recent years. Moving staff to the ends of the globe makes sense when it’s hard to find open-minded (and English-speaking) employees there. But globalization has worked this magic. If the US investment bank in Shanghai wants a top-notch bright numbers launcher MBA, There are a lot of local candidates. They cost a fraction of the cost of running a transplant and already speak the language.
It is also difficult to get Jakarta’s support from headquarters staff. Over the past decades, obedient “follower spouses” have taken on the responsibility of driving their homes away. Now, she’s more likely to discuss her impact on her career (as is more often the case). A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that in 2018, 57% of workers globally were ready to go abroad for work, up from 64% four years ago.
When the pandemic struck, that number fell further to 50%. Many foreign infestations, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, have experienced looser lockdowns than in the United States and Europe. However, this often meant limiting international travel and imposing quarantine weeks on returnees. The prospect of a family visit at Christmas or a weekend vacation in Bali is part of what makes life in Singapore fascinating. As this progresses, the trade-offs between career and personal life start to look unpleasantly different.
Many foreigners who were once treated by the royal family felt they were treated like second-class citizens. Some have been reluctant to leave their country of assignment for fear of not being able to return. Some had to wait longer than the locals for the vaccine. The Clubby community no longer creates space for strangers. As Hong Kong, once the spiritual homeland of expatriates, fell within China’s ambitions, Western imports began to look like traces of the colonial past.
This is testament to a wider range of economic changes that are undermining the need for expatriates. In the past, they were often able to facilitate access to foreign capital and Western-sourced know-how. Today, money is plentiful and the most interesting business opportunities are emerging markets which do business with other emerging markets, particularly in Asia. You don’t need a Westerner to show you how to do it. The world they understand is no longer relevant.
The expatriate is more than just a porter of expensive benefits (as his correspondent abroad, Bartleby, can prove in his daily work). Companies have a culture and processes that can be created at headquarters and disseminated by emissaries. They in turn absorb new ways of doing things that can be returned to other parts of the business. Having a stranger somewhere in the org chart of a remote branch gives you the peace of mind that you are not doing strange business there. However, the boss of the penny pinch may wonder if a normal Zoom call wouldn’t do pretty much the same thing at a fraction of the cost. Especially when employees all over the world are working from home anyway.
The surest way to show your commitment to the market these days is not to import talented people, but to train them locally. Many companies that proudly place expats are now proud to appoint local bosses to lead each country. This is not a reversal of globalization, but an affirmation of it.
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This article was published in the Business section under the heading “End of Travel Circus”.