Three Ways Companies Build Better Leaders with Global Pro Bono

The Best Business Leaders Know The Value of Global Service
Jun 25, 2015 11:00 AM ET

The New Global Citizen

Sending senior executives into emerging markets may not be an obvious way to develop strong leaders, but many top companies are doing just that. Once-marginalized markets in the Global South are quickly becoming critical revenue drivers for corporations. Business leaders with a nuanced understanding of how these markets operate can be the difference between a business’s stagnation and its continued growth. Yet emerging and growth markets can seem opaque to many executives who have spent their careers in more established markets. That’s why travel is so critical—the lessons learned on-the-ground in growth markets can prove vital to understanding consumer needs and demand in the future.

Travel abroad has long been recognized as a way for students to expand their horizons. But in the business world, work-related visits often insulates the traveler from their local environment. Executives stay in international business hotels that could just as easily be in Cleveland as in Mumbai. They are transported from their hotels to modern office buildings by private drivers and order hamburgers from room service for dinner. Meanwhile, local consumers are traveling by rickshaw, drinking masala chai from street vendors and confronting marketplace realities a global executive would never see.

According to Bloomberg, the world’s fastest growing economies in 2015 are China, the Philippines, Kenya, India, and Indonesia, all of which forecast annual growth rates higher than five percent1. While it is increasingly possible to hire strong local talent in each of these countries (as it is in most emerging markets around the world), a multinational company still requires leadership that understands the differences between American and foreign markets. Failure to do can come at great cost, as General Motors learned after launching the Chevrolet Nova in Latin America. In Spanish, no va translates as “doesn’t go.” For reasons that would have been obvious to a business leader with an understanding of the local market, the car didn’t sell and was quickly discontinued.

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