Need for Multi-Cultural Executives Grows as Nashville Becomes Center for International Business

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Peter Lawson, Director in the Stanton Chase Nashville office, discusses the changing landscape of business in Tennessee.

A case can certainly be made that almost every business, regardless of size, does work on an international basis, directly or indirectly. Tennessee, and specifically the Nashville area, represent a state and city respectively in which international business has become a significant part of the landscape.

With this ever-growing dynamic comes a need to recruit senior-level executives who have a global outlook, understand foreign corporate cultures, and can incorporate the best of local practices with the work practices of management overseas. As executive search consultants, we are seeing a rapidly growing trend among our clients that reflects a need for these multi-cultural executives.

Let’s take a look at what is happening in Nashville and its surroundings that impacts this changing profile of the C-suite executive:

• Nine Tennessee-based companies made the Forbes annual list of the largest publicly traded companies in the world
• According to an article in Businessclimate.com, foreign-owned businesses have a presence in 277 locations in the region and employ almost 48,000 people
• Foreign Direct Investment sustains more than 83,000 jobs and nearly $5.9 billion of labor and income each year

As a region, middle Tennessee is becoming a hub of domestic and foreign businesses for a wide range of reasons. There is a highly trained and educated workforce, a banking and financial services infrastructure that can support domestic and international business needs, and a business community that welcomes companies of all sizes. In addition, we have an outstanding airport that allows access to every major commercial market and a highway system which allows movement of product easily through trucking. And probably most important is our outstanding quality of life.

Another significant force in the growth and development of middle Tennessee has been the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce which invites, supports and welcomes public-private economic development initiatives, as highlighted in its Partnership 2020.

These factors and more have resulted in domestic companies with foreign interests locating here. And, just as important are foreign multinationals establishing roots here in many industries. Bridgestone Americas, a subsidiary of Japan-based Bridgestone Corporation, the largest tire and rubber company in the world, has its headquarters in Nashville. UBS of Switzerland continues to expand is footprint here as does Feintool, another Swiss-based company which supplies and supports the automotive sector. Italy-based firearm maker Beretta has also made the Nashville area its U.S. home.

With this continually growing multi-cultural environment comes the need for executives who can think, lead and manage with an international perspective, and who bring emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity to their roles. It is a critical need among trans-national companies to recruit leaders who can motivate and manage a domestic workforce while understanding the work styles of those in other countries. Our search work is bringing a wide range of executives to the area. Many are expatriates who work in other countries but are now expressing an interest in returning to the United States. Once they understand the Nashville area and what it offers, it has become an easy sell to bring them here. Other candidates are in the U.S. and work with international companies but are seeking the next challenge. They realize that middle Tennessee is appealing for their families and a great landing place from other parts of the country.

“With this continually growing multi-cultural environment comes the need for executives who can think, lead and manage with an international perspective.”

Our clients are seeking these multi-cultural leaders and recognize they set the tone and road map for success. It all starts at the top and requires individuals who can develop global strategies while implementing policies and management practices based on local policies and traditions. Many require high-level executives to be conversant in other languages, understand macroeconomic fundamentals of international trade and finance, and have a track record of managing across time zones.

But even higher on the list of criteria are demonstrated experiences that reflect a respect and understanding of foreign corporate cultures and work styles. These could be as simple as recognition that in some European countries employees never work through lunch and it’s unlikely they can be reached by phone, email or Skype during these times. In some Asian countries, direct confrontation or criticism in the workplace is not condoned, and steps are taken to avoid embarrassing others, especially in front of groups.  The executives we’re recruiting to Nashville for global companies understand that tasks most people take for granted become more complex when dealing with colleagues overseas. For example, when working with a Japanese firm it is important to master the business card exchange which involves bowing slightly and presenting it with both hands.

Executive actions such as giving feedback, negotiating, asking a favor, and participating in a meeting must be analyzed within the context of these unique cultures.  Recognition of these cultures will increasingly become more important as Nashville continues to grow as a hub for international business.  It has also created new and far-reaching criteria for executive search firms as we identify leaders who must set the tone for communicating and working with colleagues, customers and governments in other countries.

Peter Lawson is a Director with the Nashville office of Stanton Chase (www.stantonchase.com), a global retained executive search firm with more than 70 offices in 45 countries. He has lived and worked in the USA, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Australia managing operations, strategy, marketing and business development, including international mergers and acquisitions, for major multinationals. Lawson works with clients on board appointments, as well as C-level and other senior executive searches focusing on Consumer Products & Services, the Industrial sector, and the Diversity Specialty Practice. He has served as both Chairman and Board Director of several companies, including a number of Shell Oil Products companies, as well as companies in the financial services, port and shipping services, and engineering sectors.

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