Local vs Global

Top Execs Choosing Homegrown Corporates Over Multinational Roles

Tsholo Nketane of Tuesday Consulting shares her insights.

Over recent years, there has been an interesting, and arguably, very positive trend in the South African business environment. During an excruciatingly tough economic period, a number of high profile South African executives have left their offices at multinationals to lead homegrown corporates.

This is a healthy development for both local companies and the country at large, albeit not one without its challenges for the leaders and organisations in question.

Recognising African talent & leadership

For many executive leaders who make the move from highly complex international/multinational environments to South African corporates, the inherent understanding that African problems need African solutions fuels the decision.

Indeed, we’ve seen this truth in action – and some companies have paid a heavy price when deciding to follow a global strategy instead of relying on an understanding of the local context. Yet in the face of this knowledge, South Africans don’t have a tradition of celebrating their own successes – which is a trait that extends from business to entertainment, culture and sports. This attitude becomes a barrier to creating a culture of excellence, whereby South African talent, and leadership, is acknowledged on every stage – and thereby nurtured from within.

Balancing global perspectives with local knowledge

Today, our companies need executives who can turn this tide.

South African corporate leaders are tasked with ensuring that our businesses are in line with international practices and capable of competing with the world’s best, without losing sight of the needs and demands unique to the South African market. Our executives need to maintain their companies’ identities with brands that resonate with local consumers, while becoming globally competitive.

As for corporates: how do they benefit from appointing local executives over their global peers?

It’s simple, really: All companies want to attract people who have an inherent understanding of their market’s context; the touch and feel of it. It’s not just about imposing global solutions on a local issue, but acknowledging that while it’s vital to remain abreast of international trends, it’s just as important to respond to local developments. Moreover, while executives have a responsibility to increase shareholder value, they cannot overlook their equal responsibility to contribute to their own country’s political and social development.

The primary challenge for many organisations is this: in the main, local executives have this dual outlook only if they have spent time in the international business environment. However, for these people, multinational organisations feel complex and difficult to navigate. Often, their instinct is to return to a more simplified environment.

Create a culture of high performance, transparency & trust

In order to encourage and sustain the trend of top talent choosing local roles over global ones, SA’s corporates must implement proactive measures. There is much they can do to retain top talent, including creating a business for the future, built on a coordinated culture of high performance. Savvy businesses must foster conditions that are conducive for flexible teams and agile thinking; and they should simplify complex organisational structures to expedite decision-making.

Importantly, make sure that yours is an enabling environment, whereby employees are equipped with everything they need to adjust to a highly disruptive, digitally driven environment.

According to experienced executives and several reports, transparency is also a key factor, particularly for organisations that understand they need to attract millennials to their pillars of leadership. Notably, transparent organisations also tend to have more productive workforces.

Moreover, successful organisations are those that prioritise employee engagement, based on a strategy that provides ongoing feedback in real time (rather than just once a year).

Build for the future

It is also critical for organisations to have a clear idea of their talent and recruitment needs going forward. This is particularly true of organisations aiming to recruit millennial executives – they need to understand their future business strategy, so that they can connect the acquisition of skills across all business functions.

Finally, executives must be able to see the clear path of their career growth within the organisation. Today, HR’s function is no longer to sell the role. Rather, the focus is on matching the company’s employment value proposition with the needs of newcomers to the organisation.

For today’s executive leaders, the local environment is undoubtedly one rife with obstinate challenges – but it is also an ecosystem packed to the brim with opportunity, disruption, and the chance to create an enduring legacy…for individuals, companies, and the country itself.