Jan 2016

Leading beyond: Creating a talent strategy for global expansion


As we prepare to fly out to California for this year’s Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit, it puts in mind the number of US businesses coming the other way. 

Scaling a tech venture is often a unique journey. Every business makes its own plan and encounters its own pitfalls. That being said, there is one path that has become especially well-worn by those pursuing expansion: the route to Europe, via London, has become increasingly high-traffic in recent years.

Research published by Deloitte in 2014 revealed that London is the base for 60% of the top non-European companies with a headquarters in Europe (as well as being host to some 40% of the European headquarters of the world’s top companies). Furthermore, an Ernst and Young report in 2015 stated that London is the most attractive place in Europe for international tech companies to establish a presence – beating the likes of Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Dublin.

The road to global expansion is not necessarily an easy one. To establish a strong presence overseas and effectively gain market share is rarely just a matter of transferring a successful domestic business model to a new territory. It requires robust planning, precision timing and the right leadership in place to deliver. In fact, talent strategy is one of the key factors in de-risking this journey. Careful consideration must be given to who will lead and populate the international business. What skills and knowledge must they possess? Where they will come from?

Local Knowledge

Uber can boast a great success story in global expansion, with a proven talent strategy that the business has repeated across the 67 countries it now operates in. Essentially, Uber appoints a three-person team comprising a local General Manager, a Social Media Marketing Manager focused on consumer demand generation, and a Driver Operations Manager who builds a pool of drivers. From there, each operation adds resources as required – in most cases, hiring local talent rather than relocating team members from headquarters to those regions.

Increasingly, the once-popular approach of sending an emissary from HQ to set up a new overseas office is being abandoned as organisations recognise the advantages of hiring someone that is already “on the ground” in their chosen locale.

Appointing a country/regional leader who is both well connected and well versed in the area’s cultural, political and economic landscape can mean the difference between success and failure. However, local knowledge is just one element to consider in the hiring process and, if the entire team is going to be both sourced and based overseas, how can a business ensure consistency of brand and culture?

Companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn often take the approach of creating small teams from headquarters and then sending them out to new regions where they will then be responsible for hiring local talent. This way, the brand and culture can be exported around the world. 

Track Record

Whether appointing a leader overseas or sending someone from HQ, companies looking to de-risk their international expansion plans should be seeking someone who is already proven.

A candidate with a track record of having successfully built an international business division from scratch, perhaps more than once, will know just what it takes to establish a presence in a new territory. Such an individual will be much better placed to recognise both early opportunities and early warning signs; and they will be much quicker to react to them. Appointing someone who has done it before means harnessing experience that puts the business at least one step ahead.

Entrepreneurial Mindset

The country/regional leader will also require an entrepreneurial mindset. Regardless of the size of the parent company or brand, this individual will be heading up what is essentially a start-up and will need to be capable of thriving outside of the corporate infrastructure.

The pursuit of overseas growth will take on very different forms depending on the go-to-market strategy. Talent, however, is the common denominator. Deciding what the “landing team” will look like is key but having an understanding of who else will be needed to grow the region is also important. For example, B2B tech companies typically need direct sales teams that are on the ground, close to regional customers and within the relevant time zones.

That being said, we often have clients who are looking to appoint an overseas leader that will actually help them develop both the go-to-market and talent strategies for the region. This is when the blend of track record, local knowledge and entrepreneurial mindset can prove a truly powerful combination and make for an incredibly effective hire.

Since there seems to be no imminent slow-down in the rise of the global tech sector, it is expected that many more of the world’s most innovative companies will set their sights on the UK and Europe as they move from start-up, to scale-up, to fully fledged unicorn. The interesting question is, who will lead the way?

If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, download our latest report, A Board Fit for Purpose, here.

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