Citizenship matters but adaptability is key
It’s not that they’re wicked or naturally bad
It’s knowing they’re foreign that makes them so mad!
– ‘A Song of Patriotic Prejudice’
Flanders and Swann, the English songwriters whose 1960s ditty gently ribbed nationalists and national stereotypes, would have had a field day last week. Canadian Mark Carney was added to the list of candidates to become the next governor of the Bank of England, prompting this priceless, po-faced observation from one of the central banker’s supporters: “As a Canadian national he is a subject of the Queen. That is important.”
Is it? My initial reaction was: absolutely not. If Mr Carney is the best person to run Britain’s central bank, his nationality (let alone his fealty) is irrelevant, except to the kind of harrumphing blimps whose prejudices satirists were trying to puncture half a century ago.
But nationality is still a proxy for cultural fitness, and not just for those few jobs that set it as a strict condition. Where you are born can affect how well you understand and manage another country’s deep-seated ways of doing business. The problem arises when nationality and national stereotypes are the main tool for assessing suitability. …
… In some cases a non-national can shake up an ingrained culture. Yet sometimes differences need to be reconciled. Take Japan. Nippon Sheet Glass has just parted company with its US-born chief executive Craig Naylor. In 2010, he had become the first chief executive recruited by a Japanese company in an open, worldwide search. Another non-Japanese pioneer in Japanese corporate culture, Sir Howard Stringer, has now moved up to chair Sony. These companies are both international, but Mr Naylor and Sir Howard’s successors are Japanese. Sir Howard has remarked that Sony’s new chief executive, Kazuo Hirai, is able to bring people together, in part because (unlike Sir Howard) he speaks the language.
Japan is an extreme example. The contrast between national and international corporate culture is starkest there (see the unfolding tragedy of Olympus for further evidence). But Bhaskar Chakravorti, executive director of Tufts University’s Institute for Business in the Global Context, sees parallels with other countries such as Germany, which also has comparatively few non-German chief executives. The gap between big companies’ local roots and global aspirations are similar, he says, as is the need to find leaders who can bridge them and address all stakeholders. It is significant that in advancing its international mission, Deutsche Bank has appointed as co-chief executives one local – Jürgen Fitschen – and one non-German, Indian-born Anshu Jain.
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