One of the key success factors for multinational companies in Asia is their ability to identify local leaders in the markets they operate. In order to have a sustainable business and connect with the local workforce, having that local leader is essential. But finding one who equally understands the global context is a challenge for many. ChapmanCG co-hosted an HR Leaders Roundtable meeting with Chubb Limited to discuss this hot topic with other HR leaders from some of the major global brands at their offices in the heart of Singapore.

Global organisations expect their leaders to manage in a highly complex and ever-changing environment, communicate effectively with all levels of the organisations across geographies and, in short, get things done. The leadership talent who progress well in such organisations are the ones with strong business acumen, strategic focus, influencing skills and possess a sense of ownership. In a diverse geography like Asia, local leaders need to spot these kinds of opportunities, build meaningful relationships locally as well as globally and demonstrate their ability to navigate through a myriad of cultural nuances.

Our host, Glenda Davies, SVP, Regional Head of HR APAC at Chubb Limited, said , “In a dynamic, fast-paced APAC, you need to be both creative and flexible. Sometimes a potential successor doesn’t tick all the requirements, but by supporting the leader with those holding the few missing competencies, you can achieve a close match.”

As an organisation that works in partnership with local companies in multiple locations in Asia, Chubb has made a very conscious decision to have local leaders in these companies. This was driven by their CEO and required a lot of time and patience to build the necessary synergies between local leadership style and a global operating model.

Having a clear vision of success and then effectively communicating that vision to the local leader is the first step. The next, and perhaps the more important one, is to provide effective mentorship and coaching to support the local leader. Even for high performing local talent, taking on a leadership role in a complex global organisation would be a challenge, but with patience and persistence both parties can learn from each other.

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As Anika Grant, Uber’s HR Director APAC and LATAM, pointed out that the process also depends on the stage that the company is in. A fast growing, start-up simply doesn’t have the time to invest in a long-term project like this. Companies that embrace diversity starting from the talent acquisition process will have an edge over their homogenic competitors in today’s highly diverse and complex business landscape.

Aparna Kumar, the Regional Human Resource Lead – Asia Pacific at Monsanto agrees. “Naturally it would take longer for established organisations to change and adapt, but especially in a diverse geography like SEA, this adaptation is even more critical. You can’t just expect the local talent to adapt. And as such, global organisations are in a race to build culturally aware, highly adaptable leaders with strong emotional intelligence by giving them opportunities to take on strategic roles in different locations around the world.”

Stephen Brown, HR Director APAC at Rolls Royce, says: “In a highly complex , large global company that operates in multiple geographies around the world, developing local leaders is imperative to have a sustainable business.” Ceasing the expatriate privileges of foreign talent and getting them to identify their successors within 12 months helped Rolls Royce build a localised workforce. The top talent identified went on overseas assignments to the UK to build their skills and knowledge. Sending top local talent (and also graduates) to overseas assignments also comes with a risk of them not wanting to go back to their host company, and therefore, leave the company. However, these individuals become brand ambassadors and the company raises its profile as a talent developer.

There was a clear consensus among the group that regional- or country-led talent programs work much better than the one-size fits all global strategies in a highly diverse region like Asia.

Julie Harrison, Chief HR Officer with Allianz APAC, shared a model they used to develop their future leaders that urges their talent to work in multiple geographies, functions and divisions throughout their career. The key to the success of this talent program was the dedicated support from the CEO. The company also set up an International Talent Council for Talent Leaders to meet every 6 months to discuss talent issues & strategies.

We would like to thank Glenda Davies and her team at Chubb for hosting a highly engaging HR Leaders Roundtable with us, and also to all the HR Leaders who joined us on the day and contributed with their views.