If I had a penny for every time a client has said, "We have global offices, but we aren't a truly global company," I could pay for a first-class trip around the world staying at the finest luxury hotels. It finally hit me this week that asking how to become a truly global company is the wrong question.
I spent a week in Hong Kong in November. On Tuesday, November 19th, the Wall Street Journal, delivered to my hotel door, carried a front page article about what to expect in stocks when you're expecting a baby boom. China's plan to ease the one-child rule has sparked a stock market rally for companies that sell pianos and baby formula. There is a frenzy of anticipation in futures for products that meet the needs of little bundles of joy that will start arriving nine months from now.
The day after I read the article, I had the opportunity to meet Mai, a Hong Kong Chinese woman who describes herself as "sandwich" class. Neither rich, nor very poor, the sandwichers here are still not apparently as well off as what we call middle class in the US. She owns a 600-square foot flat, but also pays half of her income in housing. She pays virtually no income tax - 2%. However, property taxes are 17%. To purchase her flat today, it would cost $1 million US and she said she makes the equivalent of about $4,000 a month. She has a 25-year-old daughter in medical school in London. She's a happy person, but I doubt she has a lot of discretionary income. If she were child-bearing age, she would still think twice about another kid.
Though China's population, on the whole, is reported to be wealthier then ours, you do wonder how much the average Chinese citizen's discretionary income can rise, given the enormity of challenges the country faces, including basics like clean water and air. This is one woman's story; I'm not an analyst and wouldn't pretend to offer investment advice. The prevailing media narrative is that China's economy is generally on the rise. If I hadn't met Mai, my perspective on that would be based entirely on what I read in the newspaper. Reading widely is important to a world view. However, gaining a unique perspective and being able to offer insight is as much a matter of experiencing a place as it is reading about it.
So the question "How can we be a more global company" is a red herring. Companies are made up of people. The question is: How can we help our PEOPLE become more WORLDLY? Worldly people create truly global companies.
Many companies are trying (and often failing) to persuade their best and brightest to take assignments abroad.These folks may be understandably reluctant to disrupt their families and their lives.If we want them to go, we need to make it attractive. We also need to ignite their curiosity. You can do that by giving good people great global experiences, however brief. Get them interested. Give them access to the world in a variety of ways. Curiosity creates momentum to put people in places where they can form world views that lead to insights.