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(originally published by Booz & Company)


It’s Getting Diverse at the Top

Almost completely absent from the senior management ranks of top American companies are Japanese and Korean nationals. One reason may be that the Japanese market, although huge, is in recession and U.S. companies have not made it a priority to assimilate Japanese executives at headquarters, allowing their Japanese operations to be run by managers residing in the home country. Korean executives tend to be overlooked even more than Japanese, because their market is much smaller while just as culturally and linguistically complex.

U.S. companies want to assimilate more Chinese nationals in their executive ranks, because the Chinese economy is still growing at 8 to 9 percent a year and most U.S. multinationals have extensive operations in China. However, with such a robust economy at home, Chinese nationals often are loath to undergo the cultural and familial upheaval of taking a long-term assignment outside of China. In addition, deep cultural gaps separate Chinese and Americans; few Chinese speak English as fluently as their Indian counterparts, and business practices and governance standards in the two countries are quite different.

Given these issues, it may turn out that drawing in the most talented Chinese executives will be a critical challenge for America’s top companies as they seek growth abroad. But U.S. companies that can nurture any talented staffer, regardless of background, will be the ones that find themselves ahead of their peers.

Author Profile:

William J. Holstein is a contributing editor of strategy+business. A veteran business journalist and author, he is based in New York. For more of his work, visit

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  1. Frank Birkel, Jonathan Harper, and Edward Speed, “The Changing Role of the Country General Manager in CPG Multinationals” (PDF), (SpencerStuart, July 2008): Details why local general managers are a logical pool of eventual CEO candidates in consumer products firms.
  2. William J. Holstein, “The Decline of the Expat Exec,” s+b Leading Ideas Online, 07/29/2008: Peter Felix, president of the Association of Executive Search Consultants, on the effort by U.S. multinationals to hire local executives in foreign locales.
  3. Umesh Ramakrishnan, There's No Elevator to the Top: A Leading Headhunter Shares the Advancement Strategies of the World's Most Successful Executives (Portfolio, 2008): Examines what it takes to rise to the top of major companies.
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