Southeast Asia's Search for Managers

By Smith, Jennifer | Management Review, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Southeast Asia's Search for Managers


Smith, Jennifer, Management Review


From Vietnam and Hong Kong to Malaysia and Taiwan, the problem is the same: These economies are in dire need of managers at every level. Throughout Southeast Asia, both local and foreign companies need to build their management ranks to catch up with the developed world.

The demand for competent, motivated and reliable managers has been fueled by the region's rapid economic growth. Companies are striving to find managers who know their markets in terms of products and geography. "As more and more companies are piling into Asia, the growth in business has far outstripped the ability of countries to produce, educate, train and nurture managers," says Gordon Gregg, business planning manager at San Miguel Brewing International in Hong Kong. "All compete for talent in a limited pool of resources."

At the same time, the region's current economic woes also call for managers who can help Southeast Asia through this difficult period. Michael Boxberger, president and CEO of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm based in Los Angeles, says, "The road to recovery will be rough, but many companies, as we expected, are seeking the best global talent to help restructure their capital, dispose of unprofitable subsidiaries and refocus on their core business....The smart companies will use this period to reexamine their management structure and hire topflight executives who can help turn turmoil into opportunity."

Eyeing the Competition

William McGurn, senior editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, says there is no simple solution to the management shortage. Companies have to keep their eyes open, and for many that means keeping an eye on the competition for prospective new employees.

One way companies find the necessary talent is to poach managers from other companies. Phee Boon Kang, senior vice president and retail country manager at the Bank of America in Taiwan, spent 20 years with Citibank in Malaysia before he joined the Bank of America. The challenge of setting up retail businesses in Taiwan, among other factors, prompted Kang to change companies and countries. "Professionally, my new job represents a promotion, which comes with the challenge of building from scratch a couple of new businesses in one of the most attractive retail markets in Asia," he says.

Although Kang remained at one company for many years, Gregg points out that many people jump from one job to the next with far less experience. "There are a great number of people who stay only one to two years at a company and then are poached or leave the company to another for more money," he says. "Unfortunately, they do not spend enough time to fully develop skills. The result of all this is that companies tend to make do with less qualified people."

The Longer View

In addition to luring managers from other businesses, companies in Southeast Asia are exploring longer-term solutions to the dearth of management talent. …

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