Brand owners export talent to Asia

22 June 2012

HONG KONG: Major brand owners like Nissan, General Electric and Procter & Gamble are hoping that installing senior global executives in Asia will help them boost growth in the region.

Nissan, the automaker, has based the CEO for its Infiniti model in Hong Kong, as well as the division responsible for brand strategy, product planning and sales. This is despite the fact the vehicle is made in Japan, its home market, and the US.

"The beauty of Hong Kong is that it is a gateway into China," Andy Palmer, an executive vice president at Nissan, told the New York Times. "This is not a cost-reduction or outsourcing exercise."

General Electric, the conglomerate, also moved John Rice, its chief executive of global growth and operations, to Hong Kong in 2011, a decision he called "part substance and part symbolism."

"Being outside the United States makes you smarter about global issues. It lets you see the world through a different lens," Rice added. "I've come to China close to 100 times ... but I've learned more about China in the last 18 months than I did in the preceding 20 years."

Michael Andrew, global chairman of KPMG International, the advisory group, similarly works out of Hong Kong, yielding several benefits, even though travel dictates he spends only 30% of his time there.

"By being here, you demonstrate that you are not just an Anglo-Saxon firm - it is a visible demonstration of your commitment to the region," he said. "You have regular access to key business leaders, and you are able to talk to them as one of them, rather than as someone who is just passing through."

Research by the Economist Corporate Network showed the number of overseas multinational corporations with board members in Asia has grown from 19% in 2008 to nearly 30% in 2011. This figure is expected to hit 45% in 2016.

"It's about globalizing your brand and your thinking," Ross O'Brien, director of the Economist Corporate Network's Hong Kong office, said. "It's hard to make a decision to invest when you are based in a region where belt-tightening is the order of the day."

Goldman Sachs, the financial services group, located Mark Schwartz, its vice chairman, in Beijing, and held a board meeting in Delhi in March to reflect India's rising importance.

Starwood Hotels also relocated its 15-strong senior management team in China for a month. The firm currently operates 103 sites in Greater China, and has a pipeline for 100 more confirmed.

"[It was] both more strenuous and more useful than I had imagined," Frits van Paasschen, the CEO of Starwood, said. "We realized, for example, that in China many people book hotel rooms at the last minute, and on mobile devices."

Elsewhere, Abbas Hussain, president for emerging markets at GlaxoSmithKline, is working out of Singapore, as is Deb Henretta, head of Procter & Gamble's global skin care, beauty and personal care arm, which was recently transferred to this market.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by Warc staff