Asia’s endangered species: The expat

Expatriates or would-be expats who hope to further their careers in Asia, should read a lengthy Wall Street Journal piece entitled: Asia’s Endangered Species: The Expat. So why are expats in Asia considered an endangered species? Experts consulted by the WSJ cited several factors which included:

  • An increasingly level playing field where Western companies must approach newly empowered Asian companies and consumers as equals and clients rather than just manufacturing partners.
  • The need to have executives who can secure deals with local businesses and governments without the aid of a translator, plus understand what it takes to do business in Asia e.g. the need to sit through a three-hour dinner banquet as part of the negotiating process to seal a deal.
  • The fact that a failed expatriate hire can quickly turn into a very costly mistake and slow a firm’s progress in Asia.

The WSJ article then mentioned that at least two big international executive search firms in the region now classify executives into the following broad categories:

  1. Asia natives steeped in local culture, but educated in the US or Europe. In other words, Asian returnees.
  2. The foreign expat who has lived or worked in Asia for a long time.
  3. A person of Asian descent who was born or raised in a Western country, but has had little exposure to Asia.
  4. The local Asian executive who has no Western experience.

However, I would add that the “expat” in general is not necessarily an endangered species about to go extinct in Asia albeit its pretty clear the “western expat” (or any expat for that matter) who is on the full blown expatriate package (e.g. the big house/flat in the best neighborhood in town, cars with drivers, memberships at exclusive clubs and international school tuition for the kids completely footed by the employer) is on the verge of extinction throughout most of Asia and the world for that matter.

Instead, I would conclude the “expatriate” has evolved and is just as likely to be a well educated Indian or a Filipino or a Malaysian Chinese or even a local who is technically a returnee because he or she has spent a considerable portion of their education or their career abroad (and not necessarily in a western country).

Moreover, the current talent pool for executive positions and even for middle management ones in some Asian locations will tend to be so limited that most of the best local Asian managers or executives simply rotate from one Western company to another (and command compensation packages that will break the budgets of all but the biggest MNC) – meaning there is still a place and a gap to be filled by expats coming from somewhere.

(I would also add that the comments posted on the WSJ article are also well worth reading by returnees and expats or would-be returnees or expats alike)

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