The eclipse of regional management?

The issues described above will demand new thinking from the world’s multinational companies. As US-centric corporations, for example, seek to develop their businesses and extend their reach into more heterogeneous markets, the balance of organisations will shift. There will continue to be a focus on global, max or core brands, with sales of more than $1 billion, to counterbalance the power of global retailers and allow companies to become less dependent on the US markets. For instance, Coca-Cola’s geographic coverage of a quarter in North America, a quarter in Latin America, a quarter in Europe and a quarter in Asia Pacific will become more the norm, rather than Pepsi-Cola’s 55% in the US.

At the same time, more sensitive local organisations that respond more readily to national opportunities and challenges will be required. The past 10 to 15 years have seen, quite rightly, a diminution of the power of country managers, as companies sought to reduce needless duplication and stimulate the sharing of knowledge. Eradicating geographic silos and fiefdoms made sense. But as country-based organisations have become more complex and sizeable, there may be a need to develop more focus at a local level.

Several clients have started to re-build country organisations and re-appoint country managers or ambassadors, particularly as their organisations become more complex at a country level and they need to cultivate governmental or academic influence.

As a result, regional management has come under scrutiny. With the development of technology and communications, organisational span-breakers may not be so necessary. In addition, given the complexity of regional tasks, regional managers become glorified financial directors. The average advertising agency regional director in Europe, for example, may have to cover 100 offices in a 250-day working year. It would be difficult to add significant value while spending an average of one to two days in each office a year, even if he or she travelled constantly.

At WPP, we are experimenting with two new organisational responses. First, Global Client Leaders to manage at least the 30 biggest clients across WPP on a worldwide basis. Second, WPP Country Managers focusing on three key issues – people, local clients and acquisitions. Both responses cause angst to our operating company or tribal leaders who continue to have primary organisational control. Both cut across traditional organisational structures. Both demand new ways of working together, denying turf, territory and ego. Both raise questions about motives, methods and values. But both are necessary, responding to client needs and developments. Organisations are becoming more and more networked, less and less pyramidic. Perhaps the 21st century is not for tidy minds.

Furthermore, as the balance of economic power shifts, there will have to be similar shifts in power within corporations. Salary increases, benefits, STIPs, LTIPs, share options, restricted stock allocations, capital expenditure, for example, will have to be allocated more fairly, as growth favours these faster-growing markets. This will mean that Anglo-American or American-Western European management cliques will have to open up, as, for example, Unilever has done, with over 400 Indian managers already exported around the world in senior positions. There will be more.