Section image

Local vs global: getting the balance right

The world’s multinational companies must develop new thinking to deal with the issues described above. 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. This will not mean that everything changes. 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 around a third in North America, a third in Asia and Latin America and a third in Europe, Middle East and Africa will become more the norm, rather than Pepsi-Cola’s 53% in the US. At the same time, more sensitive local organisations that can respond more readily to national opportunities and challenges will be required.

The past 10 to 15 years have seen, probably 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 they need to cultivate governmental or academic influence or be more locally sensitive.

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 no more than 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 (which account for over 30% of revenues) 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. It also seems to be a nonsense to have a similar country manager structure for China and India, as with Singapore and Portugal. Maybe the BRICs, at least, should be split off from their regions and report in directly to the centre, opening up for them to be split up further regionally.

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 and 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.