Channel NewsAsia

What does it take to be CEO of an MNC?

More Singaporeans have been hired for top Asia Pacific roles in the past three years. But what does it take to be the regional or global CEO of a multinational corporation, and are Singaporeans ready for such positions?

SINGAPORE: More Singaporeans have been hired for top Asia Pacific roles in the past three years, according to Russell Reynolds Associates, a leading global senior executive search and advisory firm.

But what does it take to be the regional or global CEO of a multinational corporation (MNC)?

And are Singaporeans ready for senior management positions in global companies?

After 26 years with Standard Chartered Bank, Mr Lim Cheng Teck was recently promoted as CEO for ASEAN markets, a newly created role. 

During those 26 years, he has taken on different roles in the bank, including chief operating officer in China, and CEO for Singapore as well as China.

Mr Lim said it is no easy task having to learn the language, culture and business practices of a foreign country.

"China is a market I completely knew nothing about -- (what I knew was from) what I read in the papers, and back in those days it was nothing much.

“This was before China entered WTO (World Trade Organisation). The world's focus on China wasn't as close as what it is today,” said Mr Lim.

Experts say Singapore, being a global business hub, provides a conducive environment for those motivated to scale the corporate ladder.

According to a survey of 85 companies by Russell Reynolds Associates, more Singaporeans have been recruited for senior Asia Pacific roles.

Among the leadership positions that the firm has helped to place in 2011, 6 per cent were filled by Singaporeans.

That figure climbed to 13 per cent in 2012, and to 15 per cent last year.

There is also a growing trend of hiring executives from the region for Asia Pacific roles.

So what is it do companies look for in a CEO?

"The five key attributes that most companies would typically look for would be commercial acumen, strategic thinking capabilities, the ability to manage teams, strong executive presence as well as effective communication skills.

“Companies are looking for executives with very strong international mindset and experience as well as exposure,” said Audrey Tan, country managing director at Russell Reynolds Associates.

In addition, a CEO must also be able to relate to people from diverse backgrounds and culture.

Observers say having a global mindset and overseas experience are becoming increasingly important as companies seek expansion into foreign markets.

However, it is not always easy getting workers to take on an overseas posting.

"The comfort in Singapore has become a deterrent in many ways. One of the best things about Singapore is that everything works here -- we need you to be in a market where everything doesn't work, and then how do you manage that kind of market situation and how do you garner the team to work with you. So it is a long development process,” said Annie Koh, academic director at Singapore Management University (SMU).

The Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) says other factors that could weigh against an overseas posting include lack of family support or social network in a foreign country, and concerns about integrating one’s children back into Singapore's education system after being away for a few years.

SHRI notes that the talent pool is growing in the region and companies are casting the net wide.

"Singapore is not the only choice if the cost of posting Singapore CEO potentials is considered not cost-effective.

“They probably will consider other sources, typically like India or China, and they find that the marketplace that's growing are these two areas. So getting the local pool from India and China seem to be a convenient target, and that will make Singapore lose out,” said Erman Tan, president of SHRI.

But SHRI says work is being done to groom the next generation of leaders to drive Singapore companies and even MNCs, as schools offer exchange programmes and
encourage students to be more innovative.

SMU has seen more students going on multiple overseas exchange programmes and internships, as well as taking up a foreign language.

"I am seeing a lot of our students taking an additional degree in Qinghua, in Fudan, so they are going to take language programmes.

“Our young are starting to realise they need to think global from day one. And if you can't get it from our own education system, you get it from outside the country, and you have to take ownership to go and do that.

“A lot of them are very entrepreneurial, they want to be their own bosses,” said SMU’s academic director Annie Koh.

That is exactly the case with Razer Inc, a company which develops products for gamers.

Founded by Singaporean Tan Min-Liang and Robert Krakoff in the late 1990s, the company has 500 employees worldwide today, with 250 of them based in Singapore.

Razer Inc is now seen as a big name in the gaming circuit, tapping a dynamic video game industry that is projected to grow from US$67 billion in 2013 to US$82 billion in 2017.

Mr Tan, a lawyer by training, says the key is to chase your passion and reach out to a broader market.

He was named one of the 25 most creative people in tech by Business Insider in 2013.

"Having more exposure is definitely a good thing -- we kind of see it with local institutions right now, they are sending people to the Silicon Valley, they are sending people to all around the world, to kind of get the best out of them and bring it back to Singapore.

“We are seeing more start-up entrepreneurs that have distilled the best from other places,” said Mr Tan, CEO of Razer Inc.

Today, Razer Inc has offices in nine cities including San Francisco, Hamburg, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore.

So whether it is starting out on one’s own or climbing the corporate ladder, a lot depends on getting a kick out of what one does, and going after one’s goals. 

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna