There’s often a misconception that local companies aren’t as professional as global companies. I’ve worked in large, established local companies in Malaysia including 7-Eleven and Berjaya, both of which had great processes in place and were committed to investing in technology.
Global companies aren’t inherently better than local companies. Similarly, there’s this idea that once you get a job at a global company, you have job security until you choose to leave. That isn’t always true.
In Asia, a lot of potential employees tend to seek out jobs at multinational companies, thinking that they’re inherently better than a local company. Instead of making general assumptions, I would suggest looking at the company itself, as well as your role. If you’re choosing between working at a global or a local company, look closely before you write a local company off. Large local companies can provide you with a wealth of experience and skills that can add great value to your personal development as well as to your career. Let’s look at some pros and cons of working for global and local companies.
One of the big draws when it comes to global companies is that there is a great deal of structure in the business. Structure may be very layered in terms of levels of management, but these distinctions are quite clear. In order to work within a particular structure, you do need to have a level of discipline, because structure goes hand in hand with discipline. This is particularly relevant in the finance and marketing departments, and you’ll find that especially in these aspects of the business, global companies put a great deal of intention into establishing a process for the way things are done.
Financial processes in global companies are a lot more robust, and lower level management are able to gain exposure to these systems. In terms of access to resources as well, a global company is usually superior to local companies. There’s a lot more training that’s conducted in global companies.
Now let’s say you’re facing a setback or a challenge that you simply cannot seem to crack. The great thing about global companies is that you can tap into a global network of expertise. Across the company’s various offices in the world, there’s surely going to be someone who has some experience with the kind of problem you’re trying to solve and can guide you in the right direction.
Global companies also tend to have the willingness and ability to invest more heavily into processes and technology. Essentially, these two elements are required to hold the global business together. And with the expansive reach of global companies, you obviously end up getting exposed to other markets, cultures, and businesses within a global company.
Consider a large multinational company like Sara Lee. When you’re given the opportunity to interact across countries and cultures, you build up the confidence to articulate yourself with different people. You’ll learn how to ask meaningful questions and strengthen your communication skills.
Such global companies also tend to be more established, and therefore have a longer term outlook on the business. You’ll find that there are 5 year plans in place, and that there’s a sense of patience in achieving these goals. These plans and strategies are also implemented in an agreed upon manner.
In global companies, processes tend to be quite rigid: while this is necessary to standardise the business across various offices, it can possibly stifle creativity and innovation. As a marketing plan will have to look more or less the same in Thailand and in Australia, an employee might feel constrained by the way things need to be done. IT processes are also usually standardised, and I see this standardisation as both an advantage and a disadvantage.
Another disadvantage of global companies is that the speed of decision making is quite slow, precisely because these companies are highly structured. When a decision needs to be made, you’ll have to work your way up or down the hierarchy. Similarly, this structure extends to roles as well. As an employee of a global company, the likelihood that you’ll be exploring responsibilities beyond your job scope is not high. Your role is usually clearly defined, and you typically will not be encouraged to go beyond it.
There also tends to be a high degree of corporate governance that goes far beyond legal requirements. Oftentimes, global companies tend to err on the side of caution, and worry about staying clear of trouble that may arise. In reality, staying within legal corporate governance is more than enough and these additional layers do nothing but slow the business down.
In companies like Sara Lee, Unilever, P&G and so on, you also tend to get a lot of international visitors. When these visits are scheduled, there’s a lot of time that goes into preparing for it – two or three weeks can go into preparing presentations and activities for these visitors who may spend just five hours in your office! These visits do disrupt the workflow, but in the process you are forced to dive deep into your own business to explain it better. Of course the visitors can bring expertise and guidance as well.
When you think of local companies, think lean, flat and agile. Most local companies do away with the highly structured approach, so decisions are made much faster and approvals are easier. In general, there tends to be a lot less paperwork and presentations and a lot more hands on “doing” in a dynamic environment.
Because the organisation is flatter, you’ll have the opportunity to work closely with the CEO and founders, this becomes a great way to learn from their way of thinking. There’s also a great entrepreneurial drive that runs through local companies by and large. As a result, you may be hired for a role in marketing, but end up taking on projects that develop your sales or content skills. Not only can this add variety and fun to your job, you’ll also get to add new skills to your portfolio as you go along. With this dynamism, however, there comes a lack of patience. A local company usually has its sights on the short term horizons, which can translate to a hire-and-fire mentality when employees aren’t able to deliver. This is much less prevalent in global companies.
Another issue is that when you take a spontaneous approach to decision making, the danger is that the necessary research, investigation, and evaluation isn’t always done to the level of a multinational company.
If the local company is a small family company, that could come with a whole slew of issues that include politics and interpersonal conflict. There are so many different types of local companies - large, small, family company, and so on.
I worked for two local companies over the course of my career. One was a relatively small family company, which ended up being difficult. The family became entrenched in the business, so some decisions were made by the family, and not necessarily by the management of the business. Comparing that with my second stint at a large Malaysian local company, Berjaya, though it is a public company, it is also somewhat of a family business. Berjaya (and 7-Eleven), however, was run highly professionally and independently, so there were no political issues.
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