An MNC is an MNC

Early this morning I met up with a former client who was in town, just to catch up and see how things are going for them. As we talked about the challenges they are facing around Asia and the opportunities they are seeing for growth, it occurred to me that it did not matter if they are an Asian MNC or a Western MNC — no matter where your headquarters is, if you are operating here, you have the same issues.

Why does this matter? Because for the last few years, as I have worked around Asia, I have always had people tell me “we’re different.” Asian companies push back against methods because “those are western” and WMNCs say “we have a different culture because our boss is in New York/London/Sydney.” But at the end of the day, where you are from is not nearly as important as where you are going, and multinational corporations in the region are pretty much trying to get to the same place.

Business goals tend to be pretty similar, as companies aim for profit maximization, growing market share, expansion into new markets, and other measures of success. The challenges are similar, too; talent challenges are pretty much the same, since we are all drawing from the same talent pool and face similar opportunities and limitations in our local talent markets. All companies are affected by the economic and political changes in the markets where they operate, regardless of their home base. The distinction should not be between Asian and Western as much as it is between large and small enterprises; a family-owned retail shop operating in one country is not really similar to Forever 21, but Uniqlo is. The strategic and operational environments of Asian and Western MNCs are not much different.

Some Asian companies have looked at recommended practices and said, “that would be a big change for us.” Guess what? Most of those practices were big changes for companies the first time they put them to use. Western companies that evolved into global firms had to change the way they operate, and the same will be true for Asian companies that want to be global. While there are obviously some social culture differences, you will find that the similarities between MNCs far outweigh those differences.

So what? So, learn from each other. When you hear about the challenges Proton is facing, do not just dismiss them simply because you work for Ford Motor Co. If you read a case study from Disneyland Tokyo, do not ignore it while you sit at your desk at Resorts World Sentosa. If you want to be an MNC operating in Asia, you have to act like an MNC operating in Asia, and that is going to be pretty much the same no matter where your home office is.

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