You've worked hard to get ahead in your career. You did well in school and gathered the right professional experience and certifications, and you're on a trajectory upward. Sometimes you've thought about living and working internationally, but then you think of the upheaval, not to mention that your spouse or “significant other” might be less than thrilled with the decision. Is it really that important, you wonder, for finance executives to have a resume that includes direct international experience?
The answer is unequivocally “yes.” So many companies today are “global companies” that the phrase has almost become obsolete. The best companies want the best leaders — and these days, this means executives with proven international experience. Contrary to popular belief, completing a tour of duty abroad is just as valuable for CFO candidates as it is for other C-suite positions, if not more so.
While some chief executives and general managers may have more day-to-day face time with overseas clients and business partners, at the end of the day, finance gets the deal done. Finance executives who prove their mettle in unfamiliar business and cultural scenarios will be ahead of their peers when they return. They will be in a better position to partner with operations and support management decision-making because they will be able to provide more informed metrics.
We offer the following tips for finance leaders interested in building a global resume.
1. Choose your market and assignment carefully. Let senior management know of your interest and willingness to relocate outside of your home market for the “right opportunity.” Be certain that the assignment that you accept is in a market of importance to your organization and to the global economy, which most likely means a posting in a major market in Asia/Pacific or Europe.
2. Do it earlier in your career. If possible, consider an overseas assignment earlier in your career, when the risks are lower and there is more time to reap the post-expatriate career benefits. Nowadays, it makes sense to think of a 3- to 5-year expatriate assignment as an integral part of a well-rounded finance education — not unlike a residency in the medical field. Junior-level positions (such as division controller) are always easier to find than more senior posts. Also, the younger you are, very likely, the less complicated your family obligations.
3. Family matters. An international assignment can be an invaluable experience for the entire family, but don't underestimate the impact an overseas move can have on your spouse and children. It helps if the assignment is done before your children enter high school. While taking a baby on a 14-hour flight is no fun, it's generally preferable to announcing to your teenagers that you're moving to Abu Dhabi. Proximity and introduction to the expatriate community is critical — something to keep in mind when choosing housing and schooling.
4. Make mistakes. Working overseas is a learning experience, and business and cultural differences in another country will present obstacles and learning opportunities. The point is to learn to deal with these challenges, be receptive to new ideas and approaches, and become one of an elite group of executives who can “get things done” globally.
5. Beware of the “out of sight, out of mind” effect. As important as working abroad is for career development, it is not without risk. Right or wrong, senior management and boards tend to have more confidence in executives they see on a regular basis. There is no guarantee what role you're going to come back to. The reality is that Bob who stayed in Chicago to network might get the nod for CFO instead of Mary who's been a superstar in Hong Kong. So don't stay overseas longer than 5 years if your long-term goal is to advance your career on North American soil.
6. Get a jump on IFRS. One of the most important career challenges for finance executives in the coming decade is becoming fluent in International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). While the exact date of convergence is yet to be determined, IFRS is slated to replace U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) in the very near future to minimize disparities in financial reporting. An expatriate assignment is the best way to get “on the ground” with IFRS. After all, it's the GAAP of the future.
In today's global business environment, it's not enough to just be part of an international deal team or to help set up legal entities in other countries. For finance executives who really want to get ahead of the curve, the best advice is to get overseas right now, if you haven't been there already. Fortune 1,000 companies are demanding international experience in their top executives. There's also the wealth-building opportunity — expats typically receive compensation and benefits beyond what they would earn if they stayed home.
Still not interested in an expatriate assignment? That's OK. These assignments are not for everyone — just understand that letting an overseas opportunity pass you by could cost you down the road.
Now hear Eric Rehmann of Korn/Ferry International share career-building insights.