Published May 28, 2008

Local execs poised to turn the tables on expats

Headhunters are seeing a new trend in emerging markets


(SINGAPORE) Could companies in the not-too-distant future see the day when their most senior executive positions will be largely filled by locals, rather than an expatriate who commands a high salary?

The prognosis is that this could well become a reality within the next decade, with headhunters in five emerging markets worldwide predicting that high-cost international staff will largely be superseded by locals, returning nationals and regional talent.

According to an ongoing study by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), the current global shortage of executive talent faced by many multinational corporations (MNCs) will become less acute over the next five to 10 years.

The New York-based AESC, which represents the world's biggest headhunting companies, is the global professional association for the retained executive search industry.

This latest study, conducted last month, gathered responses from 62 executive search professionals from China, India, Brazil, Russia and the Middle East.

Ten years ago, 54 per cent of respondents had said that most senior executive roles were filled by international expatriates. But only 8 per cent thought that this group would still be doing so in 2013, said the study.

AESC president Peter Felix said that the market for such expatriates took off when major emerging economies began growing rapidly. But when these markets started to mature, so too has the pool of talent that can be hired locally, he added.

'The global market for senior executives is not completely borderless, though. The fact is that 'cultural fit' continues to be a barrier, both for MNCs hiring locals and for those returning to their home countries to work,' said Mr Felix.

Among other key findings of the AESC study was that private bankers are the most sought after in the financial services sector today. Private wealth and banking emerged as the area that has seen the most executive searches launched this year, while investment banking came in last on the list.

'In terms of positions, risk managers and sales/ fund raisers have been the most sought after, and traders the least. Respondents also predict that total compensation in this sector will remain the same over the next 12 months,' said the study.

When asked what management quality was most lacking in these high-growth markets, the majority of respondents said 'initiative'.

One in two said that leadership, initiative and motivation were the things they needed most in their respective sector.

Looking ahead, the study said that the recruitment crunch would ease for MNCs but was unlikely so for domestic firms.

'For local companies, demand for senior executives is expected to remain high for the foreseeable future, tapering off only slightly in 10 years' time,' said the study.

The AESC now plans to do more research on senior executive recruitment in the Asia-Pacific region.