Our love for foreign CEOs over locals

In one of my expat job locations, I discovered that the status symbol of that society would be having a western CEO in their company. I observe the same infatuation with western CEOs among employers and employees in some cases in Bangladesh. But Bangladesh could produce more local CEOs and corporate leaders if local employees and employers were more supportive.

In my experience of promoting local talents to senior positions, I have found the biggest challenges from local teammates. The general attitude is somewhat like how can I report to someone who is just one of us? There are also those who pride themselves in reporting to a foreign boss. Needless to say, there are always exceptions.

I was anticipated to take up the CEO role prior to the actual time. But it could not happen because of some colleagues' concerns about me, as I was told. When I assumed the CEO role in late 2016, one of the biggest initial challenges was gaining confidence from my team.

One group wanted to override me, while the rest was caught in a dilemma of whether the first local CEO could live up to the expectations in the foreign-owned telecom sector. Fortunately, I had the full support of my Group CEO at the time, which helped me tremendously. We often see success but not the struggle behind it.

There was a time when the top job in multinational companies (MNCs) in Bangladesh was held by expatriates. But today, many Bangladeshi CEOs in MNCs are proving to be equally or more successful in their job, breaking the earlier jinx. It is truly helping change the mindset of local employees, and if the trend continues, we can see more home-grown talents as leaders.

Another reason for selecting local CEOs or leaders against expatriates is the changes in the organisational structure in the last decade or so. In most MNCs in Bangladesh, the finance, supply chain, HR, and even part of marketing report directly to the regional functional head. Only dotted or administrative reporting is done to the local CEO. Hence, the CEO's role becomes limited only to sales and marketing (not brand often), dealing with local authorities and regulations etc.

Generally, it is beneficial for foreign companies operating in Bangladesh to have a local CEO who understands the local culture, language, and business environment. A local CEO usually has established relationships with local stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and government officials, which can be valuable in building trust and navigating the business environment.

Additionally, a local CEO may be better equipped to understand the unique challenges and opportunities of the Bangladeshi market. This can help the company tailor its products, services, and marketing strategies to the local market and gain a competitive edge. Additionally, a local CEO would generally have an eye for national interest, unlike an expat.

However, it is important to note that every company and situation is unique, and there may be circumstances where an expat CEO may be a better fit. For instance, if the company operates in an industry that requires international expertise, such as technology or finance, an expat CEO with global experience may be more suitable. Ultimately, whether to hire a local or expat CEO should be based on the company's specific needs and its business environment.

Bangladesh is not a desired job destination for westerners or our neighbours. Hence, not the best of the expat resources would agree to get posted here. There are local leaders who can undoubtedly hold top positions, but our love for expats and the government's indifference to creating opportunities for locals hold back progress. Aligning with the "Made in Bangladesh" strategy, shouldn't we focus on "Made in Bangladesh CEOs" too?

The author is founder and managing director of BuildCon Consultancies Ltd