Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Home Team

Another season has passed, managers and players have come and gone and the deck continues to be reshuffled.  And once again as the dust has settled, even more work permits have been applied for to help Swiss nationals come to New York and Miami and head up US offices.  This is a cycle that has remained consistent.  That unshakable belief that the reason why things aren't working out in a particular market is because there isn't a reassuring Swiss hand at the wheel.

So every two to three years, more freshly minted country managers are dispatched, arrive at JFK and are expected to be able to lead and manage a group of "foreigners".  And I say this in all fairness to both sides - this is a program that continues to not work out too well for the majority of brands trying it.  A recent example:

Country Manager A - dispatched to the US at great expense.  Working papers processed at great expense, housing arranged - Manhattan baby!  at great expense.  Country manager promptly terminates half of the "home team".  Now interestingly enough, sales were not exactly bad for Country Manager A's brand.  In fact, sales were quite good.  But changes had to be made so that people would know that Country Manager A was a serious dude, wearing his "Big Boy Pants".  This had an immediate impact!  But not the one that Country Manager A was hoping for.  Retailers started to express concern with the sudden changes.  They had good, solid relationships with the previous representatives, and now felt somewhat abandoned.  So Country Manager A  then promptly terminated most of the new hires that he had made.  This carried on at such a pace that within six months some retailers had been contacted by as many as three (3) different sales reps.  Within a year, Country Manager A was out, and an emergency replacement was shipped out, at great expense... and the cycle renewed itself.

It is a time honored process with MANY Swiss brands.  Aspiring future senior level executives and would be CEOs are sent to the US as a sort of "finishing school" to prepare them to take the helm of the Mother Ship after a successful tour.  More often than not it does not pan out this way with two notable exceptions at AP and UN.  It inevitably leaves the US without solid management that really understands the retailers, the actual demand for the product, the language, and the culture.  A top-down management style is then replicated and enforced.  And then communication jams because nobody can make a decision, and nobody can reach the Country Manager because the communication is not flowing through the "proper channels".  It is doomed from the start.

So I would like to propose a different approach.  Reverse the travel and send "native" aspiring country managers to Switzerland for a more serious training and grounding on how things are done at HQ.  And I am not talking about the 1 week "fun trip" where everyone comes to HQ, has a few sales meetings and the rest of the time is spent on river cruises, helicopter rides and lord knows what else.
If the concern is that the US based staff don't understand how things are done at the brand HQ and does not understand what the brand HQ wants, needs and expects, then bring them to HQ and SHOW THEM.  Invest the same type of time and money in the training of these people that you spend on your Swiss staff.  It's a hell of a lot cheaper to invest a month in the future market of the US than it is to constantly change and replace senior management with yet another "pet project" with a Swiss passport.

And who knows - that smaller investment might lead to a more dedicated US team that can see a future where they might have a hope in Hell of actually getting an opportunity to lead the brand that they've dedicated themselves to.  Otherwise, what's in it for them?  Limited possibilities without the hope of promotion beyond a certain level.

I'd quit too.

No comments:

Post a Comment