FT Judgment Call: Can too strong a national identity harm the business?
BP’s difficulties in the Gulf of Mexico seem to have been exacerbated by a perception that the business is overwhelmingly British. US critics have been irritated by the lack of an American voice at the top of the company. Should businesses try harder to include a wider array of nationalities in senior posts? Or is the call for greater diversity simply a politically correct management fad?
The consultant: Allyson Stewart-Allen
Promoting your country of origin and heritage is the right thing to do when the country has high credibility in your sector internationally. For
example, promoting “Made in France” for a perfume brand makes sense. Any company doing business internationally must ensure the voices of those diverse markets hit the boardroom, not just because it is politically correct but because research shows diversity results in better decisions and risk management. Ideally, those voices should reflect the countries and business cultures in direct proportion to the level of revenue represented by those markets. A systematic process goes a long way to build and sustain brand value – and we know Americans speak the language of brands fluently.
The writer is director of International Marketing Online, a consultancy
The brand guru Wally Olins
The kind of rhetoric used against BP is politically motivated and intended to deflect anger that might otherwise be used against the US government towards “foreigners” – in this case, snooty Brits. But this won’t last long. Usually the country-of-origin effect is helpful. Mercedes thrives on German “characteristics” – efficiency, reliability. And L’Oréal was run by an Englishman for years – presumably “because he was worth it”. But national identity can cause problems. Toyota’s recent performance has had a knock-on effect for other Japanese companies. This episode shows you need people at, or near, the top of the business who can speak the language and use the style of the countries in which they operate. It seems that Tony Hayward, with all his understated English charm, can’t.
The writer is chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants
The director Miles Templeman
In today’s business climate, a truly international company must take care to position itself as being internationally representative. Being viewed as just a
national company could inhibit growth in overseas markets. Multinationals need to be seen to be representative of each country in which they operate, with a strong local voice. Of course, global companies have a national origin, but a purely national identity is not sufficient. BP may not have carried out a great piece of positioning over recent weeks, but it does have a transparently global position – 40 per cent of its shareholders are in the US, for
example – and that global positioning is vital to business success.
The writer is director-general of the UK’s Institute of Directors
Edited by Stefan Stern
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.