An Expat Dilemma - Jaguar or Bluebird? Mark Chan's Decision to Stay Overseas or Return Home after his Expatriate Assign

Mark Chan and his family were at a crossroads. His next career move looked certain to be the most important he would ever face. He, his wife and their young children had all quite enjoyed their time in Britain but he now had either to continue pursuing his international career, or return to their native Singapore. Assistant Professor of Asian Business and Marketing Günter K. Stahl and co-author Chei Chua Hwee present a case scenario that has become all too common for executives in major multinationals. Several major pros and cons weighed on both sides of the issue. Winner of the 2005 Academy of Management case writing competition.

by Günter Stahl, Chei Hwee Chua
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Mark Chan and his family were at a crossroads. His next career move looked certain to be the most important he would ever face. His time in England would soon be coming to a close. He, his wife and their young children had all quite enjoyed their time in Britain. But he now had either to continue pursuing his international career, or return to their native Singapore.

Assistant Professor of Asian Business and Marketing Günter K. Stahl and co-author Chei Chua Hwee present a case scenario that has become all too common for executives in major multinationals. Several major pros and cons weighed on both sides of the issue. But for Mark and his wife Linda, any amount of analysis did not seem to be getting them very far.

Mark had risen quite quickly in Energem, a diversified international corporation with leading positions in a number of industries. Having begun his career at the Singapore subsidiary of a Japanese-based consultancy firm, he was attracted by Energem's wide range of possibilities. He joined the Singapore office after having travelled extensively in Asia for work. Having started a family, he returned to Singapore and took a managerial position in Energem's chemicals division.

Impressing his superiors and having been promoted, after three years Mark was offered a three-year posting at the company's London HQ. Accepting it would make him a senior executive and, despite his wife needing to give up her job, they gladly accepted.

The family was quite happy in England overall. But Mark had some concerns. Certain colleagues seemed to be implying tacitly that he was hired as a "token Asian" to add diversity to the main office. He was, however, able to convince them in time that he had indeed been hired on merit.

Over time, Mark also began to appreciate that his family was closer and happier than they had been in Singapore. Their standard of living was also higher. Sadly, Linda's father fell seriously ill, and she began to feel intense guilt about the geographical distance between herself and her family.

Thus the emergence of the Chan family's big dilemma: In spite of his professional success, Mark could not locate a position within the Singapore office that was a step up. He was passed over for a coveted spot in favour of someone with no international experience, and was beginning to feel quite cynical about Energem's much-touted appreciation of the value of "global players".

Eventually, a three-year position in Holland appeared, offering a major promotion. While appealing on many levels, the school system and culture were entirely different to anything his family had ever experienced.

The author leaves Mark Chan and his wife on the verge of being forced to make one of the toughest decisions of their lives. Return to Singapore to a lower-paying, less attractive job for family reasons; or relocate to an unfamiliar country, yet one that was still in Europe, where the had been so comfortable? (There were also clear considerations regarding the restarting of Mark's wife's banking career - something that was only ever likely to happen back in Singapore.)

Winner of the 2005 Academy of Management case writing competition, the "A" case study presents an interesting insight into the types of dilemmas experienced every day by young, ambitious professional couples. The author essentially leaves it up to the individual reader to decide what course the Chan family should embark upon. The "B" case covers the family's eventual decision, and its consequences.

INSEAD 2003

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