Companies face a shortage of international management talent

In an increasingly volatile global business environment, companies need managers who know how to operate across borders - but they don't have enough of them

by Management Today Staff
Last Updated: 07 Oct 2019

Dr Roshan Boojihawon — senior lecturer in Business Strategy and Programme Director for the AMBA-accredited 100% Online MSc International Business at the University of Birmingham — is a man on a mission. He wants businesses to take seriously the task of nurturing the next generation of international business managers.

"You’ve got to understand," he explains to us in his highly animated style, "that since 2007, there has been a complete transformation of the global business environment. The old certainties have gone and companies need managers who are trained to operate in this new environment." 

Dr Boojihawon is talking about the growing realisation that many companies do not have the pipeline of up-and-coming managers they will need to support leadership teams in the increasingly complex and rapidly evolving world of international business. A recent survey of international HR managers found that 70% were concerned about a global skills shortage. 

"Today, every business is exposed to global headwinds," Dr Boojihawon continues. "Whether it’s the need to manage currency fluctuations, concern about the impact of political instability or just the interconnectedness of markets that increasingly look like they’re heading for a slowdown, every company needs people with the skills required to stay ahead of a changing market." 

What skills does the ideal international manager need?

"In 2008, when the global financial crisis hit," says Dr Boojihawon, "policy makers around the globe worked together and they had a whole range of policy levers available to them. In today’s global environment, there’s no guarantee that the same co-operation would be forthcoming, or the same levers would be available. To take just one example, quantitative easing was a key tool used by all central banks to keep finance operating after 2008. Today, when the ECB announces another round of QE, the United States warns of an impending currency war."

The academic is enumerating some of the challenges posed by the current global business environment. Companies, he explains, can no longer rely on governments to smooth over difficulties in the global trading environment. They need new cadres of managers who are trained to deal with this new and less benign operating environment.

At the same time, many of the challenges businesses are already familiar with, are being made more complex by recent developments. Take, for instance, the need for managers to understand and work with, rather than against, the way cultures differ between markets and even within companies. As businesses diversify at least some of their supply chain away from China to new outsource markets — partly in response to trade tensions and partly in response to rising Chinese wages — the number of national and institutional cultures which must be accommodated only increases.

What kind of person, we ask Dr Boojihawon, do companies need if they are going to succeed in this new environment? He thinks for a moment. "Well, cultural sensitivity is a huge thing. He or she must be able to understand and operate in many different cultural contexts. But a good international manager is also analytical, able to grasp the implications of global forces on fast-moving local and international operations. He or she must also be able to take responsibility for the brand value and values, ensuring that these are protected across both the supply chain and the customer journey. Protecting the brand can be an extremely complex undertaking, in a world with increasingly activist consumers whose priorities often differ widely from market to market." 

How to fill the talent pipeline

"There is a huge gap in the market for the next generation of management candidates with international business skills," says Dr Boojihawon. "Companies should start identifying their rising stars now and making sure they get the training they need. At the same time, for enterprising individuals, this is the time to acquire the skills that will soon be at a premium."

Dr Boojihawon is the lead senior lecturer for the University of Birmingham’s 100% Online MSc International Business. The course offers much of the same curriculum as a traditional MBA and is the only 100% online MSc to be accredited by Association of MBAs (AMBA). It’s specifically designed for up-and-coming management candidates who want to sharpen their international business skills. 

What past students say about University of Birmingham MSc International Business

"The online MSc helped me to earn the theoretical and practical experience I need to succeed at the start of my career"

 Roberto Lionti (Belgium) – Intelligent Automation Consultant, Ernst and Young

"The course provided insight into some of the aspects that make up a good leader, and not just a good manager."

Helen Feibert (Denmark) – Planning and Control Lead (Global IT), Pandora

"An understanding of international business theory and being able to apply such knowledge in a practical sense is pivotal for thriving when faced with new markets and unprecedented change."

Sophia Withers (Australia) – Co-founder, isgoodai

‘The world is increasingly interconnected by the forces of technology and globalisation, yet we still face challenges when doing business across national and cultural boundaries.’ 

Kyle Buffrey (China) – General Manager, Impex Food and Beverage

Find out how the Online MSc International Business can help you turbo charge your career here

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime