Managerial skills for a United Europe of States are taking time to develop.
Europe flounders, but the search for the European-minded manager goes on. Just as economists have been forced to grapple with imperfect markets, so the men and women charged with running today's cross-border businesses must adapt to a Community that insists on trying to remain both fragmented and single. They need the skills to operate in what is certainly not yet a United States of Europe, but already a long way towards becoming, in Kenneth Baker's neat phrase, a United Europe of States.
Stating the objective, though, is only the first step. Actually finding (or more realistically, developing) these polymathic paragons is something else. Faced with the list of required qualifications - several languages, experience in running complex organisations far from home, ability to lead, inspire, motivate, and if necessary fire people in an unfamiliar legal, social and cultural environment - even the most self-confident of head-hunters might forgivably quail (see Doing Le Business, p62). Fortunately, every year nowadays offers them a better-stocked pool to fish in.
One of the most ambitious development initiatives is now coming to its 10th birthday. The European Industrialists' Round Table is a club which brings together the chairmen of around 40 of the EC's most powerful companies, and since its inception it has been running a Young Managers Programme which picks potential high-flyers and throws them in at the corporate deep-end.
Each year, says Keith Richardson, the ERT's director general, one or two promising names are put forward by each member, and despatched to spend three months (and sometimes longer) working with one of the others. Great care is taken to ensure that they not only change countries but also industries and specialities, so that the Volvo marketing man is likely to find himself, for example, pitched into production at Ciment Francais or strategic planning at Solvay. "We impress upon everyone concerned that this is in no sense executive tourism. They are there to work, at a real management job, and both parties are expected to see this as a key step on the candidate's career ladder."
By now some 400 people have enjoyed this opportunity, which was largely conceived, and for a long time organised, by Pilkington's ex-head of personnel, Tony Chaplin. Some early guinea-pigs are reaching very senior positions. Twice a year a hand-picked selection takes part in a pan-European youth conference, where they thrash out such thorny topics as business's responsibility to the environment or what is euphemistically known as "deployment of human resources" (or job-shedding, in any language). Their latest get-together, though, focused on the rather more congenial question of "how to work in an international team".
Demand for such expertise is starting to spread, both at the top and quite a long way further down the pyramid. Holland's electronics giant Philips, when it was looking for someone to head its British-based record subsidiary Polygram, finally picked a Frenchman, Alan Levy. Similarly CMB Packaging, the Anglo-French conglomerate, opted for a German-born American, Jurgen Hintz, when the board needed a replacement CEO. But more typical, perhaps, is the kind of problem posed by Jamont, a US-led joint venture which raised £300 million two years ago to set itself up as a Europe-spanning producer of toilet tissues.
Jamont's owners (until flotation, which is tentatively planned for 1995) are James River Corporation, Finland's now highly diversified Nokia group and an Italian merchant bank, Cragnotti and Partners. The daunting task for chief executive Ronald Singer is to weld together 13 separate enterprises in 10 different countries into what is visualised as Europe's first integrated paper-products company. That requires him not only to impose a unified strategy for production and marketing, but to persuade 13 fiercely independent and nationalistically-trained sets of managers to blend into a seamless whole.
Singer reckons he is already well on the way. "Two years ago," he says, "we had no bank account, no employees. Now all these companies share technology, help sort out each other's operating problems and agree on marketing issues." Even getting them all to make paper napkins the same size provoked a major confrontation. But in the end such obstacles have been surmounted, either in head-banging, cross-frontier committee meetings) or by his inner core of troubleshooters, consisting of four Frenchmen, two Britons, two Italian, two Americans, an Italian, a Dutchman and a Finn.
The approach is paying off. For example the French unit used to buy paper from 20 different suppliers, presenting enormous quality problems. Now it gets everything from two of Jamont's own wholly-owned subsidiaries, with very significant cost and control savings.
Nokia has not only launched its own internal European Management course, but opened it to executives from any other European firm that cares to participate. In their view, the cv of the 21st century manager should read "prepared to do any job, anywhere, in any language."