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International careers: how history has shaped your boss’s management style

Ideas about how a good manager should lead and conduct themselves vary between countries and regions.

International careers: how history has shaped your boss’s management style
Photos: Getty Images

As it turns out, what you consider to be a strong, effective leader in your country may have its roots in the distant past, with civilizations such as the empire-building Romans and seafaring Norse. The Local spoke with two experts at the prestigious ESCP Business School to find out about such differences – and learn about a 21st Century model for better leadership.

With six campuses in six major European cities, cultural diversity and awareness is crucial to the learning experience at ESCP.

Interested in studying management in a cross-cultural environment? Find out more about ESCP Business School and your chance to study in cities such as London, Paris, Madrid, Turin and Berlin

The cultural roots of consensus seeking versus dominant leaders

Should a manager use direct communication with employees or let people read between the lines? Should they be a bold decision-maker or carefully build consensus? If you think there’s a simple answer to these questions, think again. 

The answer is likely to depend on where you live and work. Some of the biggest differences are between more ‘horizontal’ societies (such as Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe) and cultures that prefer clear hierarchies (such as in Italy, Spain, and East Asia).

The globalized business world can be a maze to navigate for managers and employees alike. But national differences in terms of what we expect from managers have deep cultural roots that go back thousands of years, says Professor Justin Byrne. Based at the Madrid campus, he teaches intercultural skills on ESCP’s Bachelor in Management (BSc) and some of its Masters courses. 

Expectations of a more level workplace environment in Sweden, Denmark and Norway stem not just from the post-war love of social democracy but from “the Vikings being an egalitarian culture”. In countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, he says expectations of strong individual leadership can be “related back to the Romans”. And in China, Japan and South Korea, Confucius’s ideas about roles, rules and responsibilities, remain highly influential 2,500 years after his death.

Lead on your own or listen to all?

These complexities mean the very things that make someone a good manager in some cultures make them utterly unsuitable in others, says Professor Byrne, who has lived in the UK, Spain, Italy, the US and Ecuador. Such differences are explained by models such as the ‘power distance’ index element of Hofstede Insights and in American author Erin Meyer’s book ‘The Culture Map.’

“In more hierarchical countries, managers are expected to take decisions as leaders and have answers,” says Professor Byrne. “The difference in their status and authority is manifested in how they dress, how the office is set up, and how, when and what they communicate.

Want to study in three major European cities in three years? Find out more about ESCP and its Bachelor in Management (BSc)

“In less hierarchical societies, a leader is more of a facilitator. In Denmark, it’s great if the manager turns up on a bicycle as it shows they’re like everybody else. In China, if a manager doesn’t look the part, it’s bad not just for them but for everybody.”

Culture clashes are also common within Europe. “It wouldn’t work for a Danish manager to come to Spain and expect people to express their individual opinions and have them taken into account,” he says.

So, what of his students on the Bachelor in Management (BSc)? Professor Byrne says many have lived in several countries, speak three or four languages and start off “sceptical about national differences”.

“We show there’s clear evidence that they’re still relevant and that cultural values change rather slowly despite changes in behaviour and consumption patterns,” he says.

“We live in a globalized world where you can expect national cultures to be less homogeneous. That said, I’d maintain that there are still significant variations in national attitudes that are relevant in work and management.”

A cross-cultural journey: find out more about studying at ESCP and download the brochure for its Bachelor in Management (BSc)

Total leadership: finding ‘four-way wins’ 

Wherever your notion of a good boss originated, following a fast-paced career can leave you struggling to reconcile your ambitions at work with your personal life. It may seem almost impossible to achieve success and still be the person you want to be in your working and home life.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Professor Carlos Casanueva. As well as teaching finance at ESCP, he has been working to develop the practice of ‘Total Leadership’ in Europe since 2008.

While we increasingly hear talk of the need for work-life balance, Professor Casanueva says Total Leadership has a different perspective. “It’s not about equilibrium,” he says. “It’s about synergies and harmony. If you do the right thing, you grow in all areas.” 

Professor Carlos Casanueva

He says the most important concept in the philosophy is four-way wins. This refers to acting in a way that enables you to achieve wins at work, at home, in your community, and for yourself. Three key principles must be followed: be real (acting with authenticity about what’s important); be whole (acting with integrity by respecting the whole person); and be innovative (acting with creativity by continually experimenting).

“Some people destroy their personal life because it makes sense for their professional life,” says Professor Casanueva. “I’ve been very clear since I was 18 that my personal life was more important than my professional life. I always wanted to be ethical. Plenty of people were the opposite and were very successful.”

But now he says Total Leadership principles are warmly welcomed in diverse cultures, as well as by students on the ESCP Bachelor in Management whenever he mentions the concept. “Human beings are very similar in the wiring of our brains,” he says. 

Training for cross-cultural careers

While that wiring unites people everywhere, our cultural expectations do clearly differ. If you’re pursuing or planning an international career, you’ll face considerable challenges as a result. 

But studying at an institution that promotes cross-cultural understanding could prove hugely helpful – and ESCP stands out in this regard. Students on the Bachelor in Management (BSc) can study in three cities in three years, from Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid and Turin. “If ESCP has a USP, it’s the cross-cultural dimension,” says Professor Byrne. 

Find out more about studying at ESCP Business School – and download the brochure for the Bachelor in Management (BSc).

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BUSINESS

Clock ticking on Swiss watches’ raw materials from Russia

Diamonds shine brightly at this year's Geneva watch fair but the sanctions slapped on Russia could soon force the Swiss watch industry to produce more subdued designs.

Clock ticking on Swiss watches' raw materials from Russia

Russia is a major supplier of diamonds, gold and other precious metals to the luxury watchmakers exhibiting at Watches and Wonders, one of the world’s top salons for the prestige industry.

The Russian group Alrosa — the world’s largest diamond mining company — was hit by US sanctions within hours of the Kremlin-ordered invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

According to US Treasury figures, it accounts for 90 percent of Russia’s diamond mining capacity, and 28 percent globally.

And while trade between Switzerland and Russia is modest, gold is the chief import, ahead of precious metals such as platinum followed by diamonds not mounted or set, according to the Swiss customs office.

Compared to other sectors of the Swiss economy, “watchmaking was a branch that was less affected than others by supply problems in 2021”, Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, told AFP.

But that may no longer be the case, he acknowledged, adding that it was hard to assess the repercussions for the watch industry at this stage.

“There are obviously reserves. Afterwards, we will have to see, depending on how long the conflict lasts,” Pasche said.

The booth of Swiss luxury watchmaker and jeweller Piaget at Watches and Wonder

The booth of Swiss luxury watchmaker and jeweller Piaget, owned by Richemont group, photographed on the opening day of the Geneva salon. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Recycled gold and palladium
The Swiss luxury giant Richemont owns the Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery firms, plus eight prestigious watch brands, including Piaget and IWC.

The group took the lead on Wednesday, saying all its brands have stopped sourcing diamonds from Russia.

The move will create a lot of work on the supply chain to find responsibly sourced, quality diamonds from elsewhere, Richemont chief executive Jerome Lambert told a press conference.

Gold supply is of less concern. For a decade or so, Richemont has been sourcing recycled gold for watchmaking, bought from industry and the electronics sector.

For palladium, used for instance for wedding and engagement rings, the group decided “ahead of the sanctions” to switch to suppliers specialising in recycled palladium, Lambert said.

Draining the stocks
At Patek Philippe, one of the most prestigious Swiss brands, the firm’s president is counting on his stockpile to ride out the storm.

“Luckily I produce in small quantities,” said Thierry Stern, who represents the fourth generation of his family at the company helm.

Watches made with titanium and ceramics are displayed at the booth of luxury Swiss watch manufacturer IWC,

Watches made with titanium and ceramics are displayed at the booth of luxury Swiss watch manufacturer IWC, on the opening day of the Watches and Wonders Geneva show. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“So I don’t feel any difference yet,” he told AFP. For 2022, Patek Philippe plans to manufacture 66,000 timepieces.

“And if I can’t find certain stones, I can always do engraving,” said the head of the  brand, which relies on a wide range of disciplines including ceramics, marquetry and enamel.

H. Moser, a niche brand producing 2,000 watches a year for wealthy collectors, struck much the same tone.

“Purchases are made in advance. For example, for the casings that I want to make in 2023, I have already bought all the gold I need,” said boss Edouard Meylan.

“But maybe in six months’ time some of our suppliers will call to push back the deadlines because they haven’t received the materials,” he admitted.

Concerns over raw materials “will drive up prices, of course”, said Jon Cox, an industry analyst with the Kepler Cheuvreux financial services company.

However, compared to other sectors, luxury firms have more leeway to pass on costs to customers, he added.

At the Watches and Wonders salon in Geneva, where 38 brands are exhibiting until Tuesday, the displays are brimming with diamonds, reflecting the “generally upbeat mood” of the industry this year after a prosperous 2021.

However, given the war and its repercussions, “I imagine product development will move to more subdued luxury goods”, Cox said.

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