Case 4 Jaguar or Bluebird? Mark Chan’s Decision to Stay Overseas or Return Home after His Expatriate Assignment (A) Case 5 From Jaguar to Bluebird – Mark Chan Returns Home after His Expatriate Assignment (B) Teaching Note This teaching note was prepared by Gunter K. Stahl, Assistant Professor of Asian Business and Comparative Management at INSEAD and Chei Hwee Chua, Doctoral Student at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina.
It is intended to aid instructors in the classroom use of the case Mark Chan’s Decision to Stay Overseas or Return Home after His Expatriate Assignment (A and B). Financial support for the project “Expatriate Careers” (INSEAD research grant # 2010-502 R) is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright © 2004 INSEAD, Singapore. N. B. Please note that details of ordering INSEAD cases are found on the back cover. Copies may not be made without permission. Case Summary Mark Chan’s five-year international assignment in a senior management position at corporate headquarters in London is coming to an end.
With a generous expatriate compensation and benefits package, a large house with a big garden in the countryside, and two fancy cars, Mark and his family are living a life in England that they can only dream of in their home country, Singapore. Having performed well in his job at corporate headquarters, Mark is offered a promotion opportunity – a very attractive three-year international assignment at his company’s subsidiary in the Netherlands. However, due to family reasons, his wife Linda feels the need to return home in the near future and Mark starts to look for a suitable position back in
Singapore. When the position of regional general manager for one of the company’s largest divisions that Mark is hoping to get is offered to someone else, he has to decide whether to continue pursuing an international career or return to a position that would essentially mean a demotion. The case ends with Mark wondering what he should do. He feels torn between his career aspirations and the long-term needs of his family: whatever decision he makes, either his career or family will suffer. (A Case)
After further discussions with Linda, Mark reluctantly decides to accept the offer of the middle management position and move back to Singapore with his family. To their surprise, adapting to life in Singapore turns out to be less easy than they expected. Although happy to be back in Singapore to take care of her parents, Linda finds her life less satisfying than she had imagined while in England. The children miss their friends and are experiencing serious adjustment problems at school. After just a few months, Mark is beginning to feel bored with his new job.
He also realizes that, unlike what he had been told upon accepting the offer, his current position might not be “temporary” as no senior management positions in Singapore will be available for quite some time. He feels trapped and starts considering leaving the company. (B Case) This case is based on a real person. The names of the company and people, and the circumstances have been altered to protect the anonymity of everyone involved in the actual situation. Teaching the Case Assignment Questions 1.
Should Mark accept the position offered in Singapore and return home? (A Case) 2. What are his options? If Mark accepts the position offered in Singapore, what should his career plan be? (A Case) 3. Who is to blame for the current situation? What factors contributed to Mark’s reentry problems and to those of his family? (A and B Case) 4. What can the organization do to avoid the kind of problems illustrated in this case? From an HR perspective, what would be a more systematic approach to repatriation planning and international career development? A and B Case) The sequence of the assignment questions forces students to analyze the nature of Mark’s dilemma, and the likely implications of the options that are available to him. Students must place themselves in Mark’s shoes to see if anything can be done to remedy the situation. Finally, students must reflect on the factors that contributed to reentry problems, and explore various approaches to improve international career development and repatriation practices. 1. Should Mark accept the position offered and return home?
Ask the students to discuss the reasons why Mark should return home, as well as, why he should continue his international career. As they develop and discuss these reasons, one option is to guide the discussion into an evaluation of the “pros” and “cons” of returning back to Singapore. The paramount issues are listed in the table below. At the end of the discussion of this question, emphasize that the pros and cons do not mesh well – they are apples and oranges, with no clear win-win combinations for all parties involved.
To illustrate this, it is useful to ask the students to brainstorm for a possible win-win solution. Remind them that the issues are not just between Mark and his career. Mark also has to consider the needs of his wife and children. |PROS |CONS | |(reasons for accepting the job and returning to Singapore) |(reasons for rejecting the job in Singapore and staying | | |in Europe) | |Mark’s wife ants to return home because of her father’s |Mark knows that he will miss the authority and greater | |illness; he needs to look after her needs. Also, if they |scope of responsibilities that he has in his current | |stayed abroad too long, it will be harder for Linda to |position. In fact, if he accepts the other alternative | |continue her banking career. |offer, i. e. the position in the Netherlands, he will have| | |more authority and a greater scope of responsibilities | | |than in his current job. |The children are losing their Singaporean identity; if they |If a middle management position (essentially meaning a | |don’t move back now, they will experience greater |demotion) is the best they can offer, does he really have| |difficulties adapting to the Singaporean society and school |a future in this company? It might be better to stay and| |system. |build a career in Europe. | | |Mark has been “out of sight and out of mind” from the | | |Singapore subsidiary for five years.
It will take time to| | |rebuild his social networks over there. He might as well | | |stay on in Europe and leverage on the social networks, | | |especially with headquarters personnel, that he has built| | |and continue his international career and climb up the | | |corporate ladder.
If he went back to Singapore, he will | | |no longer be at headquarters, the center of influence and| | |power. And the Singapore subsidiary will not be able to | | |offer the same range of challenging career opportunities | | |that is offered at the headquarters. | |His wife and children feel at home in England. They found| | |new friends and enjoy the high standard of living. They | | |know that they are living a life in England that they | | |could only dream of in Singapore.
If he accepted the job | | |in the Netherlands, they would continue to enjoy a | | |similar standard of living and possibly higher given that| | |it is a promotion and thus a bigger compensation and | | |benefits package. |
From a professional point of view, Mark knows that it doesn’t make much sense for him to return home. The most important reasons for going home have to do with the situation of his wife and the future of the children. 2. What are Mark’s options? If he accepts the job in Singapore, what should his career plan be? Now, the discussion can more fully evaluate the implications of the major options that Mark has. After evaluating the main options, ask the students what other options Mark has and try to find create solutions (e. g. lead a “commuter marriage” for a limited period of time; ask the parents-in-law to relocate to wherever Mark is based). Major options Springboard. Use the position to get back to Singapore, but then look for a job in another company. Ask the students to consider the limitations and risks of this option, e. g. , the lack of suitable jobs during the current economic downturn; the possibility that he will be viewed as a “has-been”, a failure overseas (after all, why does he want to leave his company? ); and so forth. Patience.
He needs to remember that he is a fast-tracker. It is unlikely that the company will keep him in this position forever. Just be patient and do a good job and good things will happen. Possible risks: there are very few positions at the Singapore subsidiary that are senior enough for him, and none of these positions will be available for quite some time, unless something unexpected happens. Also, his wife and children – and himself! – may experience reentry shock upon returning home after a five-year international assignment. Stay in Europe. Make Europe his career base.
He can either accept the promotion opportunity and take up the three-year international assignment in the Netherlands or try to extend his current international assignment or look for a new job at corporate headquarters in London. Looking for a job in London but outside the company is also an option. Make a strategic decision as a family to have the children become world citizens rather than traditional Singaporeans. Possible risks: emotional fallout from giving up their heritage, disconnection from family roots and ties, and lack of feeling a deep belongingness to a location.
Look for a job in Singapore from Europe. Reject the position offered in Singapore, continue working at corporate headquarters in London or accept the promotion opportunity and move to the Netherlands, but get in touch with a headhunting firm. He might be a great find for European or U. S. multinationals starting up or expanding operations in South East Asia. Possible risks: no attractive offers might be found, and the family is stuck in Europe for good. It is important to point out that there are risks associated with each of the options.
For example, if he decides to stay in Europe, this may jeopardize his marriage; his children may suffer in the long term; he and his family may be stuck in Europe for good; his contract will likely be “localized” eventually; etc. On the other hand, if he accepts the less than desired job offer in Singapore, people might view him as a “has-been” and a failure overseas, he will no longer be at the corporate headquarters where the center of power and influence is, and his family may experience reentry shock. 3. Who is to be blamed for the current situation?
What factors contributed to Mark’s reentry problems? Mark • His naivete to think that the company will be able to find him a suitable reentry position within a short period of time regardless of the business conditions back home. • He did not think ahead about his repatriation until he wanted to return home. Although his wife wanted them to return home due to her father’s sudden illness, Mark still should have thought ahead about how long he would be willing to stay overseas given the long-term needs of his wife and children, and communicated that to his company.
Also, he should have been seriously networking with colleagues at the Singapore subsidiary, as well as the senior management at headquarters responsible for staffing decisions in South East Asia during his five years in England. • His naivete to believe that it will be a temporary position and that he will be given priority consideration as soon as a senior management position becomes available at the Singapore organization. His Company • They should not have let him stay for another promotion at headquarters, but should have transferred him back to the Singapore subsidiary when his initial contract of three years was up.
Letting him stay for another promotion at headquarters made it harder to find him a comparable or better position back in Singapore, especially when the initial international assignment was a promotion. • They did not manage Mark’s expectations well enough in terms of the updated range of job opportunities that he can expect back home. Factors that Contributed to Reentry Problems Before analyzing this case study, it is important to note that reentry problems such as Mark’s are by no means an exception.
Repatriation of corporate managers and their spouses is not something that happens easily. Research (e. g. , Adler, 2002; Baughn, 1995; Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall & Stroh, 1999; Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2001; Hammer, Hart & Rogan, 1998; Napier & Peterson, 1991; Stahl, Miller & Tung, 2002) has shown that, from the perspective of the returning expatriate, the experiences upon repatriation and the career implications of an international assignment are often frustrating: • the majority of expatriate managers experience some degree of culture shock during repatriation, one out of every five employees who completes an overseas assignment wants to leave the company when they return, • less than half of returned expatriates receive promotions upon return, • two-thirds of returning expatriates feel their overseas assignment had a negative impact on their careers, • at least half of returning employees feel their reentry position is less satisfying than their overseas assignment. Several factors contributed to Mark Chan’s reentry problems.
First, while there were challenging positions and career opportunities in Europe that required his specialized skill set, business conditions in South East Asia during that time were not very favorable. Moreover, Mark was working in a corporate function unit at the Group level. High level positions in such corporate units are simply not available outside the headquarters. Consequently, the number of attractive and challenging positions that were available for him back at the Singapore organization was limited. In such cases, repatriates often had to be put in a temporary job or in a “lateral” position.
Expatriates are often equipped with a so-called “reentry guarantee” in their international assignment contract, stating that the relocating department or division guarantees a reentry position that is at least at the same level as the one they are leaving or – in some companies – at least at the same level as the last position that they held in the foreign country. While Mark was offered a full expatriate compensation and benefits package, he was not offered a reentry guarantee. But even for expatriates equipped with a reentry guarantee, the problem remains that domestic positions and overseas positions are difficult to compare.
A reentry position that is roughly at the same level as the position held overseas may sometimes seem like a demotion. Situations where expatriates are promoted several times while overseas make it extremely difficult for their company to find a “lateral” position upon return, let alone a higher-level job. This is exactly what happened in Mark’s case. He was promoted to a senior management position by accepting the initial international assignment, and then he was promoted again when he extended his contract.
By extending his three-year contract for another two years, Mark had inevitably severed ties with his social networks in Singapore. When he approached the end of his assignment, he had almost become a stranger at the Singapore subsidiary. For managers who stay overseas for a long time, it is often difficult to transfer back to the home office since they have not been able to keep up with the developments in their home country. Moreover, the longer an expatriate is in a foreign culture, the greater the probability that he or she might adapt host country patterns of thinking and behaving, thus creating readjustment problems.
Also, there was a mismatch between the expectations of Mark’s company and what Mark wanted. The company saw the potential in Mark and offered him very attractive international career opportunities. However, Mark had to return home due to family reasons. Finally, given the promotions he got during his international assignment which reflected his good performance, Mark was confident that he would be rewarded with a challenging position upon return. When Mark was finally offered a reentry assignment that did not appear as challenging as he expected, he felt disappointed.
Returning from a senior management position at corporate headquarters where the center of power and influence is to a position of regional marketing manager in the Polymers division at the Singapore subsidiary certainly appeared to be a demotion to him. This is not an uncommon situation as research indicates that unrealistic expectations are often at the base of reentry problems (e. g. , Adler, 2002; Black et al. , 1999; Black, Gregersen & Mendenhall, 1992; Martin & Harrell, 1996). 4. What can the organization do to avoid the kind of problems illustrated in this case?
From an HR perspective, what is a more systematic approach to repatriation planning and international career development? Several practical implications can be drawn from this case study. Firstly and probably most importantly, it shows that incongruence between the expatriate manager’s career expectations and the reality back in the home country can cause serious reentry problems. This finding is consistent with research indicating that expatriate managers who have accurate expectations adjust and perform better after repatriation than those with inaccurate expectations (e. . , Black, 1992; Black et al. , 1992). Consequently, repatriation programs must be designed to help expatriates form accurate reentry expectations. There are a number of policies and procedures that may be helpful in facilitating the repatriation process by shaping accurate expectations (Adler, 2002; Black et al. , 1999; Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2001; Dowling, Welch & Schuler, 1999; Harvey, 1982; Martin & Harrell, 1996; Stroh, Gregersen & Black, 1998; Sussman, 1986). These include: • Providing career counseling and clearly delineating difficulties expected pon return can lessen reentry problems. Educating candidates about potential risks of a foreign assignment can help reduce inaccurate expectations and foster candidates’ self selection in the pre-expatriation phase. For example, HR executives may communicate that managers will have less authority upon returning as they enjoyed during their foreign assignment. Especially for those going to corporate headquarters, they will have to understand that when they return, they will not be able to enjoy the same range of career opportunities like those offered at the headquarters.
It is also important that no firm promises are made to candidates as to what their position upon return would be. All too often, such promises are outdated within a few years. • Time away from the home country can significantly inhibit the formation of accurate anticipatory expectations. A policy of recalling expatriates after a three- or four-year assignment may thus be helpful in reducing reentry problems. This suggestion does not exclude the possibility that under certain circumstances, e. g. , in countries that are particularly difficult to adjust to, expatriate assignments must be considerably longer. Expatriates who are aware of both the positive and negative changes in the organization are able to anticipate difficulties upon returning. Consequently, management should regularly inform expatriate employees of current organizational policies, strategic shifts, projects, staffing changes, etc. , in the home organization. The information gained from visits back to the home country can also be useful in updating expatriates’ company-specific knowledge. • Assigning “sponsors” or “mentors” back in the home organization may be helpful in reducing reentry problems.
The mentor’s task is to keep in touch with the expatriate and convey important information to him/her throughout his/her overseas assignment. In addition, the mentor monitors the expatriate’s performance, compensation and career paths and evaluates job opportunities that will exist when he/she returns to the home organization. • Giving expatriates, where possible, project assignments back in the home organization can be helpful in keeping them sensitized to the differences in environment that exist between the foreign assignment location and the home organization.
It also enables expatriates to cultivate their social network in the home organization. These short-term assignments can be timed to coincide with the expatriate’s home leave or other business visits. Additionally, an approach that can be called the “shadow system” is helpful in shaping accurate reentry expectations. This system is used by some European multinationals. It aims at giving expatriates feedback about the development of their (fictional) job level and salary in the home organization throughout their foreign assignment.
The HR department determines the “shadow position” and “shadow salary” of an expatriate by continuously comparing his/her development with the career path of equally performing colleagues in the home organization. This enables expatriates to form more realistic expectations about their prospective job level and salary upon returning. While the aforementioned policies and procedures can help expatriates form accurate reentry expectations, there are also a number of approaches that can facilitate the repatriation process (Adler, 2002; Black et al. , 1999; Brewster, 1991; Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2001; Dowling et al. 1999; Evans, Pucik & Barsoux, 2002; Harvey, 1982; Mendenhall, Kuhlmann, Stahl & Osland, 2002; Selmer, 1999; Stroh, 1995; Black & Gregersen, 1999). These recommendations include: • A closer tie-in of international assignments with long-range manpower planning and career development. • Paying attention to the question of repatriation in conjunction with annual performance reviews of the expatriate throughout the foreign assignment. • Continuous monitoring of the expatriate’s training needs to reduce deficits and enhance professional skills prior to return. Systematic examination of alternative reentry positions for the expatriate at least six months ahead of the proposed repatriation date. • Development of a formal orientation or de-briefing program, including the introduction of the returning expatriate to key persons in the home organization. • Identification of job skills acquired or enhanced overseas, and identification of ways in which those skills can be integrated and productively used in the home organization. A properly designed repatriation program can remedy many of the problems associated with returning home after a foreign assignment.
However, even the most sophisticated policies and procedures can be an ineffective solution to the problem of “no-job-on-return” under certain conditions, such as a highly fluctuating economy and deteriorating business conditions at home. Moreover, no repatriation program can guarantee an outgoing expatriate manager a specific job upon his return. Therefore, shaping accurate reentry expectations and creating an awareness of potential difficulties expected upon return appear to be crucial. It is also important to note that approaches that are proposed to benefit the repatriation process may well inhibit the expatriation process and vice versa.
For instance, the typical salary increase associated with international assignments tends to artificially raise the social status of the expatriate. While this may facilitate his or her adjustment in the host country, the probable downward shift upon returning home would be expected to inhibit repatriation adjustment. The fact that Mark was promoted to a senior management position by accepting the initial international assignment was promoted again when he extended his contract, and would have been promoted again if he had accepted the new international assignment offer to go to the Netherlands created a similar counteracting effect.
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