Think global, act global

The global pool of talent has shifted to the Asian countries of China and India - and Western companies ignore it at their peril.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  January 30, 2008

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit cabling firm Reichle & De-Massari's (R&M's) headquarters in Wetzikon, Switzerland. I was part of the group of journalists, from around the world, who had been invited for an international press tour by R&M. The agenda was to give us all a better understanding of R&M's growth over the past year and to set forth its plans for the near future.

I also had the opportunity to meet with Peter Reichle, COO of R&M and part of the family that owns and runs the cabling business. He spoke at length on the healthy growth of the company over the last year - it grew by 23% globally and a whopping 97% in the Middle East alone - and attributed much of this to the strong team spirit among the company's employees. (Read in detail about the company's performance last year and its plans going ahead in the March issue of NME.)

During a brief one-on-one session, Reichle also mentioned something interesting - that R&M is happy having its research and development team, especially for key innovation oriented products, close at home in Switzerland. According to him, one of the advantages of being in Switzerland, and greater Western Europe, was that the company had access to the best engineers. Long experience had taught him that the competence for the company's products was to be found there.

Really? I would have thought otherwise.

In the last five years, as companies have become multi-national and set up offices in far-flung regions, globalisation and intense competition have become the maxims by which they live. One of the results of this expansion in search of new markets is that companies have come to realise that talent pools exist and can be tapped to advantage far from home. In fact, as organisations grow beyond borders, they increasingly look for skills to do everything from small-scale manufacturing to high level R&D at places far from their home base.

A lot of this activity has taken place in the Asian countries of China and India. While China has become almost the world's base for manufacturing, India has played host to development and R&D centres for a lot of well-established global companies including the likes of Amazon, Intel, Philips and GE.

As firms develop and expand, many more are finding it effective to grow their base of employees - research oriented and otherwise - in these countries. This gives them a wide enough platform to distribute projects and also allows them the luxury of having a 24-hour workforce across global time zones. In a highly competitive marketplace, this means that companies can get products faster to market, gaining a much-needed advantage.

Moreover, when companies reach a certain size and market forces dictate that they cannot raise profit margins, having employees in remote locations can help achieve economies of scale easily.

While these are substantive reasons for setting up research and development centres out of home countries, none of this would be possible without a pool of easily-available and appropriately skilled people who are capable of producing and delivering innovation at the highest quality levels for the investing concerns. The evidence: Intel has its largest R&D centre outside of the US in India, Philips Innovation Centre's produces 20% of the firm's software, up from 8%, and GE's technology centre houses more than 2000 researchers and scientists doing cutting edge work.

For the Middle East, R&D is not a priority - but the region is having to learn valuable lessons about delivering quality projects. New developments throughout the Gulf - and increasingly elsewhere in the region - are now approaching world-class quality, and even setting new standards in design and implementation.

So how can these new talent centres advertise their presence to the world? For India and China, there is little problem - despite Reichle's views, the world now knows the countries as powerful sources of, respectively, development and manufacturing know-how.

The Middle East is known for many things, but technical expertise is so far not one of them. This, however, is where Network Middle East comes in - through events such as the NME Innovation Awards the magazine is busy explaining to the world just how good the region's IT professionals can be.

Don't' get me wrong - I am not saying that Reichle doesn't have a point. And it may of course suit R&M for internal reasons to keep development close to home.

But personally I feel he is missing out - not just on what India and China can deliver, but also on what the Middle East can show the world when it comes to project delivery, as the NME Awards will demonstrate.

Log onto www.itp.net/events/nmeawards08 to nominate networking projects, end-users and vendors from the region for NME Innovation Awards 2008. Write to me at sathya.ashok@itp.com if you have any questions or need more information.

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