Local leaders are crucial to the success of UK industrial companies in Asia Pacific (APAC). That is the strongly held conviction of all of the 50 APAC leaders interviewed for this paper.

So why are only half of UK company leaders in APAC locals?

We analysed the causes of this, potential solutions and the likely outcomes of getting local leadership right.

The leadership conundrum

Despite the arguments for local leadership, 50% of large UK industrial company leaders are still expatriates. Why is this figure so low? Are there problems with culture, values or language? Are APAC business leaders looking for something UK companies simply fail to deliver? What can UK companies do to attract great leadership – and do we know what that looks like, in the contexts, we’re working in?

We used four methods to investigate the leadership challenges of UK companies in Asia:

  • We mapped the 78 leaders of listed and private UK industrial companies operating across APAC.
  • We conducted an online survey of 50 UK company leaders across Australia, Greater China, India, Japan and Singapore.
  • We conducted face-to-face interviews with local and regional leaders across APAC to identify the advantages and challenges of working in a UK company culture in an APAC environment
  • We looked closely at the boards of listed UK companies to analyse the link between APAC revenue and APAC understanding at Board level.

Origin of APAC leadership in UK industrial companies

So how many of the leaders in APAC branches of UK companies are, in fact, local? We mapped the leaders of 20 UK company leaders across the region – Amec Foster Wheeler, Arup, Atkins, BMT, BP, Carillion, Coats, Compass, Control Risks, Exova, G4S, GKN, IMI, Intertek, JCB, Morgan Advanced Materials, Mott MacDonald, Rolls Royce, Spirax Sarco Engineering and Senior. We found that half the total APAC leaders are still expatriate appointees.

Winning in APAC Graph
From our comprehensive survey, three strong themes emerged:

  • The ‘British brand benefit’: It remains strong.
  • The localisation of leadership: It’s an ongoing challenge.
  • Understanding Asia: Head office executives usually don’t – to the detriment of all.

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Alasdair Spink

Based in Singapore, Alasdair Spink is a Partner and Head of the Industrial Practice in APAC.With over 20 years of experience in executive search, Alasdair leads on regional level searches and ensur...

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