Human Resource Management homework help.
Jaguar or Bluebird? (A):
Mark Chan’s Decision to Stay Overseas or Return Home after his Expatriate Assignment
This case was written by Günter K. Stahl, Assistant Professor of Asian Business & Comparative Management at INSEAD and Chei Hwee Chua, Doctoral Student, Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, with research support from Rebekah France, INSEAD MBA 03J. It is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.
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Sitting on a lawn of yellow buttercups, Mark Chan took a breath of the English country air and felt a sense of contentment as he basked in the summer sunshine. He and his family were having a Sunday picnic with their neighbors at their local park. Some distance away, his wife, Linda was happily chatting with the Howards, while their two children and the little Howards played with their dog.
Looking at them brought back fond memories of their time in England. Almost five years earlier, Mark had accepted an expatriate assignment and moved from Singapore with his family. He was glad they had settled down happily, made new friends and assimilated well into the English culture and lifestyle.
Mark gave a sigh. The thought of making his next career move hit him again. His international assignment in England was coming to an end in three months’ time and he could either continue pursuing an international career or return to Singapore. Deciding on his next move had never been so difficult. This time, he had a lot more to consider: not only his own career development needs, but also the needs of his wife and children. Mark knew that his company was expecting an answer within the next few days, but his numerous discussions with Linda weighing the pros and cons of each career option never seemed to reach a decisive conclusion. The more he thought about it, the more confused and frustrated he got.
Mark’s thoughts triggered his memory of the critical career decisions that he had made in the past and the series of events that led to his current predicament.
A Bachelor on the Road: An Initial String of International Assignments
Mark started his career at the Singapore subsidiary of a Japanese consulting company and embarked on a string of international assignments, each lasting about a year, which took him to Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. His job was to help foreign companies scout for and evaluate merger or acquisition opportunities in Asia as well as negotiating and closing the deals. Taking up these assignments was easy: he had always liked the idea of living and working overseas and learning about new cultures. As a bachelor whose parents were not too old and could take care of themselves, there was nothing to tie him down.
Homeward Bound: Starting a New Job and Family
After working overseas for six years, Mark got married and decided it was time for him to settle down back in Singapore and start a family. He joined the Singapore subsidiary of Energem1, a diversified, global company with market-leading positions in a number of industries, including specialty chemicals, polymers, healthcare, gases and related products. Headquartered in the UK, Energem employed over 60,000 people worldwide and had extensive operations in Europe, North and South America, and Asia Pacific. Joining Energem at mid-career, Mark was offered a position as a marketing manager at its Specialty Chemicals division, with responsibility for corporate accounts of multinational companies in Southeast
- This is a fictitious
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Asia. Based on Energem’s global management ranking structure2, it was a level 4 middle management position. Mark was attracted to Energem because it offered international career prospects and had a well-known leadership development program for “high potentials”, including those who had been recruited locally.
A year later, Mark had a promotion to level 3 when he accepted an offer from Energem’s corporate unit, Group Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A), to join its team as M&A manager and analyst for Asia Pacific. Energem was embarking on M&A activities in the region and Mark’s past experience fitted well with the requirements of the job. He reported directly to the UK- based global M&A vice-president and his responsibilities included scouting for M&A opportunities, conducting due diligence and negotiations, and liaising with Energem’s various country heads and global business line heads.
An International Assignment Opportunity
At the end of his third year at Energem, Mark was offered a three-year international assignment opportunity at corporate headquarters in London by Energem’s Group Information Technology (IT) unit. Mark was very excited about the offer. The job was to conduct M&A activities for the strategic IT needs of Energem’s joint ventures globally. Accepting it would mean another promotion for Mark, allowing him to enter Energem’s senior management category. He would report directly to the chief information officer and be close to the “gods” at corporate headquarters. Mark relished the challenge of living and working overseas and the salary and expatriate benefits package were very attractive. Deciding to accept the assignment was not as easy as during his bachelor days but he did not find himself in a huge dilemma. Although Linda would have to give up her job as a private banker to follow him, they both agreed that it was a window of opportunity to go overseas since their children were still very young and Linda could take a break from her career to spend more time with them.
An Expatriate Again
Mark recalled his first day at work in the London office. He felt comfortable and settled into his new office easily. Since he had often been to the office in the past, he was familiar with the place and knew a number of colleagues based there through previous projects. By early evening, he was already having a beer with some of them in the pub near the office.
Despite the initial friendliness, Mark soon realized that there were some colleagues who felt that he had got the job because Energem needed a “token Asian” in the team to show that it valued diversity. Since Energem’s M&A activities in Asia were on a smaller scale than those in Europe and the US, they felt that someone from a subsidiary in Asia would neither have the knowledge nor the ability required for the job. There was nothing much that Mark could do about this perception except to prove them wrong. Leveraging on his expertise in conducting due diligence and consummating M&As gained within Energem and through his six years as an M&A consultant prior to joining Energem, Mark learned quickly and performed well on
- Energem’s global management ranking structure is as follows: Levels 9, 8, 7, 6, and 5 are junior management positions, levels 4 and 3 are middle management positions, and levels 2, 1, D, C, B, and A are senior management
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the job. As time went by, he earned the respect of those colleagues who had had their doubts initially. He also used the expatriate assignment opportunity to hone his cross-cultural skills and expand his network of contacts within and outside Energem. When his three-year contract came to an end, he was offered a two-year extension. He was promoted to level 1 and was made responsible for special M&A projects within Group IT that were confidential and on a larger scale.
On the home front, Mark and his family settled down in England happily and found the English lifestyle appealing. Energem provided them with a large house and a big garden in the countryside, less than an hour by train to the London office. They bought an Old English sheepdog – something they had always wanted but which their apartment in Singapore could not accommodate. As Christians, they got to know people in their neighborhood through attending church. Several colleagues also lived nearby. Mark and his family found it relatively easy to integrate into the local community. They became close friends with several neighbors and often had dinner parties or Sunday picnics together.
As a former “working mother”, Linda loved her new occupation as a full-time home-maker and found she was even busier than when working. Having felt guilty for not spending enough time with the children, she was glad to make it up to them. She felt that it was important to spend as much time as possible with them during their formative years. She quickly made friends with other home-makers and they would meet up for afternoon tea to exchange gardening tips and recipes. Linda was fascinated by the neighbors’ gardens and soon theirs was just as lovely. She was especially proud of her red roses which bloomed beautifully all summer.
As Mark continued to reminisce about their stay in England so far, he realized that they had spent much more time together as a family than in Singapore and had become more close- knit. Being away from relatives and friends and having to travel during the week, he made it a point not to work during the weekends and often took the family out for excursions and weekend breaks to neighboring countries. Back home, they had led a typical Singaporean lifestyle: when they went out they would shop, eat and watch movies at the various large shopping malls in the city. They found the typical English countryside lifestyle a refreshing change and enjoyed long walks in the parks nearby, driving around the English countryside, visits to castles, and horse riding in the hills. Moreover, compared to the year-round heat and humidity in Singapore, they preferred the temperate climate and were fascinated by the changes in seasons.
Being a car enthusiast, Mark was thrilled by the affordability of cars in England. Given the Singapore government’s efforts to prevent traffic congestion, even ordinary cars are luxury items there and he could only afford a Nissan Bluebird. In England, Mark had a Jaguar and a Triumph Convertible. With an expatriate salary and benefits package, a temperate climate, a large house with a big garden in the countryside, and two fancy cars, Mark and his family found themselves living a life that they could only dream of in Singapore.
A Bugle Call for Return
At the end of their fourth year in England, Linda’s father fell ill. He had been diabetic for many years and his last medical check-up revealed signs of kidney failure and he would have
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to undergo dialysis. This distressed Linda a great deal and she became not only worried about her father’s condition, but also concerned about how her mother was coping with the situation. Although Linda had always been happy and satisfied with life in England, and had a younger brother who could look after their parents, she felt the need to return to Singapore in the near future.
An International Career or Return Home to Singapore?
With his wife yearning to return home, Mark started to look for a suitable position back at the Singapore subsidiary of Energem. After eight months of searching unsuccessfully, Mark was beginning to lose hope when he learned that the regional general manager (Asia Pacific) for the Specialty Chemicals division had unexpectedly left to work for one of their competitors. Energem had to fill the position quickly with a manager who was familiar with the Asia Pacific markets. Given his knowledge of the region’s markets and his extensive international experience, Mark felt he was the natural candidate for the position. He was prepared to accept it on the spot.
Mark clearly recalled the Monday morning when he received the phone call from the global vice-president of the Specialty Chemicals division telling him that although nobody doubted his qualifications, they had offered the job to a former colleague based at Energem’s Singapore subsidiary.
The memory of that phone conversation and the resulting sense of anger, disbelief, and betrayal came back to him. “It’s ridiculous,” he had told Linda when he broke the bad news. “They selected someone with zero international experience! What happened to all that talk about being a global player and the importance of international experience? It’s all crap!”
With the door closed on this option, Mark was left with the offer of a middle management position in the Polymers division to consider. The division’s global vice-president told Mark that he was impressed with his track record and valued his international experience but there were simply no senior management positions available at the time. He could only offer Mark the position of regional marketing manager for its rubber and coatings business in Asia Pacific. He added that it would be a temporary position and that Mark would be given priority consideration as soon as a senior management position became available at the Singapore organization.
Mark’s other option was to continue pursuing his international career. Having proved his ability in handling global M&A activities, he was offered a three-year international assignment at Energem’s subsidiary in the Netherlands to which they were about to relocate the headquarters of the Group Mergers & Acquisitions unit, reflecting Energem’s attempts to decentralize critical functions and units. Mark was offered the position of global strategy manager for Energem’s special M&A projects. This would mean a promotion to level D. Naturally, the promotion would also mean a higher salary and he would continue to enjoy expatriate perks. In contrast, taking up the regional marketing manager position in Singapore would essentially mean a demotion, a salary cut and the loss of all expatriate benefits.
The question that Mark continually wrestled with was: “Does it make sense to give up an attractive international career and a very comfortable life in Europe for a return to Singapore
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at a lower rank position?” Career-wise the answer was clearly “No”. On the other hand, Linda had been pressuring him to return to Singapore. Looking at things on a long term basis, Mark knew that moving back now would be the best option for Linda and possibly also the children. If they stayed abroad too long, Linda would find it even more difficult to continue her banking career. The children had started school. Unlike England’s educational system on which the Singapore system is based, the Netherlands has a very different system and language. “If we don’t move back now, it will be even harder for everybody in the future,” thought Mark. “But I’ve worked so hard to be where I am, I don’t want to throw my career away!”
Having been absorbed in his thoughts for quite some time, Mark heard a giggle and felt a tiny hug from behind. It was his younger son, John. “Daddy! It’s time to eat now! The shepherd’s pie that Mrs. Howard brought looks really delicious!” As Mark walked over to join the rest of his family, he felt torn between his career aspirations and the long-term needs of his family: whatever decision he made, either his career or family would suffer.
Instructions: 1. Write a maximum of 4 double-spaced pages per question. 2. Name your paper with your full name and student number.
- Should Mark accept the job in Singapore and return home or remain in England? Why or why not?
- Do you think his perceptions (interpretations) are reasonable? Why do you think this?
- How can he manage the conflict with his organization and within himself? Or is there no conflict?
- What can the organization do to support Mark? Are they responsible to do this?
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