Supply Chain Expatriates, Risk or Opportunity?

In last decade, the economic boom in China and its future dominance in key industrial sectors has been a tireless news event and is still an exciting hot business topic. With the rapid business expansion in China, multinational logistics companies are desperately in need of local management personnel to staff new offices and routes.  However, multinational logistic enterprises are experiencing hard times to find qualified candidates recruit them and retain them in China.

The biggest reason that I choose Operations Management (supply Chain Management) as my concentration is that I perceive this as an exciting opportunity to work oversea as an expatriate in China.  I want to develop a broad base of business skills, knowledge of Supply Chain Processes through my MBA courses.  China is evolving and changing everyday; it’s great to be a part of that and witness the improvements that benefit the average Chinese person. I hope that in some way to contribute to the process.

According to the Journal of Logistic Management, the role of the expatriate has never been more important and challenging. The article states supply chain and logistics manager have interviewed Chinese based western expatriates and local professionals on many assignments spanning appointments in operations across the supply chain.  The interviews show that expatriates will be a willing and eager segment within the work force; Chinese people want to learn from best global practices, different management styles and achieve objectives. While expatriates looking for a new challenge will find lots of new learning opportunities and also have the opportunity to shape the future of a business potentially far in excess of their home country business.

Interestingly, expatriates who have completed the foreign assignment successfully are more likely to get promotion when they return.  If this is a win-win situation for both sides, why are more than 30% of expatriates failing to complete their assignment?  What are the major challenges as expatriates in China?

Based on a set of interviews with executives in global logistics companies, it suggests expatriates end their foreign assignments earlier because of the following reasons: cultural difference and languages barrier. These reasons have great impact on expatriates’ performances, motivations and satisfaction.  Most Western business expatriates in China work in unfamiliar surroundings, as they typically do not understand much of the language and the culture. More importantly, these expatriates lack cross-cultural training before they depart to China.

In term of cultural differences, Chinese emphasizes persistence, relationships ordered by status, personal adaptability, leisure time is not emphasized, frugality, and good or evil depends on circumstances.  While Americans emphasizes quick result, status not critical in a relationship, the importance of leisure time, spending, and belief in absolutes about good and evil.

Acknowledging these factors of Supply Chain Expatriates in China it is clear that they face both risk and opportunity prompting companies and individuals to prepare as best they can to improve the success rate of foreign assignments. What are your thoughts?




Shi, Yanhong and Robert B. HandField, Talent management issues for multinational logistics companies in China: observations from the field.International Journal of Logistics: Research & Applications; Jun2012, Vol. 15 Issue 3, p163-179, 17p

Goffnett, Sean P.; Cook, Robert L.; Williams, Zachary; Gibson, Brian J. Understanding satisfaction with supply chain management careers: an exploratory study. International Journal of Logistics Management. 2012, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p135-158. 24p. DOI: 10.1108/09574091211226966.

Portioil Staudach & Alberto Tantardini (2012), International Journal of Production Research; Jun2012, Vol. 50 Issue 12, p3257-3273, 17p, 2 Diagrams, 5 Charts, 5 Graphs


What do leaders do differently to motivate and engage team members in the workforce?

Being a retailing manager for ten years, I think I was able to achieve the company’s goals in term of sales and profit margin.  However, I found I was missing the big picture of how to become a great leader.   Rather than focusing solely on improving the financial aspects, I need to focus more on developing, engaging and motivating employees who are more crucial to increasing the company’s productivity and sustainability.  An effective leader should be able to do the following to engage and motivate employees at the workforce:

-Find a person’s innate talents and develop them.

-Develop one’s strength, not weakness

-Lead people not manage people

-Build trust and good relationship

-Treat people as individuals with respect

-Interpersonal sensitivity; be supportive and warm

-Don’t try to change people

-Encourage discretionary thinking

-Develop a compelling vision; provide a clear direction for the company

-Broad perspective

-Manage changes

-Risk taking

-Inspire employees by understand one’s values and importance

-Allow two-way communication and transparency

-Help develop employees, help people find the right fit, not simply the next rung on the ladder

-Create a company culture with core values that are importance to employees

In addition, good leaders also need to develop an incentive system, because it plays a very important role in employee engagement and motivation as well.  In the business setting, focusing on rewarding desired behavior helps employees develop positive habits and is less likely to foster resentment than a more punitive approach.  Leaders need to develop a structural system to applying positive reinforcement techniques with a focus on extinction of the negative behavior can help you turn desirable traits into strong work habits over time. This means offering an incentive when work exceeds expectations, positive reinforcement, and focusing on extinction by withholding it or withholding additional privileges when targets are not met. Rewarding a behavior, such as an excellent performance, each time it occurs will quickly result in repeated performances. However, rewarding the same behavior intermittently often yields even better results as employees work harder in case the bar has been raised and is more likely to facilitate a lasting change in behavior. Intermittent reinforcement also makes it easier to wean your employee away from their dependence on reinforcement and turn the desired behavior into a habit. Future reinforcement efforts can then be targeted to different behaviors with an expectation of similar results.  These key behavioral elements are distinguished a great leader from a mediocre one.  Remember, happy employees create happy customers.