Functions of the International Manager

Global competition has forced businesses to change how they manage at home and abroad. The increasing rate of change, technological advances, shorter product life cycles, and high‐speed communications are all factors that contribute to these changes. The new management approach focuses on establishing a new communication system that features a high level of employee involvement. Organizational structures must also be flexible enough to change with changing market conditions. Ongoing staff development programs and design‐control procedures, which are understandable and acceptable, are outcomes from this new approach. Management values are changing, and managers must now have a vision and be able to communicate the vision to everyone in the firm.

Although the international manager performs the same basic functions as the domestic manager, he must adjust to more variables and environments. Therefore, each of the five basic management functions must change when operating in a foreign market.


The first stage of international planning is to decide how to do business globally: whether to export, to enter into licensing agreements or joint ventures, or to operate as a multinational corporation with facilities in a foreign country.

To develop forecasts, goals, and plans for international activities, the manager must monitor environments very closely. Key factors include political instability, currency instability, competition from governments, pressures from governments, patent and trademark protection, and intense competition.


International firms should be sure that their plans fit the culture of the host country. Typically, U.S. firms feel that long‐term plans should be three to five years in length; but in some cultures, this time period is too short. Many countries must plan with the assistance of governmental agencies. And working through bureaucratic structures, policies, and procedures is often time‐consuming.

International businesses must be organized so that they can adapt to cultural and environmental differences. No longer can organizations just put “carbon copies” or clones of themselves in foreign countries. An international firm must be organized so that it can be responsive to foreign customers, employees, and suppliers. An entire firm may even be organized as one giant worldwide company that has several divisions. Above all, the new organization must establish a very open communication system where problems, ideas, and grievances can quickly be heard and addressed at all levels of management. Without this, employees will not get involved, and their insights and ideas are crucial to the success of the business.

As an organization extends its operations internationally, it needs to adapt its structure. When the organization increases its international focus, it goes through the following three phases of structural change:

  1. Pre‐international stage. Companies with a product or service that incorporates the latest technology, is unique, or is superior may consider themselves ready for the international arena. The first strategy used to introduce a product to a foreign market is to find a way to export the product. At this phase, the firm adds an export manager as part of the marketing department and finds foreign partners.
  2. International division stage. Pressure may mount through the enforcement of host country laws, trade restrictions, and competition, placing a company at a cost disadvantage. When a company decides to defend and expand its foreign market position by establishing marketing or production operations in one or more host countries, it establishes a separate international division. In turn, foreign operations begin, and a vice president, reporting directly to the president or CEO, oversees the operations.
  3. Global structure stage. A company is ready to move away from an international division phase when it meets the following criteria:

  • The international market is as important to the company as the domestic market.
  • Senior officials in the company possess both foreign and domestic experience.
  • International sales represent 25 to 35 percent of total sales.
  • The technology used in the domestic division has far outstripped that of the international division.

As foreign operations become more important to the bottom line, decision making becomes more centralized at corporate headquarters. A functional product group, geographic approach, or a combination of these approaches should be adopted. The firm unifies international activities with worldwide decisions at world headquarters.


Because obtaining a good staff is so critical to the success of any business, the hiring and development of employees must be done very carefully. Management must be familiar with the country's national labor laws. Next, it must decide how many managers and personnel to hire from the local labor force and whether to transfer home‐based personnel.

For example, U.S. firms are better off hiring local talent and using only a few key expatriates in most cases, because the costs of assigning U.S.–based employees to positions overseas can be quite expensive. Simply, expatriates (people who live and work in another country) are expensive propositions even when things go well. Adding up all the extras—higher pay, airfare for family members, moving expenses, housing allowances, education benefits for the kids, company car, taxes, and home leave—means that the first year abroad often costs the multinational company many times the expatriate's base salary. The total bill for an average overseas stay of four years can easily top $1 million per expatriate. In any case, managers need to closely examine how to select and prepare expatriates.


Cultural differences make the directing function more difficult for the international manager. Employee attitudes toward work and problem solving differ by country. Language barriers also create communication difficulties. To minimize problems arising from cultural differences, organizations are training managers in cross‐cultural management. Cross‐cultural management trains managers to interact with several cultures and to value diversity.

In addition, the style of leadership that is acceptable to employees varies from nation to nation. In countries like France and Germany, informal relations with employees are discouraged. In Sweden and Japan, however, informal relations with employees are strongly encouraged, and a very participative leadership style is used. Incentive systems also vary tremendously. The type of incentives used in the U.S. may not work in Europe or Japan, where stable employment and benefits are more important than bonuses.


Geographic dispersion and distance, language barriers, and legal restrictions complicate the controlling function. Meetings, reporting, and inspections are typically part of the international control system.

Controlling poses special challenges if a company engages in multinational business because of the far‐flung scope of operations and the differing influences of diverse environments. Controlling operations is nonetheless a crucial function for multinational managers. In many countries, bonuses, pensions, holidays, and vacation days are legally mandated and considered by many employees as rights. Particularly powerful unions exist in many parts of the world, and their demands restrict managers' freedom to operate.