The importance of international experience for CEOs

The business world is becoming more globalised – hence the demand for business leaders to have worked internationally is stronger than ever. The most successful leaders are likely to be those who have experience operating in different countries, cultures and organisational structures.

Testament to this sentiment, the annual Robert Half CEO Tracker, which profiled ASX 200-listed CEOs, reveals the typical CEO is likely to have international work experience with more than half (59%) of ASX 200-listed CEOs having worked overseas.

The benefits of international work experience

In the high-stakes world of C-suite recruitment, leaders who can navigate international environments where local customs, cultural nuances and foreign stakeholders often impact business outcomes are in demand as businesses operate in an increasingly globalised market.

Working overseas implies a leader has encountered diverse audiences with different cultural backgrounds which usually results in highly developed adaptability, listening, solution-processing and risk-mitigation skills – competencies all highly relevant in the competitive market organisations operate in.

Diversified career experience is the key to leadership success

While international experience suggests leaders could be more successful working across global boundaries, it’s not the only way to secure the top job. Demonstrating success in global assignments is another key way in which leaders can differentiate themselves in the market.

International assignments bring many advantages for professionals with their sights set on senior leadership or C-suite success, demonstrating their ability to work effectively with various communication and working styles which in turn helps them successfully lead and engage with various stakeholders in different cultural settings.

Aside from being personally rewarding, leaders who display diversified career experience – whether by working in global markets or by undertaking international assignments – generally have a better understanding of how organisations operate internationally which puts them in a good position to help grow their operations in those markets.

Leaders with international experience will also be crucial to driving future innovation and expansion. In a globalised business world and increasingly technology-driven landscape, international experience adds a dimension to the chief executive role – the ability to either assimilate into or understand international working environments.

Even small nuances, such as awareness of local laws, regulations and even customs, can give valuable insights to a business leader when a company is preparing to move into new markets. Having a network of overseas contacts can smooth the path as a company explores fresh opportunities.

In a highly competitive business environment, when trying to fill the top job, identifying candidates who have a clear understanding of best practices from a variety of markets can be highly beneficial.

However, other factors, such as education and industry experience remain important, indicating that candidates without extensive overseas experience should not be overlooked for senior positions. There will always be strong demand for robust leadership that can deliver profitability and create a sustainable advantage against competitors.