Canadian Business
November 24, 2008

Joe Castaldo

The list of qualities that make up a great CEO is no doubt a long one, but an increasingly important attribute is international work experience. The reality is that large corporations rarely operate exclusively within a domestic market. Unfortunately, such global experience is something many Canadian company CEOs lack.

Only 37% of CEOs at Canada’s largest 100 corporations have spent at least one year working in another country, according to a survey by global headhunting firm Russell Reynolds Associates. Shawn Cooper, the company’s country manager for Canada, says he was concerned by the result, even though it’s nearly 50% higher than in 1987. “That’s a significant improvement, but is it enough?” he says. “Before we pat ourselves on the back too much, we have to make sure we haven’t been complacent.”

The study didn’t compare Canada to other regions, but, based on anecdotal evidence, Russell Reynolds believes the percentage of American CEOs with international work experience is roughly the same as their Canadian counterparts. But U.S. companies can grow quite large just by servicing the domestic market, something Canadian companies can’t do. Instead, Canada should compare itself to Australia. Many of that country’s largest corporations reached a saturation point domestically about 15 years ago and had to look abroad to continue growing, but many of their executives lacked the necessary experience. Some companies sought out local talent with international experience, while others, such as the country’s four largest banks, recruited foreigners. Today, Russell Reynolds estimates roughly 50% of Australian CEOs have global experience.

Reference: Canadian Business