We left the Brittany winter, in France, rather mild this year, but still as rainy and bitter, for the equatorial heat of the former Saigon, "capital of South Vietnam", Ho Chi Minh City. The decision from headquarters to send me to our South East Asia branch was taken just a few months before and we did not have the time for a reconnaissance trip. Our first shock was climatic.

I am the new CFO - Chief Financial Officer - of the Vietnamese subsidiary of a pharmaceutical group. I arrived two weeks ago, and this morning I met my second in command from Japan and Korea. In my working culture, it seems logical that my contact in South Korea, admittedly more junior but voluntary, should take the lead on the project for which I have been given responsibility and that the one in Japan should report to him. I vaguely felt uncomfortable, the project almost collapsed. Culture shock.

This story would probably be yours if you would change the professional environment and its actors.

The director is often alone, and therefore feels lonely. According to a study conducted by BPIFrance, and published in 2016, half of the 2,400 SME and mid-sized company managers feel left out.

When a manager arrives in a new country, he or she has to face different working and living cultures. He or she needs some time to familiarize him or herself with these new codes and manage the pressure from the headquarters.

The complexity of the economic environment and the exercise of authority and responsibility are the two aggravating factors in its isolation. Making decisions when someone doesn't know its environment is a cause of repeated anxiety on a daily basis.

The solutions highlighted by the participants who responded to the study are: 

  • Joining a network. If you are or speak French, you may join the APM - Association for the Progress of Management - or AFV - Association of Francophones in Vietnam - in Ho Chi Minh City

  • Looking for external advice. Finding your "Sparring partner" among Actavia’s* experts is a validated solution: he or she is your external alter ego with an operational understanding of your business and your daily life. Your "Sparring partner" accompanies you in your professional challenges. What else?

  • Participating in trade fairs. 

The reality of an expatriation in Asia is difficult to explain to the headquarters, which often do not adapt their frame of reference. The period of adaptation to new circumstances as well as the loneliness of the manager when it is time for decision-making can result in professional frustration. This is not inevitable, lean on your "Sparring partner".


So, ready to take the first step?

*Several times in the last months, French managers have called Actavia, whose consultants have all been in Asia for 10 years or more and are all former top managers of structures that have be strongly developed in Asia. Actavia consulting,

Anne-Laure BOUET, Business Development Director at Actavia


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