Location, location!

photo Edinburgh
Edinburgh, November 2013

The location of your HQ as a factor in building a global organization

I have visited the HQs of many of the world’s leading companies over the last 20 years. They range from towering skyscrapers with ten thousand or more people running a centralized organization to lean central offices in shared buildings with a very senior staff overseeing a decentralized group of companies.

Many of these HQs are located where they are through accidents of history or the preferences of their founders or early executives. But the locations they are based in have an impact through the pools of talent they have easy access to, and the impact of the local culture on their corporate culture.

Some of the world’s largest organizations are still based in surprisingly small towns around the world. Each of these towns have a distinct local labour pool and ability to attract global talent. If you are based in small town America, Britain or China it does have an impact on the kind of people you attract and retain.

Even in larger cities the local labour pool many be more or less used to working internationally, or in certain sectors. Within a country different regions and towns have different traditions. Today I am in Scotland: Aberdeen in Scotland is an oil town; Edinburgh is stronger in finance and legal. Depending on which of the two you are based in, this will change the dynamic of recruitment. Even in Edinburgh, the local labour pool you access will mainly have been working for smaller organizations, so if you are a multinational you may find that many do not have experience in working globally, virtually or in complex organization structures like the matrix. In central London, by contrast, the pool of people with the skills will be much larger. We need to take this into account as we train new people  for this more complex working environment.

I used to work for a multinational based 50 miles outside London, and even this small distance made it more difficult to attract southern European talent more attuned to living in big cities with all the facilities that they offer.

Multinationals also pick up elements of local culture in their early days: some are shaped by a particular culture or the values of their founders – both of which flow from local experiences. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Great companies often have a distinctive culture. Yet it does have huge implications for the kind of people we can attract and retain.

What idiosyncrasies in your own company or corporate culture flow from where your HQ is based?

Location, location!

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