Is the World Really Flat?



Sarah J. Mitchell, Associate Director

I read Thomas Friedman's book, The World Is Flat, soon after it was published in 2005. It was a very popular Christmas gift that year, and my dad hopped right on that bandwagon, leaving it under the tree for me. If you've read the book too, or have heard countless others referencing it, you know that Mr. Friedman outlines 10 "flatteners" that have leveled a global playing field in business and economics. These flatteners range from the collapse of the Berlin wall to the digitization of analog processes. Back in 2005, I wondered how his theories would hold up in the short and long term future, and specifically how it applied to the search business. Could my work as an executive search consultant be off-shored to India or China? After all, it seemed like Mr. Friedman was saying that pretty much everyone's job, not just technical or manufacturing, but also high-service consultative professions like mine, could be and would be done in one of those countries, where education is high and wages are low.

It seems I was thinking about it the wrong way. Yes, I have heard about recruiting functions with large U.S. companies that have been relocated to India (with mixed results, and from what I hear, often resulting in frustrating mix-ups and candidates feeling like they've been, well... sent offshore.) Other professional services firms such as law firms and public accounting firms have benefited from augmenting their professional ranks with the much less expensive services of highly qualified lawyers and accountants in India and/or China. But rather than seeing a mass exodus of executive searches overseas, I've seen an incredible new ease and ability to expand our services to Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. The Alexander Group has managed searches outside of the U.S. from the very beginning... it really only required a telephone and plane. But with these "flatteners" in high gear and another five years of technology improvements since the book's original publication, our ability to quickly access the right candidates at the right time has allowed us to successfully recruit top talent for our clients in Nigeria, Western Australia, Singapore, and Holzkirchen, Germany.

A decade ago it was difficult for clients to fathom a successful executive search without an on-the-ground presence in the region where the placement was to be made. With these world flatteners in place, however, we have found that our ability to accurately target and research a fresh pool of talent is limitless. As we, our clients, and our targeted talent pool are increasingly online and responsive 24-7 thanks to open source management tools, incredible access to fast information, and handheld devices on better and better networks, our ability to reach globally while maintaining the same level of high-touch service, accessibility, and consultative approach has grown exponentially.

We see countless small businesses enjoying the same type of global accessibility and opportunity to expand out-of-national boundaries. The WSJ reported in May of this year that "...the U.S. Commercial Service, which helps U.S. companies expand into foreign markets, says that 23% of its clients exported for the first time, entered a new market, or increased their international market penetration in 2009. That's up 3% from 2008." Furthermore, with a weak dollar, some businesses have found that the market for U.S.-produced goods is hotter than ever.

We all need to remain vigilant in order to be competitive in a global economy, but the goal is to use these world flatteners to our advantage rather than watch it move business out of our hands.

Turns out, the world is flat... but the views are really great.



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