18. Think Global, Act Local – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Eighteen

Think Global, Act Local

The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of General Electric will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires. We have to send our best and brightest overseas and make sure they have the training that will allow them to be the global leaders who will make GE flourish in the future.


Jack Welch

The phraser ‘Think globally, Act locally’ is widely used in various contexts. It means to have a global mindset by meeting local needs. It means growing globally by strengthening locally. It means taking a small segment, strengthening your position, consolidating it, and then growing globally. It also means that companies must have global exposure by tailoring their activities according to the tastes and temperaments of local customers while delivering goods and services. This is very relevant in the current context because of growing competition. Companies cannot isolate themselves from the growing opportunities arising out of the rapid growth of technology. They must capitalize on opportunities without compromising their present strongholds.

There are some companies that thought globally, but failed to act locally. As a result, they disappeared into oblivion. As customers’ needs differ from region to region, culture to culture and from country to country, companies must customize their services and products to suit local standards in order to be successful. In this mission, a few companies succeed, while a few fail badly. Several companies, such as HLL, KFC, Nokia, McDonalds, Starbucks and Whirlpool have followed this strategy. While a few have reaped the benefits of this strategy, some companies have failed to impact locally and learnt their lessons.

Obama—An Example of Thinking Global and Acting Local

There are several challenges involved in the phrase Think global and act local. For instance, there may be a clash of interest between local and global contexts. However, leaders have to have a local positioning with global branding. One must be strong locally, as that provides the confidence to move ahead aggressively, globally. Even if there is any failure to present oneself with global appeal, one can stand firmly on feet that are locally strong. US President Barack Obama has global appeal as a leader. In fact, his global leadership standing began with his win from his home—that is, America. He convinced his fellow Americans to vote for him and became the President of America, and gradually demonstrated his efficacy as a global leader by addressing global issues such as terrorism and peace. Globally, people are convinced by his credentials because of the way he is walking his talk to root out terrorism and ensure peace. This is despite the fact that though he acted globally, his actions were as per local interests, that is, as per American interests, something that upset a few global sections. His foreign policy is a clear indication of a global mindset with a local touch, as has been evidenced from his Afghanistan policy and those in Iraq and Libya, and the elimination of Osama Bin Laden.

Mother Teresa’s Message

As charity begins at home, helping others too must start from your home. Although people talk of charity at a higher level, it must start in your home first. When Mother Teresa was asked, ‘What can we do to promote world peace?’ she replied, ‘Go home and love your family.’ If we want to have global peace, we must start fomenting peace in our homes first. Similarly, when you want prosperity all over the world, you must learn to prosper first. When you want to make a difference in the lives of others, you must start making a difference at your local level, and over a period of time, you will see the results at the global level. It is a ripple effect. When you throw a stone into water, it takes time for the waves to reach the shore.

Global Author Profile

When I wrote my author profile and sent it for publication, the editor of the esteemed publication was much impressed with my global profile. However, he wanted me to make it appeal to the local population as well. Initially I did not appreciate changing my author profile, but I empathized with my publisher and considered updating it to suit both local and global appeal.

Basically I have made the profile keeping the international audience in mind, and wrote clearly about the number of publications I have and the number of journals and magazines that have published my writings. I then mentioned my international affiliations with prestigious publications. Since my editor asked for it, I then included my academic profile, complete with my rise from humble beginnings. I am largely a self-educated man as I entered employment at the age of eighteen due to financial hardships at my home. I gradually acquired various qualifications during the course of the thirty years of my employment, and entrepreneurial and academic journey. I included all these qualifications as well as the local journals, magazines and newspapers that have published my articles. In addition, I stated the names of the companies to which I have provided my leadership training programmes. After proofreading it a number of times, I sent it to the editor. He was very pleased with my profile as it touched both the local and the overseas audiences. Hence, it is important to strike a balance between local and global appeal, thus widening the audience base.

When you look at companies with international exposure, you can see that they create their own marketing mix to suit both their local and global customers. At times, their strategies might not suit global customers as the tastes of such customers differ from region to region and from country to country. Then they learn their lessons from failures and redesign their strategies to appeal to both local and global customers, so as to have their cake and eat it too. They also develop leaders who can act glocally, which means both locally and globally simultaneously, depending on the situation, to reap the benefits of globalization.

To summarize, in today’s world there is a strong need to cultivate a mindset that combines global flavour with local content. Flexibility and adaptability are the keys to survival in the current global context. Only when you are locally strong will you be able to survive globally. You must start from your strengths. You must stabilize from where you are, and then gradually spread out your wings.