Most Powerful Women

Hire the local, not the expat

October 16, 2013: 10:08 AM ET

DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman and other execs offered tips on how to cultivate global talent at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit.

By Anne VanderMey, reporter

131016095856-ellen-kullman-mpw-620xaFORTUNE -- Hiring the best people from around the world is a top priority for most leaders in today's relentlessly globalizing business landscape. At Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit on Wednesday, a few executives offered their thoughts on where to find good global employees -- and how to keep them.

1. Don't overrate English proficiency

When interviewing a candidate, DuPont (DD) chair and CEO Ellen Kullman asks herself, "Am I letting their command of the language be a bigger decision point than their skills?" It's easy to get comfortable with an international candidate who speaks great English, but "you have to get beyond that," Kullman says. One of her top executives is Vietnamese and struggles with English, she says, but he's "head and shoulders above anybody else that I talk to."

The solution: Spend more time getting communication right. Gina Qiao, senior vice president of human resources at Lenovo, says that because of language barriers the company's leadership team will sometimes spend half a day on a decision that might otherwise take half an hour. But in the end, it pays off. "If we just speak one language, we just think one way," Qiao says.

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2. Hire local

Melanie Healey, North American group president at Procter & Gamble (PG), says it's important to identify local talent early on, and then provide the mentoring, training, and support to keep those employees happy.

"I have never been disappointed by hiring local," says Barbara Kux, chief sustainability officer at Siemens (SI). "I have been more disappointed with expats." With local talent, she says, the motivation is higher, and the local knowledge proves critical.

3. Then promote them

"There's typically a bias in our German headquarters," Kux says. There, executives tend to be at slightly higher levels of seniority than their international counterparts. Occasionally Siemens makes a conscious decision to promote its international staff to parity with the German office. "You really need to make sure that the team understands that they have the fast career track locally," Kux says.

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4. If you want a skilled global workforce, hire global executives

Too often, leaders hire a staff that looks like they do. The solution: bring on international executives. "By forcing a diverse slate (at the top), you're going to have a much more diverse population," Kullman says. "We've measured it, and it's much more diverse than it was five years ago."

Kux says she shies away from international quotas while hiring, but in all, strives for a balance, particularly in emerging markets. "Get a little bit of support and knowledge from the mature markets," Kux said. "But please, not too much."

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