Latin America (as in most developing nations) has local professionals with good basic knowledge and the ability to work under the close guidance and supervision of a local General Manager. In the case of professionals, a local company can hire recent graduates or professionals with a few years of experience at very low salary levels without any problems.
However, if maturity is required, then proven professional background, independence, international experience, language(s), trustworthiness and loyalty are key issues! Furthermore, these qualities become a necessity if ability and willingness to represent the foreign owner’s interest is intended: Even if this means going against the local General Manager’s opinion. Moreover, a specific nationality is not imperative, e.g., a German/Austrian/American/etc.
In summary, someone who can be the dependable partner and representative of a foreign-owned company in a Latin American subsidiary can be identified through their level of expertise and professional experience.
Only a small percentage of local managers achieve an international level of expertise and responsibility, which is the reason foreign companies must compete for these few high-level professionals. They are therefore willing to pay a higher salary/compensation with an eye to the long term, rather than just on current needs. The salary is ‘somewhat higher’ than the common local salary level, but at a comparable level with their international counterparts in the U.S. or Europe. In fact, it is our experience that such a professional may often cost more in Brazil or Mexico than the same level would cost in Europe or the U.S. (in line with supply and demand).
In developing nations, professionals (including the General Managers themselves) are either ‘local’ (and at a local salary level), or ‘international’ (and at an international salary level) – there is not really much in between. The local professionals ‘in transition’ are working (and learning) in large international firms until they have reached that ‘international level’, and then seek new employment where the pay corresponds to this level of experience.
In conclusion, this is why our focus is not on searching for the ‘local person’ (dozens of these names can be gathered quickly), but rather on seeking out the ‘international manager’. Such an individual possesses experience at a level that will satisfy both the current requirements, and those which will emerge in a few years when growth and investments have changed the company. It is indeed more effective to hire a person who is somewhat overqualified (and overpaid) than to have to seek out and hire another individual in 2-3 years to replace the one hired now.