Since 1989 my wife, Caro, and I have gone to the South of France for part of the summer. Because of COVID restrictions, last year was an exception. This August we returned to our gated community of 60 houses in the foothills overlooking Cannes. Designed as an ancient village complete with a medieval chateau and a Romanesque chapel, our village facilitates residents mingling at the pool, mixing at cocktail parties and socializing at soirees. “See you around the village” is a constant refrain. Caro and I marvel at how we see more neighbors here in a day than we do back in Philadelphia in a month.
For five weeks we live in this global village with neighbors from over a dozen European nations as well as several from Asia and the Middle East. Since we are among only a handful coming over from the United States, they like seeing us “to find out what’s happening in the States.” With the departure of President Trump and with the tragic collapse of the U.S.-supported government in Afghanistan, their questions and comments this summer have been less caustic and more sympathetic. Overall, they fear that America is losing its will to lead in a world that desperately needs its leadership.
Politics aside, our neighbors continue to show great admiration and respect for America, which they demonstrate in many ways. If they or their children are U.S. citizens, by virtue of having been born in America, they try hard to retain their U.S. citizenship. Our neighbors often tell us they would like their children and grandchildren to study, work and spend some part of their lives in America. By the time they finish high school, the vast majority speak fluent English. They ask how they can get “some experience with American life” through internships, schools and work opportunities in the States. When our American friends come over to visit, particularly those working in investment banking, technology and management consulting, we become especially popular with our neighbors, who solicit their advice and help.
Our global village wants to know about our culture, our attitudes, our principles. In stark contrast, back home most Americans show little interest in and less knowledge of what’s happening outside our borders. Aside from an increasing interest in international soccer matches, Americans seem to be becoming more insular and more provincial. Our lack of curiosity is alarming to my European neighbors, particularly given how interconnected the world has become as evidenced by the need for global responses to climate change, pandemics and cybersecurity.
Yet for decades many American corporations have taken a global perspective, enabling them to become global leaders in many fields such as technology. Continually seeking to take advantage of international opportunities, these companies have invested heavily in the recruitment, training and development of talent from around the world. By doing so, they have ample international talent of senior executives who are non-U.S. citizens, foreign-born U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens with extensive work experience outside the States. In doing succession planning, particularly for a new CEO, these companies typically search for candidates who have worked abroad, and high-potential executives without such experience are given assignments to develop their global perspective. Today, many major American corporations, including Microsoft, Google and Coke, have CEOs born outside the United States.
Voices from different regions of the world need to be heard in the boardroom, and thus many boards are bringing on directors experienced with foreign operations and global markets. Governance committees are seeking board candidates with international experience, notably those who have lived and worked in foreign countries as well as non-American citizens living in the States or abroad. As the past 18 months have demonstrated, boards can have virtual meetings where directors can easily and productively participate from anywhere in the world. Residing in a distant land should not disqualify a candidate for board membership.
Although our village in France is small, our neighbors remind us that the world is both big and interconnected. Although boards are small, their perspective must be global. Recruiting directors with international experience is necessary for both good governance and good performance. The boardroom needs to be a global village.