Brain Gain: How Multinationals in the Philippines Can Attract and Retain Global Leaders

HCLI Research
Published 6 May 2016

Is the Philippines undergoing a ‘brain gain’ as its skilled overseas professionals return home? Below we look at what these talents bring to the table, how organisations can best attract them, and the push and pull factors that determine whether they will make the move.

For years, the Philippines has experienced a ‘brain drain’, as economic necessity and opportunity led to an estimated 10% of its population moving abroad to work . However, fueled by positive economic growth of around 5% a year and low inflation, a pattern of talented Filipino professionals returning home may now be emerging.

Brain Gain

While there are no definitive figures documenting the rate of ‘brain gain’ in the Philippines, state investment into infrastructure and the integration of the country’s high-tech industrial centres into international networks is creating a more attractive professional environment for returning talent. A 2015 report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales argued that ‘[Filipino] emigrants are willing to return to their home country despite wage cuts, so long as they are confident their sector of expertise exists.’

Global Local Leaders

Filipino professionals with global experience bring with them a broader perspective to business, the ability to work with people from different backgrounds, and an understanding of global trends and language. Their exposure to international situations, pressures and best practices places them at an advantage when compared against purely local professionals. Angela Reyes Dinglasan is General Manager of Philippines cosmetics firm, The Greenhouse. Previously she worked overseas for consumer goods firms Reckitt Benckiser, in Thailand and Vietnam, and Unilever, where she managed the Northeast Asia markets. At The Greenhouse, which produces a range of organic and natural beauty products, she operates 38 stores in the Philippines and plans to expand to Hong Kong and New York.

Dinglasan credits her time overseas with enabling her business growth.“I couldn’t have done this business at all if I hadn’t left the Philippines. My view of products, how to work and standards would be limited. I’m equipped to run a great local brand, that has the potential to be a world-class brand, because I spent time away.”

Push and Pull

With more than a decade of international experience in Hong Kong and Singapore, Victor S Genuino, Vice President and Head of Meralco Corporate Business Group, has firsthand experience of why Filipino professionals are returning to their archipelagic homeland. “Beyond monetary considerations, the opportunity to run your own ship, to be part of something new, to have the flexibility to innovate, and the chance to turn the Philippines into a ‘tiger’ economy, appeals to an executive mulling over whether or not to return home,” says Genuino.

He acknowledges there are a number of reasons that deter Filipinos from returning: overseas careers offer higher wages, a greater variety of jobs, and a better quality of life. Returning Filipinos may also experience frustrations when dealing with bureaucracy, general inefficiencies in business and society and nuisances like Manila’s traffic. “However, this is more than compensated by being surrounded by family and friends, and living in the country of your birth,” he says.

Attracting and Retaining Overseas Filipino Talent

The common perception that monetary reward is the surest way to attract overseas Filipino professionals is not flawed, but neither is it the only approach for multinationals looking to staff leadership positions in their Philippines’ operations. Jay Banghar, Managing Director at SearchElect, a Singapore-based IT and telecommunications executive search firm, says high salaries are not always practical or beneficial due to the Philippine’s tax policies. Along with a competitive salary, he believes multinationals should tailor their benefit policies, as Filipinos thrive when they are provided with perks or benefits related to family members or retirement. These additional benefits can be beneficial to attracting and retaining talent, agrees Louie Victor Lopez, Business Development Director at Orange International Recruitment Services, a Philippine-based recruitment agency. He says that middle-aged Filipino executives may be also looking for security of tenure, healthcare and retirement packages, autonomy in the workplace, stock options and partnerships.

For professionals used to working in a global organisation, working in the Philippines can be frustrating, even for returning locals. Tina Rodriguez, Practice Head, Executive Management at Q2 HR Solutions, says that returnees may have become used to the regulatory environments and structures overseas, and struggle with the more fluid environment of the Philippines. Equally, organisations need to take into account that returning talents can become disincentivised and frustrated. Lopez says that issues with change management, such as overcoming resistance to change within an organisation, need to be considered and carefully managed.

Locals Go Global

While the brain gain has yet to outweigh the drain, segments of the Filipino diaspora are now returning. It is a process that needs to be carefully managed, since, while overseas Filipino talent bring experience, expertise and deep understanding of the global business environment, return culture shock brings its own challenges. However, this should not put young local leaders off from going overseas and getting international exposure. “For all young leaders — go! It is the best thing you can do for yourself and even for your country,” says Dinglasan. “After going, come back. Make it your mission to help people here become world class.”

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