Frank Brown spent 26 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, holding a number of top jobs, before becoming dean of Insead, the international business school south of Paris, in 2006. He spoke with Deputy Business Editor Rick Newman about the world's business hot spots and what it takes to get ahead as a global executive.
Do you agree with people who think America is losing its competitive edge?
I firmly believe that the days of the United States as a global, dominant economy are waning. A lot of companies are reluctant to accept that. Americans are often looked down upon overseas because they assume that people will capitulate toward their way of doing things-in somebody else's country. That doesn't cut it anymore. Another thing I worry about: Why do Americans want to retire at 55? My kids are 26 and 23. I tell them, you might live to be 100. So do something you love, and plan to do it for a long time. I look at Florida and wonder: Why is it now the American dream to retire at 55 or 60 and move to Florida?
What should a midcareer executive be doing to adapt to a global economy?
You've got to be open to not just traveling but experiencing other cultures. Go to cultural events, sporting events; go to somebody's house for dinner. That can be a real trip. There's a big difference between being global, which to me means you've been on a lot of planes and passed through a lot of airports, and being worldly. Don't just go to China for a two-day business trip. Food is another huge issue. You can't be a hamburger kind of guy and expect to get along in most cultures.
So what should executives do to become more worldly?
If you're already successful at a large company, chances are you've had some overseas travel. If your kids are old enough and it works for your family, try to extend that to a six-month overseas posting. People always insist on being home for the weekend, which is good for the family, but you miss a ton. Also, do it now, because this experience will pay huge dividends later on, when it really becomes a requirement. In some ways it already is a requirement. If you want a leadership role in a multinational corporation, you've got to have this kind of experience.
What about younger people just starting their careers?
Younger people should learn another language. If you speak Chinese, you can live anywhere in Asia.
If you were a 50-year-old assembly-line worker worried about losing his job, what would you do?
First, I'd look around and ask, 'What is the environment I'm in now?' If it's the rust belt, and there's nothing there, I'd consider moving. But if there's a wafer fabrication plant down the street, or university research labs within 50 miles, I'd look for some kind of retraining.
What should be done to make American companies more competitive?
If there were a more aggressive and vocal business lobby in this country, it would be a good thing.
What should businesses lobby for?
The mandate should be to come up with implementable ideas to reduce red tape, improve competitiveness, improve the attractiveness of U.S. markets, and retrain segments of the population.
Do you see anything like that happening?
Nothing solution-oriented. Nobody's going to put a stake in the ground. A CEO's average tenure is four years. Their main job becomes self-preservation.
More of the Frank Brown interview is at www.usnews.com/insead
This story appears in the January 22, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.