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Andreas Weber’s Reward for Success in an
International Assignment

Teaching Note




                                                                                                     01/2003-5080

This teaching note was prepared by Günter K. Stahl, Assistant Professor of Asian Business at
INSEAD and Mark E. Mendenhall, J. Burton Frierson Professor of Leadership at the University of
Tennessee. It is intended to aid instructors in the classroom use of the case Andreas Weber’s Reward
for Success in an International Assignment (A & B).

Financial support for the project “Expatriate Careers” (INSEAD research grant # 2010-502 R) is
gratefully acknowledged.

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Case Summary
Andreas Weber was selected as a “high potential” manager in a large German bank early in
his career. One part of that designation was the expectation that he take an overseas
assignment to “globalize” his perspective. An assignment to the U.S. came sooner than
expected, and upon arrival in New York he discovered that the assignment had been poorly
planned. He decided to stay and make the best of a less than ideal situation. Over time, he
progressed swiftly in the New York office. Due to family issues, he and his wife decided that
after spending more than six years in the U.S., it would be best to return to Germany.
However, headquarters was not able to find a position for him back in Germany that was
requisite with his experience and skills. The only position they could find for him was
essentially a demotion, and in a part of Germany that was far away from corporate
headquarters. The case ends with Andreas wondering what he should do. (see A Case)

This case is based on a real person; circumstances, people, and the name of the company have
been altered to protect the anonymity of everyone involved in the actual situation.

What happened to Andreas? After several days of consideration, he reluctantly decided to
accept the job offer. As soon as he was transferred back to Germany, he immediately looked
for a new position. Four months after his return to Frankfurt, he joined a large insurance
company headquartered in Germany. (see B Case)


Teaching the Case

Assignment Questions

1.           Should Andreas go back to the position offered?
2.           If Andreas accepts the job, what should his career plan be?
3.           If he doesn’t accept the job, what should he do?
4.           Who is to blame for the current situation? What factors contributed to Andreas’
             reentry problems?
5.           What can the organization do to avoid the kind of problems illustrated in the case?
             From an HR perspective, what would be a more systematic approach to repatriation
             planning and international career development?

The sequence of the assignment questions forces students to analyze the nature of Andreas’
dilemma, and of the likely implications of the options that are available to him. Students must
place themselves in Andreas’ shoes to see if anything can be done to remedy the situation.
Finally, students must reflect on the factors that contributed to reentry problems, and explore
approaches to improve international career management and repatriation practices.




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1. Should Andreas go back to the position offered?

Have the students discuss the reasons for both returning and staying that Andreas is wrestling
with. As they develop and discuss these reasons, one option is to guide the discussion into an
evaluation of the “pros” and “cons” of each of the reasons the students bring up. The
paramount issues are listed in the table below. At the end of the discussion of this question,
emphasize that the reasons and their pros and cons do not mesh well – they are apples and
oranges, with no clear win-win combinations for the participants involved. To illustrate this it
would be useful to have the students brainstorm what a possible win-win strategy would be.
Help them to remember that the issues are not just between Andreas and his wife and his
career, but that these dimensions interact with his children and the children’s grandparents as
well.



              PROS                                          CONS
              (reasons for accepting the job and            (reasons for rejecting the job and
              returning to Germany)                         staying in the U.S.)


              His wife wants to return home; he             He has been “out of sight and out of
              needs to look after her needs. If he          mind” from the home office for six
              doesn’t, remaining in New York will be        years. Taking this position will only
              a nightmare for his family.                   worsen his career chances in
                                                            Germany by remaining cut off from
                                                            headquarters.
              His children are losing their German          If after 8 months this is the best they
              heritage and identity and if he doesn’t       can offer, does he really have a future
              go back, they will be Americans in            in this company? It would be better
              their culture and mindset.                    to stay and build a career in the U.S.
                                                            He knows that he will miss the
                                                            freedom and authority he had in his
                                                            job as head of the corporate finance
                                                            department.
                                                            His children feel at home in New
                                                            York.
                                                            They found new friends and enjoy the
                                                            high standard of living in New York,
                                                            and the prospect of moving from
                                                            New York to the Eastern part of
                                                            Germany is not very appealing to
                                                            them.

From a professional point of view, Andreas knows that it doesn’t make much sense for him to
return home The most important reasons for going home have to do with the future of the
children and the situation with his wife.



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2. If Andreas accepts the job, what should his career plan be?

Now, the discussion can more fully evaluate the implications of the two major options that
Andreas faces: to stay or to return.

Option 1: Springboard. Use the position to get back to Germany, but then look for a job in
another company in Germany. This is the actual option that the real Andreas Weber took; but,
have the students consider the risks of this option (e.g., perhaps he will be viewed as a “has-
been,” a failure overseas, one who has lost a bit of his luster to other German employers –
after all, why is he in the eastern part of Germany instead of Frankfurt?)

Option 2: Patience. He needs to remember he is a fast tracker. The company will likely not
keep him there forever. Just be patient and do a good job and good things will happen.
Possible risks: he might remain “out of sight and out of mind,” in eastern Germany and it may
take a long time to achieve his goal using this strategy. Also, his wife and children – and
himself! – may experience reentry shock coming from New York to a small city in a
relatively unattractive part of Germany.


3. If he doesn’t accept the job, what should he do?

Option 1: Stay in the U.S. Global finance companies need people like him. Make the U.S. his
base for his career, and make a strategic decision as a family to have the children become
world citizens rather than traditional Germans. Possible risks: emotional fallout from giving
up their heritage, disconnection from family roots and ties, and lack of feeling a deep
belongingness to a location.

Option 2: Look for a job in Germany from the U.S. Reject the position, stay in the job in the
U.S., but get in touch with a headhunting firm. He would be a great find for a U.S., Japanese,
etc., bank starting up or expanding operations in Germany. Possible risks: no attractive offers
might be found, and now the family is stuck in the U.S. for good.

It is important to point out that there are risks associated with each of the options. For
example, if he decides to stay in New York, this may jeopardize his marriage; his children
may suffer in the long term; he and his family may be stuck in the U.S. for good; his contract
will likely be localized; etc. On the other hand, if he accepts the job offer he may remain “out
of sight and out of mind” from corporate headquarters, and his family may experience reentry
shock


4. Who is to blame for the current situation? What factors contributed to Andreas’
   reentry problems?

Andreas

•     His naivete to have thought that the company would look after him and tailor his entire
      career for him in the firm. He did not check out how an international assignment really
      impacted careers in the bank – he simply took top management’s word that it would be an
      important step to take in terms of his career.


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•     If he wanted to go back to Germany, he should have done so sooner when his three years
      were up.
•     If he wanted a promotion back to Germany, he should have been seriously networking
      with colleagues back in the home office during the entire six years in the U.S. He is to
      blame for the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon.

The Bank

•     They should have not let him stay for the promotion in the U.S., but should have brought
      him back to headquarters and continued to guide him along the bank’s “fast track.”
•     They should have known that he deserved and expected a promotion given his
      performance over the past six years and planned for it. They should have contacted him
      when a suitable promotion was available and then asked him to return.

Factors that Contributed to Reentry Problems

In the case of Andreas Weber, the company’s international workforce planning system
apparently did not function effectively. Although he performed more than adequately in his
foreign assignment, he was offered a reentry position that neither built on his experiences
abroad nor enhanced his career. What went wrong?

Before analyzing this case study, it is important to note that reentry problems such as
Andreas’ are by no means an exception. Repatriation of corporate managers and their spouses
is not something that happens easily. Research (e.g., Adler, 2002; Baughn, 1995; Black,
Gregersen, Mendenhall & Stroh, 1999; Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2001; Hammer, Hart & Rogan,
1998; Napier & Peterson, 1991; Stahl, Miller & Tung, 2002) has shown that, from the
perspective of the returning expatriate, the experiences upon repatriation and the career
implications of an international assignment are often frustrating:

•     the majority of expatriate managers experience some degree of culture shock during
      repatriation,
•     one out of every five employees who finishes an overseas assignment wants to leave the
      company when they return,
•     less than half of returned expatriates receive promotions upon return,
•     two-thirds of returning expatriates feel their overseas assignment had a negative impact on
      their careers,
•     at least half of returning employees feel their reentry position is less satisfying than their
      overseas assignment.

In the case of Andreas Weber, several factors contributed to reentry problems. Firstly, while
the New York branch of the bank was in the middle of a booming phase, business conditions
in Germany were far less favorable. There were extensive staff cutbacks at corporate
headquarters, especially on the middle management level. Consequently, the number of
attractive and challenging positions that were available for returning managers was limited.
Many repatriates had to be put in a temporary job or in a “lateral” position.



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Expatriates are often equipped with a so called “reentry guarantee” in their foreign service
contract, stating that the relocating department or division guarantees a reentry position at
least the same level as the one they are leaving or – in some companies – the one that they
previously held in the foreign country. In the case of Andreas Weber, such a repatriation
agreement did not exist because he had been transferred to New York as part of an
international trainee program, not as a “regular” expatriate. Additionally, the fact that he was
promoted three times during his six-year assignment made it extremely difficult to find him a
“lateral” position upon return, let alone a higher-level job. Andreas’ reentry problems were
further intensified by the fact that the salaries that were paid to bankers in New York were
considerably higher than in Germany. As a result, the compensation package that Andreas
received while overseas (including an overseas bonus, generous allowances, etc.) was much
higher than the one offered to him on returning.

For managers who stay for a long time in a foreign subsidiary it is often difficult to transfer
back to corporate headquarters since they have not been able to keep up with developments in
their home country. Moreover, the longer an expatriate is in a foreign culture, the greater the
probability that he or she might adapt host country patterns of thinking and behaving thus
creating readjustment problems. Conscious of this fact, Andreas’ company had a policy of
recalling expatriate managers after a three-year assignment. In Andreas’ case, however, the
HR department had deviated from this policy because the New York branch had urgently
requested an extension of his foreign-service contract. In postponing his return twice, Andreas
had severed ties with his social networks in Germany. When he approached the end of his
foreign assignment, he had almost become a stranger at corporate headquarters.

On a more psychological level, research indicates that unrealistic expectations are often at the
base of reentry problems (e.g., Adler, 2002; Black et al., 1999; Black, Gregersen &
Mendenhall, 1992; Kühlmann & Stahl, 1995; Martin & Harrell, 1996). This was also true in
the case of Andreas Weber. Because he had substantial proof of his good performance during
his overseas assignment – after all he had been promoted three times – Andreas was confident
that he would be rewarded with a challenging position upon return. Unfortunately, domestic
job assignments have usually less responsibility and authority than positions in foreign
subsidiaries. When Andreas was finally offered a reentry assignment that did not appear as
challenging as he expected – but was in fact roughly on the same management level than his
previously held position in New York – he felt extremely disappointed. Returning from the
financial center of the world to a position as deputy head of a medium-sized branch of the
bank in the eastern part of Germany appeared to him like a demotion.


5. What can the organization do to avoid the kind of problems illustrated in the case?
   From an HR perspective, what would be a more systematic approach to repatriation
   planning and international career development?

Several practical implications can be drawn from this case study. Firstly and probably most
importantly, it shows that an incongruence between the expatriate manager’s career
expectations and the reality back in the home country can cause serious reentry problems.
This finding is consistent with research indicating that expatriate managers who have accurate
expectations adjust and perform better after repatriation than those with inaccurate
expectations (e.g., Black, 1992; Black et al., 1992). Consequently, repatriation programs must
be designed to help expatriates form accurate reentry expectations.

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A number of policies and procedures may be helpful in facilitating the repatriation process by
shaping accurate expectations (Adler, 2002; Black et al., 1999; Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2001;
Dowling, Welch & Schuler, 1999; Harvey, 1982; Martin & Harrell, 1996; Stroh, Gregersen &
Black, 1998; Sussman, 1986):

•     Providing career counseling and clearly delineating difficulties expected upon return can
      lessen reentry problems. Educating candidates about potential risks of a foreign
      assignment can help reduce inaccurate expectations and foster candidates’ self selection in
      the pre-expatriation phase. For example, HR executives may communicate that managers
      will have less authority upon returning as they enjoyed during their foreign assignment. It
      is also important that no firm promises are made to candidates as to what their position
      would be upon return. Too often such promises are outdated within a few years.
•     Time away from the home country can significantly inhibit the formation of accurate
      anticipatory expectations. A policy of recalling expatriates after a three- or four-year
      assignment may thus be helpful in reducing reentry problems. This suggestion does not
      exclude the possibility that under certain circumstances, e.g., in countries that are
      particularly difficult to adjust to, expatriate assignments must be considerably longer.
•     Expatriates who are aware of both the positive and negative changes in the organization
      are able to anticipate difficulties upon returning. Consequently, management should
      regularly inform expatriate employees of current organizational policies, strategic shifts,
      projects, staffing changes, etc. The information gained from visits back to the home
      country can also be useful in updating expatriates’ company-specific knowledge.
•     Assigning “sponsors” or “mentors” back in the home office may be helpful in reducing
      reentry problems. The mentor’s task is to keep in touch with the expatriate and convey
      important information to him throughout his overseas assignment. In addition, the mentor
      monitors his performance, compensation and career paths and evaluates job opportunities
      that will exist when the expatriate returns to the home organization.
•     Giving expatriates, where possible, project assignments back at corporate headquarters
      can be helpful in keeping them sensitized to the differences in environment that exist
      between the domestic organization and the more decentralized remote operations. It also
      enables expatriates to cultivate their social network in the home organization. These short-
      term assignments could be timed to fit in with home leaves or other business visits.

Additionally, an approach that may be called the “shadow system” can be helpful in shaping
accurate reentry expectations. This system is widely used in German MNCs [multinational
corporations] (Kühlmann & Stahl, 1995). It aims at giving expatriates feedback about the
development of their (fictional) job level and salary in the home organization throughout their
foreign assignment. The HR department determines the “shadow position” and “shadow
salary” of an expatriate by continuously comparing his/her development with the career path
of equally performing colleagues in the home organization. This enables expatriates to form
more realistic expectations about their prospective job level and salary upon returning.

While the aforementioned policies and procedures may facilitate the repatriation process by
helping expatriates form accurate expectations, there are a number of approaches to improve
international career management and repatriation practices of MNCs (Adler, 2002; Black et
al., 1999; Brewster, 1991; Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2001; Dowling et al., 1999; Evans, Pucik &


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Barsoux, 2002; Harvey, 1982; Mendenhall, Kühlmann, Stahl & Osland, 2002; Selmer, 1999;
Stroh, 1995; Black & Gregersen, 1999). These recommendations include:

•     A closer tie-in of international assignments with long-range manpower planning and
      career development.
•     Attention throughout the foreign assignment to the question of repatriation in conjunction
      with annual performance reviews of the expatriate.
•     Continuous monitoring of the expatriate’s training needs to reduce deficits and enhance
      professional skills prior to returning.
•     Systematic examination of alternative reentry positions for the expatriate at least six
      months ahead of the proposed repatriation date.
•     Development of a formal orientation or de-briefing program, including the introduction of
      the returning expatriate to key persons in the home organization.
•     Identification of job skills acquired or enhanced overseas, and identification of ways in
      which those skills can be integrated and productively used in the home organization.

What is probably more important than having an arsenal of repatriation and career
development tools is making the international assignment an integral part of the career
development process. Implementing a valid selection process is a first important step towards
this goal. Unless a company selects the best people for an international assignment,
repatriation will be extremely difficult.

A properly designed repatriation program can remedy many of the problems associated with
returning home after a foreign assignment. However, even the most sophisticated policies and
procedures can be an ineffective solution to the problem of “no-job-on-return” under certain
conditions, such as a highly fluctuating economy and deteriorating business conditions
abroad. Moreover, no repatriation program can guarantee an outgoing expatriate manager a
specific job on his return. Therefore, shaping accurate reentry expectations and creating an
awareness of potential difficulties expected upon return appear to be crucial.

It is also important to note that approaches that are proposed to benefit the repatriation process
may well inhibit the expatriation process and vice versa. For instance, the typical salary
increase associated with international assignments tends to artificially raise the social status of
the expatriate. While this may facilitate his/her adjustment in the host country, the probable
downward shift upon returning home would be expected to inhibit repatriation adjustment.
This was exactly what happened in the case of Andreas Weber: the higher salaries that were
paid to bankers in New York, together with generous expatriate allowances and bonuses, led
to a sharp decrease in available income upon return. The fact that Andreas was promoted
several times during his foreign assignment created a similar counteracting effect. Thus, as
Adler (1981) pointed out, “in some respects the more outstanding a performer the executive
was overseas, the more uncomfortable his return will be” (p. 344). Such paradoxical effects
must be kept in mind when designing an international career development program.




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References


Adler, N. J. (2002). International dimensions of organizational behaviour (4th ed.). South-
  Western College Publishing.
Baughn, C. (1995). Personal and organizational factors associated with effective repatriation.
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Black, J. S. & Gregersen, H. B. (1999). The right way to manage expats. Harvard Business
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Black, J. S. (1992). Coming home: The relationship of expatriate expectations with
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Black, J. S., Gregersen, H. B. & Mendenhall, M. E. (1992). Toward a theoretical framework
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Black, J. S., Gregersen, H. B., Mendenhall, M. E. & Stroh, L. K. (1999). Globalizing people
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Brewster, C. (1991). The management of expatriates. London: Kogan.
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Napier, N. K. & Peterson, R. B. (1991). Expatriate re-entry: What do repatriates have to say?
  Human Resource Planning, 14, 19-28.


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Selmer, J. (1999). Corporate expatriate career development. Journal of International
   Management, 5: 55-71.
Stahl, G. K., Miller, E. & Tung, R. (2002). Toward the boundaryless career: A closer look at
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Stroh, K. L., Gregersen H. B. & Black, J. S. (1998). Closing the gap: Expectations versus
   reality among repatriates. Journal of World Business, 33, 111-124.
Sussman, N.M. (1986). Re-entry research and training: Methods and implications.
  International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10, 235-254.




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