Is being in charge of translations or localizations a path to becoming the future CEO? In my experience, absolutely.
True, this may not be the typical function from which CEOs or other senior managers may come from – this would be the case of Operations (think Apple's Tim Cook), Finance, Sales or Marketing. But there may be plenty of arguments why those managing the localization of their company's products or content may be very strong candidates. Here are a few:
- They know their products very well – literally inside out, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how they compare with competitors.
- They know the specifics of individual international/local markets and what it takes to succeed there. A must these days. They are used to operating globally, and working with international (and sometimes complex) networks of suppliers.
- Since translation/localization may not (still, alas!) be a high-profile, high-visibility function in many organizations, they are used to working with limited resources and getting the most out of these, working internally to understand the requirements of individual departments related to international markets, and winning needed internal support.
- For all the reasons above, they tend to be very hard-working, no-nonsense people, who are focused on getting their jobs done as effectively as possibly, and enabling the global success of their products and brands.
There is an ongoing debate in business management or in the academia if the best leaders come from within their organizations, or externally. It may be situational, but this finding by the Harvard Business School Professor Joseph L. Bower, titled The Most Successful CEOs Come from Within, rings true:
"the most successful CEOs are inside outsiders, executives who have grown up in the company and know how it works but have developed an outsider's perspective and have a vision of what needs to change in order to take advantage of the transformed markets".
Those managing translations tend to fit this description perfectly.
The same conclusion is the result of the twelfth annual study on CEO succession released recently by the consulting firm Booz & Co. – see the article titled New CEO Study Underlines Merits Of Promoting From Within in Forbes.
So my little advice to any corporate HR departments would be: if you are looking for talents within your organizations – and not just for the role of a CEO, but for any other senior positions – make sure you consider the internal teams that manage the development of the local/localized versions of your products or content. You may find real "gems" there, and true champions that may help your companies succeed in the increasingly complex and competitive marketplace.