Going International: as a Core Strategy

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As you build your portfolio executive client base you may, from day one, want to be international.  There are a number of people that I’ve worked with where, because of their existing relationships, when they step into a portfolio executive work style it makes sense for them to start with an international perspective.   

You have an International Network 

Let me give you three examples:

      • Somebody whose previous work was building the international channel partners for an interesting but niche manufacturing operation.  They’ve been working this niche for a period of time and in each of their roles they had been very effective in building channel partnerships, they understood that network and as they moved to portfolio the natural place for them to start was to work with that network.  So, from day one they wanted to go international.   
      • Somebody who has been a very effective product manager, who moved increasingly to become a chief revenue officer working with a number of SaaS-based products – highly innovative, highly creative, very commercially focused – finding that he had a ready market to work with European businesses from day one, based upon the relationships built up through attending industry conferences over a number of years.  So, from day one, he starts to build relationships with companies, initially in Switzerland and Germany, as well as the UK.   
      • An individual who has done a lot of corporate finance related work for technology businesses in Israel.  Through that he has an international network and he has been helping those businesses raise money from across investors internationally.  It makes sense for him, from day one, to be working with businesses that are either based in Israel or based in other technology hubs in London and North America.   

Those are three examples of individuals have got existing relationships which means that it makes sense for them to have international at part of their core strategy.   

You enjoy International Travel 

The second reason that you might want international to be part of your core strategy is because you just want to build a work style which involves international travel.  From day one you are going to be looking for clients that have overseas offices and you’re going to be particularly niching down on businesses that have either international headquarters outside the UK or a network of international offices because you want opportunities to travel internationally.   

Your Knowledge, Skills and Experience fit International Clients 

The third reason that you might want to build international into your core strategy is that the kinds of businesses that you’re best suited to support are businesses that have an international network.  Perhaps you have language skills, or wide-ranging international experience, maybe you will support businesses entering the European market from outside Europe.  

If you are looking to provide services primarily to organisations that want to create market entry into Europe from overseas with London or Dublin as a base be cautious about what your role is going to be.  Many of the people I’ve talked to who have explored those kinds of roles rapidly recognise that what the organisations ask for is a full time UK or European MD.  The reality is all that person is doing is building a network of revenue opportunities and they don’t actually have P&L responsibility to build a local organisation.  Therefore, many of the classic roles for FDs, operations directors, marketing directors, HR directors are no longer relevant because there’s not a commitment to build substantial boots on the ground in the early stage of that business.   

Once the business is a bit more mature in Europe, moving perhaps from scale up to scale out across the European area, then the opportunities start to multiply but often the mindset of overseas businesses investing in Europe is they want full time permanent head count and successfully proposing fractional roles could be very challenging.  The risk is that you end up in interim full-time roles that help them to build that network but ultimately, you’re going to be replaced in the short or medium term by permanent full-time employees.   


Going international as part of your initial core strategy can make great sense.  Whether it’s because it’s an existing network you want to piggy back on, or because you want to build a work style that involves international travel, it is a legitimate ambition.  If you have a particular set of services that you want to bring to international businesses establishing operations in Europe recognise the importance of ensuring your role fits the life stage of their European entry process. 


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.