Foreign Executives in Mongolia

Written by G.Chingis
Tuesday, August 03, 2010.
Beginning around the year 2000, an interesting trend began to develop in Mongolia. Some Mongolian companies started to hire foreign executives, and the number of foreign entities began to increase. Most Mongolian banks have foreign executives, such as John Finnigan from the United Kingdom at the Golomt Bank, Peter Morrow from United States, who until last week was with the Khan Bank. Until recently, Mongolian owners liked to work as CEOs or to hire friends or relatives for managerial positions.

Probably, thanks to Peter Morrow, Mongolians started to hire foreign executives. But he was with the Khan Bank before the privatization of the former Agricultural Bank of Mongolia, which was renamed later the Khan Bank. There was a similar situation with Ben Turnbull with the State Bank of Mongolia; he was there before when this bank was Zoos Bank. Now, Mongolia seems to be an attractive place for foreign executives. Of course, it’s difficult to know what their salary packages are like because it is classified information, like most business information in Mongolia. Nevertheless, it must be quite reasonable for seasoned western professionals otherwise, they wouldn’t come here. For example, John Finnigan moved from the Persian Gulf, which is a favorite destination for British expatriates.

Of course, work in Mongolia is quite different from other places, such as Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore. Mongolia does not have experience with dealing with foreign executives, or professionals. Since the collapse of the socialist system, Mongolia has had some experience with United States Peace Corps Volunteers or British Volunteers Service Overseas (VSO) but not much in terms of business or banking.

But foreign executives probably have similar experiences as Peace Corps or VSO volunteers. They are all surrounded by non-English speaking personnel; very often foreign executives have very broad job descriptions with unclear goals and targets. Therefore, it is quite challenging and a difficult task to succeed in Mongolia. Therefore, some of them cannot succeed in Mongolia. Even business success and the growth of a company might lead to the termination of their contract with them.

Probably, many of the obstacles for foreign executives in Mongolia are common with other countries.

In any western business school, grey haired professors will preach that any expatriate will face three Ds: drinking (drugs), divorce and debts.

People like to say that drinking (alcohols) is the big issue for Mongolians. In our opinion, drinking is a big issue for expats too. Sometimes, expats receive some wrong information that they should always drink if Mongolians will offer alcohol to them. For example, the biggest Canadian mining company’s UB office goes out every night after work straight to a bar. The Mongolian mining expat community tends to drink heavily in Ulaanbaatar, since alcohol is banned at mining sites. The Casablanca restaurant used to be a main destination if you wanted to see wild scenes with drunk miners/drillers.

Even some foreign ambassadors and representatives of international organizations, which includes women, had drinking problems here. Probably, in socialist times for western embassies in Mongolia this issue was critical. The small community, fatigue and long dark winter nights were hard on the few western foreigners here. In socialist times, Ulaanbaatar had only two bars, which were located in the Ulaanbaatar and Bayangol hotels, which was for foreigners only and only accepted U.S. dollars.

Thanks to the Russians, the first western foreigners here knew where to find wild hemp. They made hand made maps to show where the wild hemp grows.

Divorce is an even more critical issue for foreign executives. Obviously, the long dark winter nights might be to blame again. But the main cause is the beauty of Mongolian woman. Usually, spouses of foreign executives will not accompany them to Mongolia or they will leave when the Indian summer ends. Mongolia is probably a very boring place for foreign women. If they did choose to join their husbands, foreign women probably would count every day until their next vacation. Therefore, they usually prefer to stay with their children in their home countries.
Sometimes, even ambassadors and country directors of well-known donor organizations fell in love with pretty Mongolian women. Therefore, some of them lost their jobs and wives. The severity of this probably depends on where they are from.

Foreign executives probably receive a lot of joy from their Mongolian girlfriends. One European consultant in his late sixties told me once that he can not have dinner with a very young woman in his home country, which has very strong puritan standards.

Later, if they stay together, foreign executives will usually have problems with them. An optimistic scenario is that he will have to take care of his wife’s children, which is usually more than one. A more pessimistic scenario is that he will have to take care of numerous relatives, which can easily be more than 50 people.

More often that not, there might be an even worse scenario. You will take care of all relatives, children, and maybe even a former husband or boyfriend. Later, your Mongolian wife might divorce you somewhere in the US, Canada, Australia or elsewhere.

Still, many Mongolian wives are helping with their husbands businesses here. Many foreigners who got married to Mongolians are engaging in their own businesses here as well. This might be a small restaurant, real estate agency or even a law firm to mention a few. It seems that Mongolian wives want to reside in Western countries and foreign husbands are looking for opportunities in Mongolia.

Typically, most of the foreign executives are much older than their Mongolian peers. For example, the Members of the Board of Directors at the Golomt Bank are much younger than their CEO John Finnigan. It can be surmised that Mongolians prefer seasoned grey haired professionals and most importantly, Mongolian companies can now afford to hire great professionals from around the world.

Source:UB Post, Mongolia's independent English newspaper


1 comment:

  1. This is not an OPINION. It is a poor attempt of raising anti-foreigner sentiment by a person that calls himself Mr. Chingis. (?!?!?!)
    A poor attempt as the reader can not really understand what the author actually wants to say.
    Does the author think its a bad or a good thing that there are foreign execs working in Mongolia? Would the author rather see Mongolian execs in these positions?
    Are the foreign execs bad because they like to have beers after work? Are they not welcome to spend their salaries in the Mongolian economy?
    Does the author think it is bad that foreigners contribute to the local economy and its development by owning businesses? Should there rather not be such services as real estate, legal firms and so on? Or should only Mongolians be eligible to conduct such business?

    Everywhere in the world there are people living and working in countries they do not originate from. And everywhere in the world these people try to have a chance to fulfill their dreams. It does not matter what has motivated these people to go where they have ended. Usually they strive for a better life or to pursue opportunities they would not find at home. Why should this be any different in Mongolia? The author clearly fails to see the positives and limits his views to a "foreigners are taking away executive positions in Mongolia, drink, take drugs and take Mongolian mistresses".
    There are always bad apples in the batch (and this equally applies to Mongolians living and working abroad!) but not all foreigners in Mongolia just come here to "rape and steal". Some of us actually see the potential this country and its people has and are here to develop the country and its economy by empowering and knowledge/experience transfer.

    As a foreigner I find it is a pity to read such a small-minded attempt at once again showing how little foreigner friendly Mongolia actually is and how little open minded many Mongolians actually are.


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