Working for a Mongolian company

Written by G.Chingis

Recently, many foreign executives and professionals have joined Mongolian companies and state organizations. Of course, for them this article might not be so interesting. Nevertheless, if this trend continues, many new foreigners will soon join Mongolian organizations and companies.

You and the boss
Most Mongolians bosses will prefer to give you a lot of freedom in your daily routine. The biggest reason for this is the lack of a clear job description. There are certain reasons for this. First, he/she probably does not know exactly what you should do. But, this could be a great chance for you to take some initiative on your part. Also, your boss might simply want to see how you will deal with that uncertainty.
In the case of a foreigner being a CEO, you will have owners/founders, and members of the Board of Directors to deal with. The Board of Directors is a new feature in Mongolian business life. Therefore, you should expect to see the same situations that would arise in a western company. Basically, there are two types of Board of Directors. One is the nominal, where you will have the real owners and/or their relatives. In this case, you will not have so many interactions with them. Meetings will be quite short and quite rare.

The other type is the semi-western type. You will have some kind of independent Board members, of whom; some don’t actually work for your company. This is still different than in western companies and you probably won’t get much input from them. They are usually happy to be on the Board, but they will be little interested to be actively involved. Very often, the CEO will be more powerful than the Board of Directors; in this case you might be more powerful than your Board of Directors.
In terms of minor Mongolian nuances to working here, Mongolian bosses usually do not bring their spouses to company gatherings and this would be the same for the rest of your Mongolian counterparts. If you work for a Mongolian boss who likes horses or owns horses, you have to go to see them at least once a year for Naadam. Many Mongolian bosses also like to go to casinos. Therefore, you might need to join them on a trip to Seoul or Macao. A recent case of 14 million USD, which was misused by a senior accountant from the Savings Bank is just once example of how many politicians and business people like to waste money in casinos.

Company celebrations
Usually, there are several holidays when you will have huge company parties. The big ones are New Years, International Women’s Day, on the 8th of March. This is also a public holiday. Sometimes, this will be combined with the celebration of Men’s day on the 18th of March but this is not a public holiday. This is essentially Mongolian Army Day. This is a leftover from our Russian/Soviet influence which is celebrated even now. In a company, the male/female ratio varies. Usually, there are more female employees than male employees. For the Lunar New Year, usually there is a kind of breakfast celebration after the holiday on the first day back to work. Mongolians typically wear their national costumes, especially women. They will exchange snuff bottles and they will eat meat and dairy products, also they might drink vodka or airag. Usually, this is a short event lasting one or two hours, or even less.
Of course, as a foreigner you might refuse to go, especially if you are not a drinker. But Mongolians will be happy to see you. In the end, it is a good cross-cultural experience. Usually, these parties will continue in some fashion for the rest of that day. Your counterparts might go to a bar, to a night club, or a karaoke club. Sometimes, they might go to someone’s house or apartment. Very often, Mongolian employees will try to beat their bosses or they might even fight each other. It is possible to say that this is also a part of Mongolian customs.
All of the above mentioned celebrations are actually winter celebrations. In the summer, there is only Naadam which is on the 11th of July. There typically is no official company party for this.

You and Your counterparts
Usually, you will have more female counterparts than male ones. All of them might ask you for English lessons. Female counterparts will like to tell horror stories about their miserable life with Mongolian husbands. Everybody will like to borrow money from you. It might be any amount from 1 thousand togrogs or more, or it might be something really big. This is a common cultural thing among Mongolians. There is a lot of cash in Mongolia which circulates in the informal economy. This is very often illegal money from or for corruption purposes; or it might be cash from overseas. One high level politician is said to have bought a 1 million USD house with money from his sister, but his sister is working as a dish washer in Germany. Anyway, the taxation framework and liberal anti-corruption system supports the circulation of huge amounts of cash in Mongolia. Anyway, it is better not to lend money. It will be difficult to collect after.

Cross-cultural female/male relationships
As mentioned before, there will be more female counterparts than male. Therefore, you will hear a lot about drunk and hostile husbands. Usually, it is typical to tell foreign counterparts such stuff. Also, it is a Mongolian tradition not to say good stuff about your spouse. You will not see any code about female/male relationship in the work place. The Concept of sexual harassment is just now coming under public scrutiny in the media. This is still a new concept here. But we should consider that Mongolia is a country with a nomadic livestock economy. For 70 years we had a socialist economy with several factories, where most workers were young people. The Communist Party (Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party) was very strict in terms of adultery, which was severely punished. One future Mongolian Prime Minister was once punished for divorcing his wife, and was sent to exile from Ulaanbaatar. Now thanks to democracy and a free flow of information, there is a more tolerant approach towards male/female relationships in the work place.
We now live in a global economy. Most customs, which we call Mongolian, are quite similar to those of other cultures. But in a small nation such as Mongolia, people like to see that foreigners accept our rules of engagement. Foreigners, who accept that, are typically very successful in Mongolia.
Nevertheless, Mongolians men do not like to see foreigners marrying Mongolian women. However, it is a different story if a Mongolian guy will marry a foreign woman. Since socialist times, there were many marriages of Mongolian women with Eastern European men. Therefore, marriages with Caucasians are more or less acceptable. Mongolians do not like to see marriages between Chinese and Koreans. If you open any Mongolian newspaper at any given time, there is usually at least one negative article about Koreans who are buying and/or mistreating Mongolian women
source: UB Post


  1. "Mr. Chingis" writes his "opinions" more or less every week in the UB Post and I can not but help to think that the author must be some 18 year old "kid" that lacks the gift of basic analysis skills. He blathers on and on and on usually with the journalistic style of a crossover of a comic book reader and not seldom with an aftertaste of anti-foreigner sentiment.
    Looking on the verbal diarrhea above it is not clear if this is a helpful "guide for foreign executives" or rather a "scare guide" for foreign execs or even a rant about the Mongolian culture.
    There is no way of telling what the author actually wants to express. Is it a good or bad thing that Mongolian companies are turning to foreign execs? Does the author feel negatively about the existing "work culture" of his Country-people?
    I have lived and worked in Mongolia for over 10 years (as a foreign executive) and I can not agree to the majority of what the author claims!
    Mongolian female colleagues have NEVER spoken to me about their domestic problems (if they in fact have them) nor have I ever been asked for money by my Mongolian colleagues. I have never been beaten (???) by my Mongolian colleagues, nor have I ever been asked to join them on a trip to Macao to go to a casino. I have a Mongolian wife and this has never been an issue or even frowned upon; quite the opposite actually. I have never been asked to drink if I haven't wanted to nor was I ever asked to visit horses of a Mongolian colleague. The Mongolian national holidays are observed but do not go hand in hand with "huge parties". Actually the only larger Event we as a company (and the company I work for is 100% Mongolian) is the "Christmas/New Year Party" which in the 8 years it has been celebrated has always been quite low key and there have never been any major issues.

    Either Mr. Chingis is a relative of someone at the UB Post and as such is left to write whatever he feels like to fill the 1000 words in his column, or the UB Post has no qualified editors to protect their readership from the most useless mindless and often rascist and for sure juvenile blurbs in Mongolian media to date.

  2. I agree with you. I'm a Mongolian and not everything this guy "Chinggis" said is true. His views does not represent Mongolian point of view and his personal only. I even doubt if he is really Mongolian..... He sounds like an expatriate who do not like Mongolia or Mongolian people....


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