It's a time of transition. In the past, most companies simply exported products or operated globally or multilocally. Global companies like Toyota, American Express and Coca-Cola were highly centralized from headquarters with local markets performing an executional role-an efficient approach, but not a locally sensitive one. Most international companies were multilocals-decentralized and locally sensitive, but very inefficient and costly.
Both approaches have reached a point of diminishing return. Enter the transnational company, sure to be the dominant successful approach of international companies in coming years. These companies combine global efficiencies with local sensitivity by harnessing varied talents, skills and resources into an interdependent, highly collaborative, responsive network. Companies are designating teams to manage brands across borders with local market partners.
Becoming transnational isn't easy-companies need to transcend traditional boundaries and beliefs. Such marketers as Unilever, Ford, IBM and SmithKline Beecham are going transnational, developing interdependent, collaborative, agile networks. There is no fixed point of arrival; it's a constant process of adapting to frequently changing market conditions and adjusting the balance of resources within the network.
Regardless of a transnational company's shape, global thinking and action within responsive networks of skills and talents will be most important.
Kelly O'Dea is president of worldwide client services, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, London and New York. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.