WHERE does a senior manager cost most? Brazil, according to the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), a trade body. Two recent surveys, one by the AESC and the other by a Brazilian headhunter, Dasein Executive Search, found that chief executives and company directors earned more in São Paulo, Brazil’s business capital, than in New York, London, Singapore or Hong Kong (see chart). The surveys compared base salary, but bonuses in Brazil are generous too, says David Braga of Dasein. And the comparison understates the cost of hiring in Brazil: its payroll taxes are among the world’s highest.
Part of the reason for runaway executive pay is booming demand for staff, at all levels. Brazil, China and India are all seeing strong growth in employment. But according to Manpower, another employment agency, the mismatch between supply and demand is starkest in Brazil, where 64% of employers report difficulty filling vacancies, against 40% in China and 16% in
India. Managers with technical backgrounds are especially scarce in Brazil: big oil finds and infrastructure plans mean demand is soaring, but Brazil turns out just 35,000 engineers a year, against India’s 250,000 and China’s 400,000.
The strength of the real artificially boosts Brazil’s position in international pay comparisons. But even in reais executive pay is growing by double digits a year, says Edilson Camara of Egon Zehnder, a headhunting firm. Senior managers in China and India are reaping similar gains, but from a lower base. Multinationals that used to run their Latin American operations from Miami, Mexico or Buenos Aires have mostly shifted to São Paulo; China and India are still often overseen from Singapore or Hong Kong, though Shanghai is becoming more popular. A wave of foreign takeovers, and forays abroad by Brazilian firms, have both increased demand for managers with international experience.
The solution is to nurture your own talent, says Alexander Triebnigg, who runs the Brazilian operation of Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company. Brazilian employees tend to be loyal, he says, meaning that established firms with generous career-development plans are less hurt by the talent drought. But this loyalty also tends to inflate the market rate. “If you want to tempt a Brazilian to change jobs,” he points out, “you have to offer them a lot more money. In China they’ll change jobs for just a little more.”
Many firms are looking outside to fill top posts. But a high crime rate (São Paulo is far safer than it used to be, but still boasts a murder rate nearly double that of New York) and the need to master Portuguese put many foreigners off. And even big Brazilian companies may lack the international renown needed to entice the most ambitious. “Busy people may not listen to what you have to say about the complexity and size of some Brazilian company they’ve never heard of,” complains Mr Camara.
The biggest beneficiaries of Brazil’s war for talent are likely to be its expatriate managers. Mr Braga of Dasein says the motive for his research on pay was the ten or so unsolicited inquiries his firm receives each day from Brazilians living abroad who are thinking of returning home – even though most of them mistakenly thought that doing so would mean a pay cut.
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