A conversation with Stefano Vetralla AIMS International USA - Managing Partner

28 February 2024

Many international companies are eager to expand into the US market, but face a critical challenge: finding the right leadership. In this interview with Stefano Vetralla, Managing Partner at AIMS International USA, we delve into the crucial role of cultural intelligence in navigating this complex landscape.

Stefano, with his extensive experience in executive search and global HR leadership, sheds light on what truly defines a successful global leader in the US and common pitfalls that international companies fall into when making hiring decisions.

This conversation offers valuable insights for any international company seeking to thrive in the US market by building a culturally intelligent leadership team.


Q1: Stefano, what is your expertise as an executive search consultant?

Stefano: My speciality and primary focus is finding global leaders. With over 20 years of experience as a Global HR Leader, I have worked across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, and the Americas. 

As an Italian living in the USA for the past ten years, I have been dedicated to assisting non-American companies in finding top-notch leaders to lead their businesses in the United States. 


Q2: What have you learned from your experience with global clients?

Stefano: When international companies seek to expand or establish their business in the USA, they require top managers who possess a deep understanding of the local market, a strong technical background, and a proven track record of success. 

However, above all, they need a trusted executive who can guide their headquarters through the challenges of a foreign environment, varied cultures, and unique communication styles. Put simply, what they truly need is a global leader.


Q3: Who is the best candidate for a global role?

Stefano: It’s a common question, but the answer isn’t so simple. The ideal candidate is someone with a proven track record of global success. This could be an American executive who has immersed themselves in diverse cultures through work and living experiences in multiple countries. 

Alternatively, an international executive who has spent considerable time in the USA, gaining a deep understanding of the diverse culture, behaviours, attitudes, and thoughts, could also be an excellent choice. 

Either way, effective global leaders must show a high level of empathy, listening and above all cultural intelligence. And this is a very rare quality to be found.


Q4: What does culture intelligence mean?

Stefano: Culture intelligence is the essential knowledge and expertise required to successfully manage an international community and bridge cultural gaps. It is a crucial factor that many businesses overlook, leading to failure or struggles. 

Without cultural intelligence, leadership is unable to connect with overseas operations, bond with local employees, and understand the needs of clients and partners. 

As a result, the organization suffers from a detrimental “cultural clash,” causing frustration, lack of understanding, and a toxic work environment.


Q5: What is your advice to international companies who want to expand and promote their business in the USA and need to hire top managers?

Stefano: As trusted advisors, we understand the importance of finding the right leadership for any international expansion. That’s why our first recommendation is to prioritize cultural intelligence when hiring top managers.

While it’s crucial for candidates to understand the market, competition, products, and sales channels, it’s equally important for them to have the ability to integrate seamlessly into a new culture. This may seem obvious, but it’s a detail that can often be overlooked.

When evaluating candidates, don’t be swayed solely by flashy job titles or the reputation of past companies. Take the time to dig deeper and truly understand the extent of their “global” roots. Some individuals may have spent years abroad but still cling emotionally and mentally to their home country. Others may have international experience, but only from a distance as part of a larger corporate machine.

To truly thrive in intercultural contexts, candidates must have firsthand experience embracing and navigating cultural differences. They should have made mistakes and learned from them along the way. Merely being well-travelled, fluent in foreign languages, or possessing a sense of humour and flexibility won’t suffice.


Q6: Based on your experience what are the most common mistakes made by international companies hiring leaders in the USA?

Stefano: When it comes to hiring leaders in the USA, two common mistakes stand out. They are primarily errors in judgment.

Firstly, some companies are hesitant about the higher salary levels in the USA compared to other parts of the world. They struggle to recognise the value and often compare it to salaries in their own countries. However, it’s important to understand that in the USA, particularly in certain states, leaders with the desired qualifications come at a significantly higher cost. It may seem like a significant investment, but it’s necessary if you want to achieve certain outcomes.

Secondly, compensation plays a crucial role in motivating candidates to make a change. A comprehensive compensation package that includes a competitive base salary, incentives, benefits, and perks often serves as the deciding factor for candidates. Some clients may view this with scepticism, questioning the candidates’ level of commitment or passion for the company’s history, products, or business idea. However, this is not necessarily the case. It’s a cultural difference where economic considerations are given immediate and transparent attention, while still acknowledging other important aspects.


Ready to empower your US expansion with culturally intelligent leadership? Partner with AIMS International USA to discuss your specific needs and leverage their expertise in connecting you with top-tier executive talent: https://aimsinternational.com/en/contact/

About the Author:

Stefano Vetralla

Stefano Vetralla , Managing Partner, AIMS International USA 

Stefano is a global HR Trusted Advisor with 30+ years of experience in M&A, HR transformation and change management. He advises Boards and Executive Leadership Teams on succession strategy, recruiting, assessing and retaining global talent.