What makes a company truly global? "Companies' representatives tell me they're multinational - they've been operating outside their home country for many years - but only recently have they begun to feel truly global," said Lynn Dudley, senior vice president of policy at the American Benefits Council, while moderating a panel discussion at the MetLife 9th annual National Benefits Symposium in Washington, D.C. "And when I ask what it is that makes them feel truly global, it is the fact that they have implemented a benefits strategy that supports their ability to respond to the needs of their employees all over the world."

Joining Dudley on the panel were representatives from IBM, Disney and Air Liquide, who agreed that benefits is a key distinction separating multinational companies from truly global ones.



Tether benefits to existing programs

Sheri Virani, benefits director for Air Liquide USA, said that "even the understanding or the very definition of benefits varies outside the U.S." Sometimes the trick, she said, is to tether or integrate benefits to an initiative that's already in place - for example, safety - which is "a common language" to her firm, regardless of borders.

"By making our global benefits strategy about safety and about increasing productivity," Virani said, "we've found that we've changed the perspective of our parent company in France."

Marianne McManus, director of benefits at IBM added that leaders should align themselves with goals they know they will always want to achieve, and let geography have an input in the details.

"It's the 'how' that really varies country by country - how we function as a benefits team has kind of evolved ... from one that comes very much from a U.S. perspective to one that works very seamlessly across borders," McManus said.

Jeffrey Shapiro, vice president of employee benefits at the Walt Disney Company, went even further, telling attendees that employers must solicit local input for an international benefits strategy to work.

"It becomes truly global when the design of the strategy takes input from all the countries in which you operate and the people who do the day-to-day activity," Shapiro said.

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