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Hedge Your Offshoring Bets

For companies considering offshoring, there are dangers in taking too narrow a geographical view, say the authors. Every country presents a different mix of strengths and weaknesses. One country may, for instance, have very low labor costs but a high degree of political instability and a small domestic market. Another might offer a wealth of engineering talent but quickly rising labor rates. A third may have robust local markets but intrusive regulatory regimes and a weak transport infrastructure. Currency fluctuations may unexpectedly swell the costs of sourcing from one country, for instance, or a natural disaster may wreak havoc on a critical source of supplies.

The authors suggest that offshoring is no different from any investment program that involves choices with widely divergent cost and benefit characteristics in that it makes sense to create a portfolio that balances risk and reward over both the short and long terms. Their research, canvassing 138 manufacturing executives in sectors ranging from automotive to consumer products to technology, confirms the wisdom of a portfolio approach. It reveals that while many companies confine their offshoring efforts to China and India, 96% of cost leaders are active in countries beyond those two, and nearly half of the leaders have offshore activities in three or more additional countries.

The authors illustrate their argument with a description of the global outsourcing portfolio strategy of U.S.-based conglomerate Emerson Electric. They conclude with a brief discussion of a number of practical steps executives can take to ensure that their portfolios are constructed successfully.

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