Can onomastics be useful to monitor Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) across the globe?
Global and local media, as well as the social networks and the Internet, often give signals of cross-border investments in the making. Large databases exist with extensive information about company directors and ownership structure. However it is increasingly difficult to put a nationality on a global firm : it may be historically a US company, registered in an offshore tax haven, with more than half its employees in India, and half its revenue in Europe.
As explained in an earlier post, European companies -for example- demonstrate little diversity at the top: Greek companies have Greek directors, etc. Large foreign subsidiaries will have expats on the Board of Directors, nominated by the head office, most often of the same nationality.
Onomastics can be useful, but there are limitations : the accuracy of name classification itself (normally within a 75%-95% range). Also, investments from the USA, still the world leading economic power and a “melting pot“, are difficult to distinguish from other sources of investments using onomastics only. But, to monitor -for example- Japanese, Russian or Chinese investments in Africa, this approach could provide valuable insights.
As an illustration, we consider the African continent : for 39 countries (out of 54), we listed the company directors of the largest companies. How many of these ~70k people have an Italian name or a Portuguese name? In the map above and left, areas in green have the highest proportion of directors with an Italian name (IT). In the map above and right, areas in red have the highest proportion of directors with a Portuguese name (PT). The synthetic map below shows both business communities and where they are likely to compete against each other.
On a later occasion, in partnership with our friends onomastics.co.uk, we will visually explore the current state of the French and English business communities in Africa, and attempt to answer two questions (1) do onomastics reflect the linguistic heritage of the colonisation, Françafrique vs. Commonwealth (2) which areas are currently -from a business perspective- exclusively French, exclusively English, or a battleground for healthy economic competition?