During the wet British summer, many senior managers may be dreaming of taking their laptop to the beach. Battling the elements every day – whether hail stones, gale force winds or the ageing British transport system – just to sit in the same old concrete jungle may seem a thankless task when colleagues overseas are sunbathing. But what – besides a decent tan – are the implications of being posted abroad?
Accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has one of the largest overseas secondment programmes in the world, with over 2,000 international secondees worldwide. Staff are posted to such exotic locations as Milan, Auckland and San Francisco. “The firm sees global deployment (GD) as integral to our global strategy, to support our clients and to develop our business and the careers of our people,” says David Schofield, a director of the PwC Global GD leadership team. “We see it as essential to stay in touch with people on assignment and positively manage their repatriation.”
Craig Lovelace is a manager in the firm’s business advisory service in San Jose, California, advising companies on going public. In 1999, he abandoned the grey skies of Reading for the sunnier climes of Silicon Valley at the height of the internet bubble. “It’s a very fast-paced work environment here,” he says. “You learn a lot and have exposure to many clients. It’s very different from England where companies report twice a year.”
The office is heavily staffed with ex-pats from Chile, Europe and other parts of the US. “The office culture is really good,” says Lovelace. “You get different perspectives on how people work all over the world. It benefits the firm that so many people can get new experiences. It’s very expensive here but the weather is good and there are lots of recreational activities, such as Lake Tahoe for skiing.”
Lovelace did not experience any practical problems in assimilating. “I gave myself three to four weeks to check everything out, such as the companies I’d be working with, and the different neighbourhoods,” he says. “But I know some friends who didn’t and they struggled.”
Mike Kiely is finance director of UPS Northern European Operations but hails from the US. Last year, he swapped New York for London’s smoggy charms. “They said they wanted me to come over as a development tool for myself and to standardise procedures,” he says.
“I’d never been to London before I showed up at work the first day,” Kiely admits. “But it wasn’t a culture shock, in fact I was pleasantly surprised by the office culture. UPS has a unique culture. People tend to work here a long time so they’re a group of people who work towards the same goals. It was very welcoming to find they had the same work ethic.”
Kiely stayed in hotels while flat hunting. “Coming over from New York I was a bit used to the prices but London is a more expensive city than New York,” he says. “I’m still in shock over the fuel prices. We had no practical problems with moving. The biggest job was getting the US paper work done.”
Staff in the London office are mainly English, although the MD is German.
“I’m the only American, although 99% have based their career with UPS in the States,” says Kiely. “We have been moving European managers over to the US so I’d met many of the people.”
Kiely is pleased with his exodus. “I can’t say enough about what I’ve learnt – it’s opened my eyes to global opportunities,” he says. “Our mission is to open up global commerce and to do that you need to understand global economies. And as the economy becomes more global then so does the work culture.”
He has the following advice for would-be ex-pats. “The most important thing is to respect the culture you’re going to,” he says. “You are a visitor. That means being open-minded. However, it’s also important to put your foot down and say there’s a better way of doing things. The ability to play both sides of the fence is vital.”