Could your next move be an international one? Relocating with your company to another country can bring adventure and new experiences, as well as a boost to your career. Pf tells some success stories.
This year’s depressing summer has probably inspired many of us to think of moving abroad.The beauty of working in a global industry is that, for many people, an international transfer is a very real possibility. Pf spoke to several people who have successfully relocated with their company, either long-term or temporarily, to find out what motivated them and what challenges they have had to overcome in settling in another country.
Sunshine and palm trees
Tim Kneen joined Merck Pharmaceuticals (now Merck Serono) as a medical representative working in London.Now, 15 years on, he is Managing Director of the Middle East business, enjoying a new life in the Dubai sunshine.
“I was keen to make the next step to managing director and to do this in a new country was an exciting opportunity,” said Tim Kneen, who was offered the role of Managing Director in the Middle East whilst working as Head of Marketing in the UK.“My wife had a list of requests, definitely sunshine and palm trees would be preferred but we had no idea where we would end up. As it turned out, the country definitely has sunshine.”
Up to this point,Tim had progressed through business manager and product manager roles and taken advantage of the opportunity to study an MBA, but nothing had quite prepared him for the challenge of settling into a whole new culture.
He described the feeling of leaving the UK behind:“You fly into a new country – you know nobody and have no personal obligations to anything. So you spend time creating a new life – relearning how to do a lot of things you have taken for granted. I miss old colleagues, but I do not miss those flat grey skies of London.”
Once he had grown accustomed to the customs of working in a Muslim country and the different working relationships,Tim found that the emphasis on partnership made a refreshing change to the UK.
“There is less short-term thinking, more long-term trusting relationships developed,” he explained,“but the most refreshing difference is that there is a real partnership between the healthcare profession and the industry in the Middle East. Long may this continue.” Looking to the future, Tim is optimistic about where his career will take him next:“The challenges I have faced in the Middle East have been so many and so very varied.The experiences will be of great help in my future career. Learning more about this fascinating part of the world and changing preconceived ideas has already been of great benefit.”
A new job, a new country and a new baby
Relocating to another country is hard enough, let alone with a new baby on the way. Noel Hanley and his wife were up to the challenge, however, and are glad they made the move to Hannover.
Noel Hanley was working as a senior product manager for Solvay when he was suggested for the role of Global Product Director, Cardiology in Hannover, Germany. Despite being eager for a new challenge, the decision to transfer was not a straightforward one: “The thought of moving to a new country and becoming parents within the space of a few months was daunting, but also exciting.The opportunity was too good to miss and both my wife and I had 100% commitment to the move. I believe that has been critical to us settling in as quickly as we did.”
As with all new jobs there were new processes and new objectives to get used to, as well as the additional challenges of settling in a different country and working on a site that is mainly German speaking. However, with the support of a ‘relocation assistant’, Noel and his family were able to settle legal and tax issues and set up new bank accounts.
“Our biggest personal challenge was, of course, the birth of our daughter, three months after we moved to Germany,” said Noel. “Fortunately, one of the maternity hospitals in Hannover is used by the British Armed Forces, so almost everyone there spoke good English.”
Reflecting on his decision to relocate to Germany, Noel has no regrets in terms of his career: “I have been involved in projects, activities and meetings that have given me exposure at the highest level of the company. One of the most interesting parts of the job is integrating with national organisations, understanding their different issues, challenges and successes and working together towards a common corporate goal.”
Noel confessed that, although their new personal life is not dramatically different, there are certain things that are harder to come by: “I do admit to missing curry and Guinness. However, the experience of living in a different country, plus working in the global offices of Solvay, has more than exceeded our expectations.”
The bigger picture
For Roche’s Steve Turley, experience in an international role provided a new global perspective and helped pave the way to a senior sales and marketing role back in the UK.
“I gained a really important breadth of experience and understanding of the global pharmaceutical arena,” explained Steve, who spent four years as an international business leader in Roche’s headquarters in Basel, Switzerland and is now Business Unit Director in the UK.“It all helps to open your eyes and mind to the bigger picture.”
While working for Roche as a group product manager, Steve had commented to a senior global manager that he would be interested in a global role.Three months later he got a phone call and within a week had been interviewed and offered a job.
“I was in two minds about pursuing a global role,” said Steve.“I enjoyed my job,my wife had a job and we had a six month old baby – everything was going well and moving abroad would be an upheaval. But I knew that it would be good for my career so when the opportunity came up, I went for it.”
Steve’s responsibility in Basel was within Roche’s global strategic marketing group, working with a range of departments to develop the marketing strategy for a new brand.
“It was not a massive culture shock,” said Steve.“The biggest challenges are for your family.Work consumed my time but my wife had a small child and knew no one.
It took a good three months to settle in but we ended up staying for nearly four very happy years.”
Now back in the UK, Steve is able to draw on his global experiences: “My main priority is the UK performance, but understanding the global agenda makes it easier to try to find the common ground when working with global colleagues. I have the understanding to challenge decisions at times and the relationships to help overcome certain issues.”
Instead of carrying bacon and sausages from the UK to Basel, Steve now returns from business trips there with a briefcase of his children’s favourite brand of Swiss noodles.
An American adventure
For Sarah Mewton, a secondment in Chicago opened the way to a whole new set of challenges and adventures, from adapting to a new market to running the Indianapolis half-marathon.
Since joining Abbott six and a half years ago, Sarah Mewton has worked in a number of roles, which offered a range of experiences, the most exciting of which was a seven-month secondment as a global marketing manager in the US.
“My own growth plan highlighted a desire to work overseas in a new environment,” Sarah explained. “My line manager was then able to help me find and pursue the relevant opportunity. Following a successful assessment and an interview with the head of Abbott’s international nutrition division, I was offered a secondment with the international marketing team in Chicago.”
Sarah’s move to Chicago was managed smoothly by a relocation team, and she found technologies such as skype and instant messenger were essential in keeping in touch with people in the UK.
“Staying connected with my family, fiancé and friends was a lot easier than I anticipated. However, I did miss smaller cars, smaller food portions, and hills. Also, in my first week in the US I found out that walking to the nearest supermarket was not for the faint-hearted, as there were no pathways!”
Her time in the US provided Sarah with the opportunity to learn about international markets, but also the chance to travel in her spare time and pursue different adventures, such as skiing in Salt Lake City and running the Indianapolis half-marathon. Sarah’s time in the US also provided a boost to her UK career:“The skills and experience I developed during my secondment meant that I was offered a new role within Abbott’s UK nutrition marketing team.The other benefit for me is that I have greatly extended my internal network at Abbott and I now have a wealth of contacts who can provide me with advice and insight on different areas of the business.”
Now back in the UK, Sarah is enjoying her new role and taking time to plan her wedding.
Parlez vous Français?
David Jones had worked as a second line manager with AstraZeneca for two years, and had several years’ previous experience in a range of roles in primary care, hospital management, training and marketing, when it was agreed that a short-term secondment as a brand lead would provide good additional marketing experience.
“The Belgium marketing company needed someone to put together a marketing plan for 2007 and work up a longer-term strategic plan while a permanent candidate was recruited,” said David.“The experience of working in a different culture was a big attraction.”
Because the role was short-term David was able to commute from Harrogate to his Brussels apartment every Monday morning and spend weekends with his family. “The main challenge was maintaining my energy levels after a 4.30am start each Monday. It was quite challenging leading almost two separate lives – working in Brussels during the week and then returning to my family on Friday evening. It was quite surreal at times.”
However, this was not the only challenge to overcome.David had to prove his worth to Belgian colleagues despite his limited marketing experience, and limited French. “While English is the prime language of AstraZeneca, all the HR and marketing literature in Belgium is in French,” he explained.“My French is now pretty good – a definite breakthrough was an area management business meeting, where I successfully understood and even answered questions in French!”
David found that other cultural differences made a pleasant change, such as getting the tram to work rather than driving, the heavy emphasis on work/life balance and having his own office. Since returning to the UK, David has been made brand leader of AstraZeneca’s product Crestor.
“Working in Belgium really made me step away from UK models of healthcare and think about how things could be executed differently in the UK.The training and development I received during my secondment undoubtedly helped fast track me to my current role.”
- Think very carefully before accepting a job that involves relocating, especially if you are married and/or have a family. How will the move affect your family and your relationships with each other?
- Find out as much as you can about the country you are moving to before you go, that way you will hopefully avoid any surprises once you get there.
- Find out if your employer helps with where you will live, transport etc? What about schooling and healthcare?
- Consider any tax/legal issues, any documents/ visas you will need and bank accounts etc. How much help will you have from your employer with these things? Does your company use relocation agents?
- Once you’re there, make an effort to build a new social network with colleagues etc, as well as keeping in touch with old friends.This will help you to maintain a sense of identity, especially if you have relocated to a very different culture.