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An Englishman abroad

There are many important factors that a retail professional needs to consider for international relocation, explains Harveen Gill Associates director Harveen Gill

W hat a small world”, seems to be an expression that is often repeated. From my own experience, I see this more and more as I travel between countries and continents, meeting individuals who we then discover have connections and contacts with other seemingly random individuals I know. The “six degrees of seperation” rule has never seemed as strong as it appears to be now.

I believe that more individuals will choose to consider international opportunities as the age of austerity and cost cutting becomes more prevelant. Our retail landscape is mature and established, and my belief is that this will become an economic necessity for many employees.

The opportunity to truly be a trailblazer in an under-developed market - so opening stores in virgin territories, procuring stock for territories with opaque banking terms, or leaving a legacy for a workforce and seeing the indiginous teams flourish - is an exhilarating experience. Working in international markets can be highly enjoyable, satisfying and lucrative.

Careful consideration

There are many factors that a retail professional needs to consider for international relocation. The most obvious being those around the role and company. Will this opportunity allow the individual to grow professionally and add to their skills set? Will they become more marketable as a result? Will this experience aid the individual to acheive their milestones within the career path?

Other considerations involve how individuals live every facet of their lives. The Middle East has a lifestyle that some may find difficult. There is a gender divide. In many Eastern territories it is considered to be more usual to conduct business with a male. Some female executives have found this difficult when their more junior male colleagues are asked to make decisions. It is also difficult to enter some territories if you are a female travelling alone. It was particularly galling on my recent visit to Kuwait to unwind at the end of a long day without my customary glass of wine - Kuwait is a “dry” territory. There is no time to be precious, as it can take some time to get accustomed to being openly stared at by the local population as your looks and demeanour stand out. You may also find it difficult to accept the class structure and hierarchy that exists in some overseas locations. Many cultures will not be as liberal as that found in the UK.

Only you will be aware of how accepting you can be to these variances, I know some excellent retail professionals who would crumble overseas, as they could not accept some of these practices, where as others would embrace this different approach.

Logistics

It also takes a particular individual to move their family overseas - spouses, partners and children are not always accepting of leaving the familiarity of family and friends. The simplest of tasks can be a nightmare, from opening a bank account, securing housing, sourcing schools to finding a nanny. All of this, in a strange country is never easy, especially as the employee needs to concentrate on the job in hand ie, the new role.

I have seen organisations handle the logistics of an expat relocation with varying degrees of success. Some “hold the individual’s hand” and are capable of organising all of the finer details, they may also employ an external company to provide this assistence. They are professional and display empathy as they manage this huge transition. There is huge goodwill on their part to make this move work, this usually mirrors itself as positivity from the employee, knowing that they are being well looked after.

I have also viewed organisations who are very poor when relocating employees. They sometimes expect individuals to commence employment without the legal formalities, such as visas being in place. Even if credible, they do not always make it easy for individuals and families to move. They will not have a dedicated person or team to give advice and or conduct research on items such as schooling and housing etc. Sadly, these organisations usually are those that have managed a poor interview process ie, one that seems to have taken too long to have acheived completion and with very little information forthcoming, during this time.

My view is from a candidate perspective, in international territories, you will come across many practices that are alien to you, so you need to decide whether you can live with these differences before deciding if you should build a career overseas. There are of course also many advantages, ranging from sun, salary and making a true difference in growing economies. From an employer perspective, the interview process should set the tone for employees as to how efficient and professional the relocation system is. It is critical that this is managed well, giving new expat employees every chance to succeed.

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