The international school place is booked and “local” company contacts already turned into Facebook friends. With globalisation, moving to work abroad should be simple. But is it?
Moving overseas can bring unforeseen professional and personal challenges as well as rewards.
Potential shocks can centre around boardroom “etiquette” as much as bar room behaviour. A consultant recalls being presented with a prostitute after dinner. He paid the woman’s taxi fare home once his clients had left and returned to his hotel room – alone.
Each country has its own rules of engagement and the so-called Mint countries – fast-growing Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – are no exception.
For Emmett Moriarty, a former World Bank executive, difference is everything: “The Mints don’t have much in common from a business and cultural point of view. Success in Turkey won’t necessarily go far in Nigeria.
“If operating in a foreign language, invest in a reliable interpreter and brief them on the key things you want to communicate,” he says, stressing that cultural differences within countries can be almost as wide as between them.
Making erroneous assumptions could prove to be a fatal business mistake, he warns: “Never assume in places where infrastructure may be less developed than in the UK, that local people are somehow less educated or sophisticated.”
For those who fear kidnapping or worse in the new Mint frontiers, he warns the dangers are more mundane: “Statistically, you are much more likely to be injured in a road accident than robbed, drugged or attacked by terrorists. Wear a seatbelt and don’t be afraid to tell the driver to slow down.”
Bribery remains a real concern for newcomers, especially in the pharmaceutical, natural resources and infrastructure sectors.
In Transparency International’s Corruption Index for 2013, Turkey was seen as the least corrupt country of the four, ranking 53rd out of 177 countries, while Mexico came in 106th, Indonesia 114th and Nigeria 144th.
To protect yourself – and your business – you need to read your organisation’s risk assessment and anti-bribery procedures relating to the territory and request specific training, consultants advise. Request knowledge about suppliers, customers and public officials you will encounter and insist on a peer review of long-term relationships. Your company must show adequate procedures are in place to prevent bribery.
Be strict about reporting what you offer and what you are offered as gifts and hospitality and think twice about the language you use because agreeing to a practice you know is wrong could land you with a hefty fine – or in a prison cell.
But despite all these challenges, the degree of difference between countries is narrowing, says Thomas Olsen, who works in Jakarta for Bain, the consulting firm.
“Business is becoming increasingly similar, regardless of geography, especially at the senior level. Most executives have been educated overseas and have worked overseas or with multinational companies locally,” he says.
Mr Moriarty believes the biggest problem for people moving abroad is far more ordinary than inappropriate post-dinner propositions and bribery – often the toughest challenge, he says, is loneliness, especially for the trailing spouse.
Mint conditions: For a successful move, understand cultural nuances and learn how to adapt to local norms
Be prepared for long business lunches when moving to Latin America’s second-biggest economy, says Manuel Rajunov, co-managing partner at law firm DLA Piper’s Mexico City office. “Lunch is the key meal of the day and can last more than two hours,” he says.
“You need to adapt to the fact you are in a foreign country, despite being only two hours from the US, and you must not forget that Mexico City contains a very sophisticated business community.”
Justine Rodrigues, engineering and manufacturing manager at Hays, moved to Mexico from the UK more than a year ago. She suggests getting early advice not only about the “logistics of the move, but the climatic, emotional and cultural change ahead.
“People should ask about relocation support at interview, not just whether they will receive a relocation bonus, but whether their company will give advice about where to live, where to educate their children and help with processing work permits.”
She says Mexico City is far more modern than she had expected.
“Gastronomically, culturally and socially it has so much to offer. If I had known that before moving, I would have alleviated a lot of the concerns of family and friends, some of whom still believe the outdated stereotypes and think I go to work on a donkey wearing a sombrero!”
Brian Corbin, global head of strategy and business development for civil infrastructure at Bechtel, believes in the benefits of learning the language, at least a little bit.
“Most business meetings are carried out in English, but an ability to communicate even simple words in Indonesian will be appreciated,” he says, adding that socialising with clients and suppliers is common, but not overdone. Know the nuances of Indonesian culture, he advises:
“Indonesians do not like to say ‘no’ [and] there is a hierarchy in society that is respected.”
After Thomas Olsen of consultant Bain relocated to Indonesia he joined the board of trustees of the Jakarta International School.
He also serves as mentor and adviser to Endeavour Indonesia Entrepreneurs and recommends others follow his lead and get involved in their new community.
Claudette Russel, head of human resources for Food Concepts in Nigeria, relocated to Lagos from the UK and recalls: “I was struck by the heat, the organised chaos. People say if you can make it past the airport you can make it work.”
Nigeria is a country of 168m people. There are millions of cars on the road and challenging infrastructure but all these can be alleviated, says Mrs Russel, advising that it is a good idea always to have a back-up plan.
“Nigerians are friendly and accommodating. Sometimes, they can be loud and seen as abrupt, though that is not their intent.”
Three years on, Mrs Russel says she values the ”vibe, the pulse and the good weather”.
She advises that women could be addressed as “Ma’am”, “Ma”, “Madam” or “Aunty” and older, senior business acquaintances should not be addressed by first names. Knowing “ekaaro” or “odabo” as “hello” and “goodbye” in Yoruba is appreciated, she adds.
Logistics can be tough in Lagos. which is divided into the “mainland” and the “island”, where most business takes place and a wise place to settle if you want an easier transition.
Nancy Scott of recruiter Rockpools says Nigerians put emphasis on contacts from their school and university days and notes: “You need to know people to navigate your way round and personal referrals make a difference.”
Families matter a lot in Turkey. One finance professional says: “The country is run via networks of powerful families. Unless you have a massive brand name, then go in humble, listening [and] with as much emotional intelligence as you can.”
Andrew Patterson, Bechtel’s infrastructure business development manager, agrees.
“You should not underestimate the value of personal relationships, family and respect in Turkey”, he says. “It’s incredibly important to build relationships, to know about someone’s family and ask after spouse and children.
“Seniority and the hierarchal work structure is very well respected”, and going over someone’s head is viewed unfavourably, he warns, adding that most formal agreements are said to carry little weight without solid relationships behind them.