Ten years of Global Mobility: Leading industry professionals reflect on the last decade

Alchemy has connected with two Vice Presidents operating within the specialist fields of Global Mobility & Relocations Services. These highly experienced senior professionals have industry tenures of more than a decade! Alchemy has had the opportunity to discuss the last ten years of Global Mobility with these two industry experts, reflecting on the on-going traditions, changes and predictions for the future of the industry.

Roberto Vale – SIRVA

Alchemy initially engaged with the special talents of Mr Roberto Vale, Vice President, Account Management, Asia and Middle East at SIRVA – a leading global moving and relocation services provider. Roberto is currently based in Singapore, however he explained that he was born and raised in Fortaleza, Brazil. Before becoming involved with global mobility, Roberto worked in logistics for a Brazilian airline and also launched his own video production company.

Roberto told us that global mobility came into his life in 2002, after he finished his International and Intercultural Management Masters in Vermont. Having worked in Connecticut for 8 years, Roberto relocated to Singapore in 2010 and has continued to build his mobility experience ever since. “What attracted me then still motivates me today: the opportunities to discover the world and to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds.”

Paul Spencer – MSI Global Talent Solutions

Alchemy was equally delighted to access the learned expertise of Mr Paul Spencer, Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Design at MSI Global Talent Solutions (EMEA) – a prominent human capital advisory firm. Paul joined the global mobility industry back in 1989 and has collected an impressive array of experience since then. Paul was kind enough to give us a run-down of his full and varied career history:

“I joined the Industry in 1989 and, within a few years, was working on military re-deployment and aerospace/defence projects across Europe and the Middle East. I also spent time on the client side (as head of relocation for General Accident during its merger with Commercial Union to become Aviva) and in business development. In 2008 I moved into the global business travel and expense management sector and recently returned to global mobility, joining MSI in EMEA.”

How has the Global Mobility sector changed in the last 10 years?

In response to this initial question, both Paul and Roberto were quick to hone in on an area causing rapid changes to all industries; Technology. Paul applied this idea to global mobility by explaining that ‘… software developments have led to a step-change in case management efficiency. The ability to provide insightful and actionable data on a 24-hour basis has revolutionized the entire client engagement process and at last delivered increased genuine transparency.’

Technology has ensured that all parties are in sync when it comes to cost, activity and relocation status. Technology for the industry is noticeably on the rise due to the increasing number of companies purely dedicated to the provision of solutions for this sector. Roberto builds on this by explaining “It needs to be said also that our industry is primed for disruption because of technology. We are already seeing changes to our business models and I suspect we will also see increased integration of global mobility companies in the very near future.”

What other changes have you noted?

Expats themselves have changed. Roberto told us “I have seen a clear shift in global assignment patterns. I remember that in the early and mid-2000’s, the talent flow was still predominantly West-East, broadly speaking. Today, Asia and Latin America have come of age due to a better educated talent pool, better infrastructure and increased government focus in protecting native human capital.” The West-East route is certainly no longer the only direction of expat travel.

Paul also references the mid-2000’s “Looking at an ERC report from 2004 and comparing it to more recent publications, one can see that most assignments then were carried out by personnel already experienced in long-term relocations. They were also older, typically male, and happy, it appears, to commit to additional assignments.” Roberto’s thoughts align with Paul’s, suggesting “Chinese, Indian and Brazilian companies operate on very different cultural tapestries, and we are in the process of amending our “playbook” to align with new market and cultural requirements.”

Expat Demographics

So, what can we take away from the information kindly provided by Roberto and Paul? It seems that the template of the archetypal expat has changed. Ten to fifteen years ago, the main pool of expats would characteristically consist of experienced assignees in the form of older, western males. These days the ‘expat demographic’ is far richer and more varied; including new expats seeking their first international experience. Women and individuals of all ages from all corners of the globe are now commonly assignees; this increased diversity is certainly a positive change of the last decade.

Paul also shared that ten years ago “The concept of semi-permanent expats still applied. Within a decade, the growth in “extended business travel” and outcome-orientated project assignments of less than 12 months – rather than moving for career development, or for cultural or company familiarisation – showed that a more financially rigorous, outcome focused, and pragmatic approach to mobility had developed. This wasn’t purely a response to the financial downturn of 2008; “return on investment” is now part of every conversation we have about talent management and global mobility.”

What aspects of Global Mobility have remained the same?

Paul told Alchemy “Global mobility still focuses on ensuring that assignees remain productive during a challenging period in their lives and a pre-departure discussion about a transfer overseas today wouldn’t seem drastically different from 10 years ago.” Roberto adds “The second thing that has not changed is the fact that moving to a new location remains a very stressful experience for most people.” Time has certainly not altered the relocating assignee’s need for a helping hand, in the form of the knowledge and care of global mobility and relocation professionals.

“Conversations about what motivates assignees to accept overseas postings seem to cover the same topics: the impact on work/life balance and families, as well as concerns about career development and post-repatriation” Paul explains. Roberto rounds off this point nicely by stating “mobility, as a business function, continues to be a top contributor to the company’s global strategy on talent management… Finding and deploying talent with the right mix of technical and cultural know-how is a task that still requires direct support from mobility.”

How has your view of Global Mobility changed over the past 10 years?

“The free flow of human capital delivers benefits to individuals and corporations over and above the immediate commercial justification for moving someone from A to B. To paraphrase Twain: “Global Mobility is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. My view is that it is more important than ever for companies to physically project themselves, and their values, onto the widest possible stage.” Paul’s poetic considerations certainly present the reader with food for thought.

We asked Roberto the same question, he told us “…there is greater emphasis on communication and critical thinking skills on the development of our staff. This is certainly because the bar has been raised and we are expected to navigate conversations in an anticipative and consultative manner. And there are also the circumstantial changes that global mobility needs to respond to due to ruptures to economic cycles, government regimes and other political events, like Brexit, just to give one example.”

What are your views and predictions regarding the direction Global Mobility is now heading?

Roberto is enthusiastic about global mobility’s future: “I am very positive about the future of mobility. I am convinced that we are living in the best of times for the community of mobility practitioners. The function we play and the contributions we bring to our clients now extend way beyond the transactional, which was most predominant 20 years ago… In addition, I think that new technology platforms will allow the decision on services and products to be pushed downstream to the family – more flexibility and efficiencies.”

Paul focused on the role of global mobility when he told us “business leaders look to human resources (HR) to tackle human capital management issues like the fight for talent, global expansion, global compliance, and the ever-changing regulatory environment both at home and around the globe. It’s therefore critical that HR departments are nimble and proactive. Human capital leaders who can bring creative, cutting edge solutions to support their organization’s overarching business goals will be viewed as valued contributors to the executive suite.”

How does it feel to have 10 years (+) experience within this varied and challenging industry?

Roberto’s response to this question was heartfelt and inspiring. He said “It feels amazing. I am a better person now because of the people I met during these 16 years in the industry…I was able to travel and work in different countries and meet people with different mindsets and outlooks in life. There are many smart, ethical and caring people in the industry, and I am hard pressed to think of anyone not willing to teach and encourage others.”

Roberto continues “The challenges and difficulties we work through in global mobility are actually the biggest source of learning, and what makes us stronger and more resilient. Overtime, each one of us finds our unique ways to manage stress and balance our different priorities.” Paul’s short but amusing answer to this same question was “Helpful!” This practical response was followed by practical advice when we asked Paul for his tips for less experienced global mobility professionals…

What are your top tips for less experienced professionals within your field or those looking to break into the field?

Paul advised industry newcomers to “get broad commercial exposure that involves working with different cultures across different time-zones, to overcome challenges outside of your comfort zone, and to hone your project management skills.” Roberto gave us “three things. Ask questions. Listen. Help others. Broadly speaking, what makes us successful in this industry is a passion for learning, a genuine interest on other people and a small ego. Mobility never ceases to teach me that there is always a possibility that something better can happen.”

Alchemy is delighted to heed the wise words of these two top industry influencers! Both Paul and Roberto have graciously given their time and considerations to the last decade, providing astute insight that Alchemy hopes our blog readers and followers will find interesting and useful in their own practice. Paul and Roberto’s views on the industry are measured and forecast a bright outlook within an industry ripe for technological disruption. Alchemy would like to thank Paul, Roberto and the reader for their reflections of these last Ten years of Global Mobility.

Katie Smith, Assoc CIPD, BA Hons, HR Advisor at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions