Having been an HIA for a number of years, Danny McLaughlin was keen to gain experience abroad, both for a lifestyle change and as a stepping stone to a more senior role in a multinational company.
McLaughlin, now senior audit director and chief audit executive at Astellas Pharma, took a job at a US multinational’s base in Brussels, despite speaking no Dutch and only tourist French – and never even having been to Belgium before. It was a daunting prospect, he says, but people shouldn’t be deterred from overseas roles because of a perceived language barrier.
“There were no foreign language requirements for my role in Brussels and numerous multinationals have bases there, so the main business language is English,” explains McLaughlin, a member of the institute’s Heads of Internal Audit Service (HIAS). “In fact, it wasn’t the multilingual nature of my colleagues that was the biggest challenge, but rather dealing with imperfect English. I had to do lots of editing.”
While language wasn’t a barrier, McLaughlin believes it helps to make an effort. “It’s important to be open-minded, make friends and get immersed in your new environment,” he says. “I found it easier to collaborate with colleagues and gain their respect once they could see I was getting involved with the culture and lifestyle.”
He did also make a conscious effort to keep abreast of what was going on in the UK with internal audit and the issues affecting British companies. When Peter Grewal CMIIA took a role in Bermuda, he also learned the value of adapting quickly to local customs. “The challenges when I joined the Bank of Bermuda included some of the highest accommodation and living costs in the world,” he recalls. “The climate also took some getting used to, with very high humidity all year round – as did the business attire of knee-length shorts and socks, blazer, dress shirt and tie.”
Now head of group internal audit at Swiss Re, Grewal – also an HIAS member – says that everyone should try working abroad at least once, preferably with an existing employer. But he recommends careful preparation. “Visit the prospective location with your family to ensure that you are all comfortable with the logistical and cultural challenges,” he says. “Deal up front with the expected role of your partner or spouse in the new location, especially their ability to find work, if needed, and have a clear exit strategy.”
McLaughlin agrees that an overseas relocation is unlikely to be a success unless it works for the whole family. “Most of the relocations I know that failed did so because of problems settling the family in,” he says.
Grewal firmly believes that his stint overseas boosted his career prospects. “I found Bermuda well versed in global regulatory and governance best practice, with many global organisations represented on the island,” he says. “That experience seems to be a major plus on my CV. And, as a recruiter, I believe that someone with the courage to live and work abroad has an edge over other similarly qualified candidates.”
McLaughlin adds: “I don’t believe I’d have got my current job without that experience.”