Senior management have to be able to work and manage teams across European
borders if they are to succeed in an open market, writes Leah Larkin
Long gone are the days when you went to college, came home, got a job at a
local company and worked there until retirement. Now you are likely to work for
several companies, in different cities, different countries, and on different
Mobility is the name of the game. "It’s very important with the
development of the European market," notes Patrice André, vice-president
of HR at UPS Europe. "We see the European market quickly developing into a
single market. We need to develop senior management that has the ability to
work and manage teams and be successful across European borders."
A British citizen is in charge of the engineering and technical aspects of
UPS’s operation in France, a German manages the company’s Spanish unit, and the
company’s country manager in Italy has German and US citizenship.
The ball really got rolling within Europe when borders started to come down
in the early 1990s, says Maury Peiperl, a professor at the London Business
School (LBS), who studies the career paths of European executives. Researchers
at LBS did a study of more than 200 chief executives in 15 countries. They
found that international experience among the group was substantial, with the
average CEO, who speaks 2.8 languages, having worked in four countries, half of
these outside of Europe.
Peiperl spoke of a European zeitgeist "of actually needing to spend
time in a foreign country as part of one’s development as a human being".
Individuals want to be global citizens who can successfully move in different cultures
and spheres, he said, "as if that is something that is essential to
function in our age".
It seems essential if one wants to move up the corporate ladder.
"People who have international experience make more effective managers.
They have a better feeling for the organisation," says Elaine Hughes, head
of international assignment services for UBS, a financial services company.
Dr Elisabeth Marx, a search consultant and psychologist with the Norman
Broadbent Group, an international consultancy, echoes her remarks. "Anyone
ambitious needs at least one overseas assignment. Some companies even make it a
prerequisite to go on to board level."
Fran Wilson, manager of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development, finds that those who go on international assignments "provide
a type of corporate glueÉif you’ve worked in one country, you can take your
skills to another. It’s very beneficial for the company."
Career and Job Aspirations: What do Europe’s Future Managers Want?, a study
conducted by the HR organisation HR Gardens and research company Ipsos,
surveyed 2,721 early career professionals (young graduates from top European
schools or universities with one or several work experiences). They found that
eight out of 10 would gladly go to work in another European country tomorrow,
while six out of 10 would be happy to take a position in the US. Those most
attracted to international moves were the youngest. Women were less
enthusiastic – only 53 per cent said they would go to the US. A survey by Ernst
& Young reveals that nearly 90 per cent of students see a chance to work
internationally as "very or quite important".
What is the lure of working in distant lands? "It’s an adventure, a
useful experience from a personal perspective," says Nannette Ripmeester,
founder of Expertise in Labour Mobility, a knowledge provider on the practical
aspects of mobility, who has worked in 17 countries. "You learn more about
yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. It looks good on a CV. It enhances
your career in your own company and in others. It gives you a wider perspective
on what’s happening in the world and how different people view things
Money is also a factor. International assignments are generally accompanied
with a salary bonus plus generous allowances. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers
notes that "economic self-interest is a powerful motivating factor
attracting individuals to consider working in another country".
The study, Managing mobility matters – a European perspective, found that
Poles were the most enthusiastic about moving across borders, while Hungarians
and Spaniards were the least. Individuals from the EU are eager to live in
France, Italy and Spain, while those from former Eastern bloc countries prefer
Moving employees from country to country costs companies big money –
anything up to four times the employee’s home base salary. A big chunk goes to
relocation. Firms usually contract with relocation companies that offer a
complete range of services to expatriates, from house hunting to helping find
schools, doctors, dentists, and so on. Companies often pay tuition at private
schools, as well as the cost of private language classes for spouses. One
international company in Germany is even paying for a private tutor four hours
per day for an expat’s autistic child.
With such substantial investment, it is important the assignment succeeds.
Marx says she has seen statistics stating that one in seven UK managers fail on
overseas assignments, and up to 40 per cent of US managers fail when sent
abroad. There can be numerous reasons for failure, not the least of which is
Too often expats arrive at an assignment without knowing what to expect.
Marx, the author of Breaking through culture shock, says the shock of
foreignness can cause stress and depression. "Some people don’t adapt
their behaviour to where they are going. They may be too aggressive or too
direct. They still behave as if they are working in London or New York when
they are in Mexico City or Singapore."
While most companies offer training before an overseas assignment, Marx says
it is usually "too short and not in-depth enough". Jane Robson,
director of Courtenay, HR recruitment specialists, says training should be done
months before the assignment. When people had training six months in advance
"they know what to expect and could be more effective and integrate more
effectively in their new environment", she said.
Alfred Seidel, a professor at the EM Lyon business school in France, says:
"Preparing someone at 30 for their first overseas assignment is very
expensive and not very efficient." The school offers a seminar at
under-graduate level focusing on international management and students learn,
for example, why doing business in Germany is completely different than in
Spain. "We try to provide the tools for analysing a foreign
Seidel cites an example of a young American woman working overseas with a
group of French and Spanish managers. They might not let her talk, or comment
on her clothes or her appearance, he said. "Americans call it sexual
harassment, but that’s not the case in another environment."
Flexibility, tolerance and open-mindness are among the qualities companies
look for when deciding whom to send on an international assignment. Peter
Schoof, senior manager of DaimlerChrysler’s International Transfer Center, says
the company considers professional know-how, an aptitude for a cross-cultural
assignment, cross-cultural competence and leadership ability in selecting its expats.
"The ability to go on an assignment must be checked thoroughly. The costs
are significant if it doesn’t work and the assignee has to be brought
back." He notes that with DaimlerChrysler, this happens infrequently –
"less than 1 percent of all assignments".
Language ability is another important factor for overseas assignments. While
English is the international business language, it is generally assumed that
successful international managers should, in addition to their mother tongue,
be able to speak English and at least one other language, says Michael Pitfield
of Henley Management College in the UK. Native English speakers should speak
two additional languages, he says.
"The ability to speak other languages does not mean being fluent in
them for business purposes, rather it is important to have some words of other
languages to use socially, above all to demonstrate that an effort has been
made to move towards the culture of the host country," Pitfield says. Even
a rudimentary knowledge of the host country language shows interest and
curiosity, notes Marx, and helps in developing effective social relationships
in and outside of work.
Like most companies, DaimlerChrysler provides language and culture training
before departure. Language classes are all day, full immersion classes lasting
from two to four weeks. The company also has weekend seminars for the entire
family when former expats are on hand to discuss their experiences. Schoof says
the company’s expat package is "comprehensive". In remote areas,
DaimlerChrysler hires a teacher from Germany to teach what is needed at the
local school so expat children will not get behind their level at home.
Keeping the family content is one of the major challenges of overseas
assignments. It is also one of the main reasons many refuse an international
opportunity. With more and more dual-career couples, companies are finding more
and more spouses are not willing to give up a good job and move to an area
where there will be no job opportunities. "The biggest factor in reducing
mobility is the working partner," says Marx.
Some couples, those being sent to remote areas where there is no suitable
schooling, resist being separated from their children who must be sent to
All of this explains why young singles are frequent candidates to be sent
abroad. Older couples, whose children are grown-up, are also eager to move.
In addition to the difficulties posed by a lack of language skills and
keeping the family content, there are other significant barriers to global
mobility. Diploma recognition is one. Firms in the UK, for example, may find it
difficult to evaluate the skills and credentials of a candidate from another
European country, and vice versa.
Although the EU has pledged to create more flexible labour markets within
Europe, progress has been slow. Numerous obstacles still exist, including
differential tax burdens, a lack of pension portability, differences in social
security systems, differences in employment law and inconsistent immigration policies.
UPS’s André sees the development of a common pension system among European
countries as the major challenge of the future. "We need a pension that
will work across borders. We are still relying on country-specific pension
systems," he says.
In an effort to trim the escalating costs of expatriation, as well as keep
families happy and circumvent some of the problems mentioned above, a new type
of move has entered the scene: Euro commuting.
Marie Fimrite boards a plane in Dusseldorf every Monday morning to fly to
her job at Drake Beam Morin, global career development consultancy in London,
where she works until Thursday afternoon, then she heads back to Dusseldorf to
spend the weekend at home with her partner. She has a studio in London. Many of
her colleagues live outside the city and spend up to two hours or more
commuting every day, she said. Her Dusseldorf to London commute is just three
hours door-to-door and she only makes one round trip per week.
A young project leader with an international consulting company in Stuttgart
commutes to a job in Vienna every Monday morning and returns home on Thursday
evening. He has also commuted from Stuttgart to jobs in London and Dusseldorf.
It’s a stressful life, he admits, especially since he is a new father and only
gets to see his daughter three days a week. During the last week of his wife’s
pregnancy, he commuted from Stuttgart to Vienna on a daily basis. It’s not a
lifestyle he wants forever. But, for now "it’s a very interesting and
challenging job, an opportunity to learn a lot, and of course I have a much
higher salary than others with my tenure."
"Commuting between capitals is becoming more and more usual," says
Seidel. In addition to increasing stress, it can cause other problems. He
mentioned a group of Frenchmen who worked and lived in Frankfurt during the
week, but went home at the weekends. "They were only there for business.
They had no social life. They would work until 10pm, but their German
counterparts wanted to go home at 5pm." It was not an ideal situation.
"We are more obliged to work together in Europe, yet we are still
living in different cultures," says Seidel. "Companies are more and
more integrated, yet there are still cultural differences." And, when
people have to cope with different cultures for shorter periods of time, they
don’t have the chance to adapt naturally.
Re-adapting, or repatriation, is often mentioned as the most difficult
aspect of international mobility. Coming home after three to five years, the average
length of an overseas assignment, can be stressful on and off the job.
Martina Meinhold, director of relocation company Management Mobility
Consulting, conducted a survey of 44 German and French companies moving
employees to France and Germany. Foreign experience is not always respected
back home, she discovered, and families frequently don’t fit in with their old
circle of friends when they return.
Managers often have more freedom and responsibility on international
assignments. They have both professional and social contact with higher-level
executives. Yet, when they come home, it’s often back to a job at the same
level they previously had – in other words, a step backwards. On a personal
level, the whole family has had enriching experiences. They come back unsettled
and changed, often not fitting in as before.
Too often assignees are "out of sight, out of mind", says Elaine
Hughes of UBS. "When the assignment comes to an end, it can be difficult,
without careful career planning, to make sure the right opportunities are
available at the right time," she notes.
In an effort to tackle the repatriation problem, the company is setting up a
mentor system for expats. UBS wants to provide expats with a reference point in
the home location and to make sure they are kept informed of changes in the
home office, says Hughes. The company wants to remind those at the home office
that the assignee is still with the organisation, will repatriate and is
interested in further career development.
At some companies, such as Shell International, employees, including expats,
are encouraged to look for future opportunities on the company intranet. Andy
Swordy, expat policy adviser at the company, says the relationship between
employer and employee is less paternalistic today. Before careers were planned
for people, today they can log on to the company intranet, take matters into
their own hands, and see what jobs are available that will advance their
The issues are similar whether an employee works at home or abroad.
"The organisation is changing rapidly. It’s more fluid, more dynamic. We
don’t feel there is any difference in the feeling of security whether an
employee goes (overseas) or stays. Everyone can move internationally and find
opportunities based on merits."
Some expats are so happy in the international realm, they don’t want to
return. DaimlerChrysler’s Schoof says some people haven’t been in Germany for
In her study of French and German expats, Martina Meinhold found a group of
workers who preferred working abroad and moving from one assignment to another.
Policies vary from company to company, but generally if an expat stays in one
assignment longer than five to seven years, he must ‘localise’ – he will no
longer receive the expat benefit package.
Bernd Grau, DaimlerChrysler divisional manager of procurement and export in
East London, South Africa, is enthusiastic about his experience. Grau, his
wife, two daughters, aged nine and 11, and the family Labrador, moved from
Germany to South Africa two years ago.
In addition to enjoying the responsibilities and learning opportunities of
his job, he raved about the lifestyle – a magnificent beach, kayaking in a
river, enjoying the outdoors. Some refer to East London as "lost
city", he said, admitting it’s not for those interested in cultural
opportunities. But, for his family it’s ideal and they are having a fantastic
time. Taking the job in South Africa, he says, was the best decision he ever
Looking to the future, the PricewaterhouseCoopers study on mobility found
that 70 per cent of European businesses believe their use of mobile labour will
increase in the next five years. Shorter term and commuter assignments are
expected to increase in an effort to hold down costs. Ripmeester mentioned
"virtual assignments" – managing from a distance.
Schoof says he expects DaimlerChrysler’s need for expats to continue to
increase as the company moves ahead. In 1997, the company had 750 expatriates,
today it has 1,150. Swordy says that Shell has more expats than ever before –
6,000 of its 91,000 workforce are working in international assignments. Swordy
was once an expat. "It was one of the reasons I joined Shell," he
says. "It gave me the chance to work in places very different than my
country (UK). I could not do the job as effectively without that
As mobility expert Ripmeester says: "Globalisation will change people’s
lives and careers."
The European CV:
What is it?
A two-page standardised format for the presentation of information.
The EU CV can be downloaded from Cedefop’s website www.cedefop.eu.int/
What is included:
a work experience, education and training section, and a
language section. Also sections on social, organisational, technical and artistic
skills and competencies.
The CV is to be used voluntarily –
so how useful is it?
globalhr put the CV to two HR professionals: Marco Campiglia,
director of HR at BMW, and Roberto Ferrata, head of HR at Kellogg. Both liked
it, although neither gave a firm commit-ment to use it. No businesses were
involved in the drawing up of the CV – although a spokesman from the EU assures
globalhr that businesses had been consulted. It still leaves room for cultural
misunderstanding. For example, in Italy, students may study law at university
because it is a qualification prized by businesses, not necessarily because
they wish to become lawyers. But a business seeing a law degree on a CV might
see it as a sign of failure and ask: "What stopped you from becoming a lawyer?"
Kellogg’s Ferrata Continued on page 41 says that effectively
Microsoft has done the job before the EU. The most common CV he receives is in
a standard Microsoft format. This format has the potential to become a
world-standard, not just an EU-standard CV.
What is left out?
The form is politically correct, with no mention of marital
status, disability or ethnic origin. There is also no section for free time.
The Certificate Supplement: can be
downloaded from Cedefop’s European Training Village’s website at www.
trainingvillage.gr/etv/transparency/index.asp. To be used with the CV,
explaining qualifications in detail. This should make it easier to compare
What remains to be done?
Language is still a major barrier. HR is hindered by bureaucracy
when taking on workers from other European countries. There are major issues on
the transferability of pensions and social security contri-butions, which mean
that without careful manage-ment, workers may miss out. Campiglia says the complicated
administration is a dissuasive factor in taking on European workers. Ferrata
says that workers coming from other countries still have to offer something
Why the European CV will be an
effective recruitment tool
If a graduate with a three-year
degree from the UK applies for a job in Italy, the chances are that degree will
not be recognised because it is too short. On the other hand, a UK employer
probably will not recognise that a first degree in Italy, which may take six or
seven years to complete, is the equivalent of a UK Masters. Clearly, a classic
A promise to workers from the European Union is the possibility
of movement in the member states, and a key promise to business is the prospect
of the free movement of capital and resources. Europe already has a single
currency and most Europeans believe in an eventual convergence in taxes and
welfare – whatever the politicians may say. Laws have been enacted to protect
the European workforce from discrimination.
But in practice, the enormous variance between education
systems and professional qualifications throughout states is a major hindrance
to workforce mobility in the EU. How can HR departments compare the worth of a
degree from another country, and the value of professional qualifications? It
is difficult choosing the right person for the job if you don’t know what their
diploma or degree means. To understand all the ins and outs, European-based
multinationals need an exhaustive knowledge of European training and
"The European policy of mutual recognition of
qualifications was not a great success in the 1980s," says Philippe
Tissot, who is in charge of co-ordinating transparency at Cedefop, the EU’s
centre for professional training and development. "Much time was spent but
we only got recognition on some diplomas in the medical sectors and nursing. We
needed a way of explaining differences in a clear manner."
To enable this is happen, the European Commission has drawn up
a standard European CV and a certificate supplement to compare qualifications,
which was promoted at Barcelona this year. The more the CV is used, Brussels
thinks, the more transparent job applications will come. Tissot says the Union
is encouraging individuals to use the CV, both in their mother tongue and in
other languages if applying abroad. But
it is also going to be up to big companies.
If they start asking for the European CV it will soon become the
"While European citizens are, in theory, entitled to
undertake training and to work anywhere in the Union, there are still a large
number of obstacles. The CV, which presents skills and experience clearly and
comparably, is a step in the right direction," says Viviane Reding, member
of the European Commission responsible for education and culture.
Other transparency instruments in
The National Reference Point
The European Credit Transfer System (ETCS)
(Employee Relocation Council)
(Expertise in Labour Mobility )
(Management Mobility Consulting)
(European Employment Services)