Travelling man

by Mark Freebairn

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10 Mar 2011

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I'M NOT SAYING that telling your family you are going to move to Mongolia for your career is ever going to be the easiest discussion you will have, but it may be one of the more important. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I will say it again, but as the world gets smaller, so international experience becomes more and more useful.

As your finance career develops, it is likely that you will spend time working in an international business. As most FDs have said to me recently: it’s their emerging markets businesses that are going to save their numbers for the next few years. It’s not just emerging markets, either, is it? I can’t see the Chinese, Brazilian or German economy collapsing any time soon.

If UK businesses have operations in these places, they are going to want good, competent finance leaders supporting and controlling them. And as I’ve also said before (there are many recurring themes here), the UK finance qualification is as good as any in the world, so it’s likely there will be openings for you in a number of countries outside of the UK.

Now, assuming you are all very ambitious, and want to end up on the board of a business, it’s likely you will end up leading a multi-cultural workforce across a range of different countries.

Americans are occasionally criticised for their insularity, so it will be important you don’t fall into a trap like this. It’s not just a world harmony thing – it’s in your own interests.

Given how good you all are, and how competitive the market is, the people with international experience are going to stand out against those without it – fact, as David Brent would say.

I’m not saying that someone who has only spent time in the UK would fail. I’m simply saying that there are substantial differences in culture around the world, and the best way to understand them is to spend time working within them, to live a day as they do.

It’s why Dyson is said to make each new employee build a Dyson product himself or herself (a story that may be an urban myth, but I don’t care – I like it).

It’s why John Lewis get their senior management to work behind the tills at sales time. If you have seen the world from someone else’s perspective, you understand it better. In the case of financial management, you can lead it better as well.

So when Mongolia or China or Russia or Brazil is mentioned by your boss, try not to say no on principle. Experience in those environments will be good and useful throughout your career – and the days of UK business only for the UK seem to be diminishing.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Berndtson

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