Overseas careers: foreign offices

Chris Roberts, tax manager, KPMG

‘There were a million people there but you were miles from anywhere,’ recalls
Chris Roberts as he talks about his three-month ‘tax trek’ to Calgary in the far
south west of Canada. It is perhaps this isolation that ensures a friendly
reception for those that come to work in the city.

Roberts, a 26-year-old tax manager based in
KPMG‘s Leeds office was one
of the first to take advantage of the firm’s ‘tax trek’ scheme, a sort of
international job-swap that gives staff opportunities for foreign travel while
staying on the pay roll.

Launched last year, the scheme gives the firm’s high-flying ‘generation Y’
staff – notorious for quitting work to back-pack around the world – the chance
to scratch their itchy feet without leaving.

Following a three-week tour around Canada with his wife, taking in Toronto
and Montreal, Roberts arrived in Calgary, Alberta, last September to begin work
as an international corporate tax specialist.

He immediately found the type of client he was working on was very different.
Calgary is a big oil and gas town, and so Roberts was put to work on some large
US multinationals, a change from his usual mid-market clients. ‘It was
interesting to see the different aspects of what they were looking at compared
to us, and to work with the US as well,’ he explains. His team was relatively
small – seven in total, including a manager from London who was on a two-year
placement, and another manager from Cologne, Germany. ‘There is a real skills
shortage in Alberta,’ he says, explaining why there were a number of secondees
from overseas.

‘There was the opportunity to network, learn about another tax system and to
experience life working in another country. Three months was a good way to do
it,’ Roberts says. He has been able to make use of the contacts he made in
Canada in his work back in Leeds already.

His lasting impression is of a very friendly and open community, even if the
offices weren’t open plan. ‘But you have to make the effort to talk to people,
as they are all so busy,’ he says. And it did no harm to his career – while he
was in Canada he was promoted to manager level.

Peter Bigwood, corporate recovery, Grant Thornton

The chance to swim with stringrays is probably not the first thing that
springs to mind when you are asked to help set up a new department. But this is
exactly what Grant
‘s Peter Bigwood has been able to do in the first three weeks of a
posting to the Cayman Islands.

‘You can actually hold them and feel their weight rest upon you, it was an
amazing experience,’ he says of his encounter with the fish.

Bigwood, originally based in London, is in the Caymans to help the mid-tier
firm establish corporate recovery departments in several offshore centres, which
also include the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

‘I’m relatively “fresh off the boat” you might say. I arrived here a little
over three weeks ago and am still in the settling in phase,’ he says. ‘But I’m
really looking forward to the next 12 months.’ In London, Bigwood was working as
an assistant manager dealing with insolvency appointments when he was approached
by a partner towards the end of last year to help set up the new operations on
the islands. He would be required to do everything from ensuring compliance
procedures were in place through to networking with potential clients.

He jumped at the chance as he knew it would be an opportunity to develop
networking skills, build strong contacts and visit a different part of the
world. And enjoy island life of course. ‘Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of
hard work done, however there seems to be a more concerted effort by all to
enjoy the lifestyle here,’ he says. ‘The beach is a stone’s throw away from most
residential areas, making a swim in the ocean a great way to end the working

Bigwood says the opportunity provides a great experience through working with
new people and different cultures, as well as the chance to work in a specialist
financial market. ‘The islands are the fifth largest financial centre in the
world and attract some of the brightest talent worldwide in the specialist
markets of hedge funds.’

And through the large ex-pat community he can enjoy sports such as touch
rugby, five-a-side football and Gaelic football. As he says himself: ‘It’s a
tough life!’

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