Spirit of adventure

Andy Bates, Ernst & Young, Tanzania

With nearly 140 countries to choose from, Ernst & Young’s Andy Bates was
determined not to follow the traditional, well-trodden route when he requested
an overseas assignment.

So, instead of a stint in one of the world’s financial centres, he spent
three years in Tanzania, east Africa. And he has found that the experience has
been a big help for his career, rather than a hindrance.

‘When I joined Ernst & Young I had just spent six months travelling, with
much of the time spent in southern and eastern Africa,’ Bates recalls. ‘I said I
wanted to travel with the job, but working in financial services, I was expected
to want to go to places like New York or Hong Kong. However, I said I’d like to
go to Africa.’

He needed to provide his managers with a business case, but as luck would
have it, the firm’s Tanzanian office needed people with financial services

When he arrived in the commercial capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, it
quickly became apparent that the firm didn’t have many financial services
audits, so he picked up the reins of some construction and manufacturing audits,
as well as working in a number of different service lines.

‘After spending five years working in financial services audit, I had the
opportunity to get involved in due diligence work, liquidations, and other
advisory work,’ Bates says. ‘There was a lot of learning on the job.’

Bates was able to take his wife with him, who was delighted as she had grown
up in Nairobi, in neighbouring Kenya. While they were out there, they had the
first of their two children.

Although the language of business in Tanzania is English, Bates needed to
learn Swahili, which is the spoken language. ‘This was one of the joys of
going,’ he says, ‘as it is very hard to penetrate the culture without learning
the language.’

Among the lessons he learnt, Bates appreciates the importance of building
relationships. ‘The Western way of doing things can be very impersonal, but in
Tanzania the culture is very much one of taking an interest in people and their
lives,’ he says. And he believes this has served his career well: he became a
partner at the firm this year.

Richard Bedlow, PwC, Chile

‘Why Chile?’ is probably the most common question Richard Bedlow has been
asked since he arrived in the South American country nine months ago.

The answer is straightforward enough. After university, Bedlow took time out
to go travelling with his now wife, and the three months they spent in South
America made quite an impression.

‘It is a vast continent full of stunning natural sights with a fascinating
variety of cultures,’ explains Bedlow. ‘From then on, it was always a goal of
ours to live and work in South America.’

Bedlow was also fortunate enough to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers with a
senior manager in the UK who had worked in Chile’s capital, Santiago, for four
years. He put him in contact with a couple of partners in PwC’s office there.

‘Also, my main client in the UK has a presence in Santiago, so I was able to
make contact with the local team and see if there was any opportunity to work
with them,’ Bedlow adds. So Chile seemed less of an unknown than other South
American places.

Bedlow’s contract is for two years. Any less and he believes it would not be
worthwhile, as it takes time to learn the language and understand the culture. A
crash course in Spanish helped. ‘When you are immersed in the country you are
forced to learn quickly,’ he says.

At times Bedlow has found the cultural differences frustrating. Punctuality,
for example, is a ‘more fluid concept here than in the UK’, and he believes you
need an open mind and to be prepared to learn from those around you.

‘I have been very impressed with how easily effective working relationships
are built with clients here and this is something I will seek to take back with

For those people also considering an overseas secondment, he has this
well-considered advice: ‘Don’t be put off small countries that may not seem as
dynamic as other more popular locations. The fact a place is smaller will mean
your skill sets are in greater demand and you will be able to take on more
responsibility quickly.’

And there aren’t many places where you can walk your way to work with the
Andes as a stunning backdrop.

Related reading

The Practitioner