The setting: Any meeting room in corporate Australia
The situation: Executive committee meeting
The room dynamics: Hearty conversations interspersed with nervous politeness
The issue: Who is that executive at the table no-one knows?
Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Welcome to the world of the repatriated expat.
Unfortunately many senior executives face challenges on return to the corporate office after years abroad leading the operations of an off-shore subsidiary or working in the overseas office of a global entity. It’s probably not surprising that nearly 90% of returning expats leave their current employer within 12 months of returning to Australia. The result is a major loss of experience, expertise, corporate knowledge and business networks that may have taken years to cultivate… not to mention the negative internal employee relations.
How can that be when the executive is offered and relishes the time to build his or her career and gain invaluable international experience? They run with the opportunity to learn new skills and develop the expertise critical to the ongoing growth of the organisation. And their family experiences a life changing experience in a different culture, education system, social environment, and diverse expat and local community.
Wind the clock forward as the executive rings up corporate head office after a few years of stellar performance in the international operations. “My time is up and I would like to discuss coming back to Australia…” pregnant pause “…we will come back to you.”
In the meantime, the executive office has been restructured, key executives have moved on or into new roles with different responsibilities, the business model has changed dramatically as new strategies start to re-shape the business, and the competitive environment has become intense. All of a sudden all the experience and expertise captured overseas no longer appears to be as valuable as previously expected. So what to do?
When that international opportunity opens up, executives can do well to consider three possible options, and plan accordingly.
- Three years or less: the most promising, although least likely. The executive will complete an international role, have constant contact with the corporate office and key executive sponsors, and plan a return well in advance; in a very small number of cases, plan a return before they start the international assignment.
- Usually longer than three years, and most likely. The executive armed with new skills, experience and expertise plans to return to Australia with a new employer and that process starts well in advance of a return (potentially 12 months in advance).
- The long-term assignment where the probability of a return to Australia becomes less likely after five years or more. The executive’s thinking starts to divert to alternate employers in the country of choice or indeed other countries. Financial and family issues take on a whole new degree of planning and execution in order to fully capture the opportunity.
In conclusion, plan with the end outcome in mind and update on a regular basis and don’t be the unknown executive in the room.