DANCES WITH EXPATRIATES

From the outset, for better or worse, our company has made a conscious decision to push all of our strategic chips to the centre of the table and immerse ourselves in the ultra niche global mobility and relocation marketplace. Which means at any industry gathering we are the outsiders who have unilaterally decided to set up camp in a village occupied until now primarily if not exclusively by people with HR, immigration, tax, property management, and hospitality skillsets. And their relatives.

For all the management science babble bandied about how great leaders set an organizational course for Blue Oceans and how individual professional development is aided and abetted by being thrust outside one's comfort zone, there's relatively little mention of the confusion, funny looks and avoidance that comes with the territory in the early going.

There's simply no hiding in pinstripes. We're out and proud risk, insurance and financial services guys, and we're here to stay. But with that comes some baggage.

You see, we're not the first ones to wash upon the shores of this industry, to be sure. Before us came periodic waves of blue-suited interlopers from beyond, at times exploitive colonizers who beat a hasty retreat to safe harbours in short order leaving only emptiness in their wake.

Others lurk and linger on the periphery.

Once annually, whether they need to or not they show up at a convention to peer over the fence into the world of talent mobility, learn enough to be dangerous and then scurry back to the comfortable and familiar confines of their natural environment to find a way to shoe-horn square-peg core market products into the weird and wonderful - and very round - world of international mobility and global relocation.

Into the Wild

Through the eyes of a bean counter, the inner workings of global niche business are strange and exotic.

In terms of familiarity, comparatives and points of reference, it might be suggested that we toil anonymously in a barren no man's land. Dispatched on a knight's errand to the furthermost outpost of the realm; a scattering of lightly-manned stations on the frontier of the financial services world.

And so, like Kevin Costner's forgotten Lt. John Dunbar in Dances With Wolves, we've left the regiment and adopted the language and customs of the mobility tribe, if you will.

You know, like Third-country National. Trailing Spouse. Executive Lodging. Tatonka.

We long ago learned that niche solutions do not arise from mainstream perspectives, nor may they be delivered via generalist channels. Any such strategy essentially amounts to pushing rope, trying to nail Jell-O to the wall, rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic…. pick your metaphor.

And so it was go native or go home and there is no turning back.

I think an argument could be made that were I to submit a business plan based on meeting the specific professional indemnity needs of a handful of destination service providers in the context of a multinational shareholder driven financial services conglomerate, I may well just find myself disheveled, disoriented and aimlessly wandering the plains involuntarily.

Honey, I Shrunk The World

This is all fresh in my mind as I've just returned come from yet another highly successful EuRA International Relocation Congress in Porto, Portugal.

Despite every other industry grinding to a halt and bemoaning death and taxes, this conference was nothing less than abuzz with activity. Four days of mayhem constituting a veritable beehive of entrepreneurial hustle and business networking with workers, drones and even a few queens from every corner of the world.

To any observer it quickly became evident that each delegate was cramming as many meetings as humanly possible into their every waking moment. Stand up meetings, sit down meetings. Meetings while walking abreast on the way to other meetings. Meetings inside, meetings outside. Breakfast meetings. Lunch meetings. (I can't confirm this but there may have even been some meetings that took place over a glass or two of Vinho Verde and some Port, but I'd hate to speculate and start rumours.)

Some of you may not realize this, but this just does not happen at your average banking and finance shindig. I know; I've been to them. Sure there is a coming together of folks from different locales but it's invariably about some set of figures or charts being more inherently attractive than some other array of numbers and graphs, and often as outward looking retrospective analysis or assumptive speculative forecasting devoid of any warm-blooded back story.

Internationally mobility on the other hand, is as prescient a reflection of interest rates, energy costs, emerging markets and monetary and fiscal policy as it gets, but it's refreshingly unfolding before your eyes right now in the form of specially skilled and talented innovators collectively remapping the distribution of humanity on earth in pursuit of global commerce. Drawn towards resource abundance and repelled by protectionist legislation. Attracted to fiscal incentives and eschewing political instability.

Pow WOW!

Recognizing that I'm well beyond the point of turning back, I even went so far as to sit among the indigenous inhabitants of this untamed land and respectfully observed from within their midst as they gathered to performed a spirited ritualistic annual rite of passage known as the RMC - DSP Breakout: Working Together.

In years past, accordingly to legend passed down by the elders, there had been much warring between the tribes, however this year in the face of common challenges the hatchets were buried and the peace pipe was passed back and forth in a packed long house.

And even though it has nothing to do with my technical skills-that-pay-the-bills, I am glad I went to the extent that it helped foster a deeper understanding of our adoptive sector.

If my old school finance colleagues heard me know, they'd want to know what precisely it is that I have been smoking.

Maple Syrup

For the moment the global mobility nomads have packed up their tents and run back to the hills. When and where they gather and set up camp again we will also be there, each time a little less strange, a little more woven into the fabric of the community, fluent in the language, and accustomed to the culture.

(Brace yourselves as I momentarily shift even further into the innocent and introspective narrative voice of Doogie Howser … cue the gentle tickling of piano keys.)

As is the case every year, in the afterglow of the EuRA Conference I see that a little bit of the host city and the delegates in attendance has stayed with me. And I don't just mean memories of the screaming headache that comes following a night of swimming in fortified wine and the five pounds I gained sampling the irresistible output of the Porto's unrivaled pasteleria. (But that too.)

But rather a recognition that, like the international assignees that benefit from our products and services, we've all become a bit less like our country or industry of origin compatriots and colleagues and are now virtual citizens of a new world order less defined by political borders and more defined by a genuinely global perspective.

So, echoing the young brave Wind In His Hair's triumphant declaration astride his restless steed in the moving final scenes of Dances With Wolves, I, not so young and with much less hair, slumped in my desk chair say to my adoptive international mobility brethren (and sisthren):

"Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?"

Forgive me. Here in Quebec, it's spring-time and the sap is clearly in full flow. 

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