If you read nothing else, read this…
• Regional experience is essential for anyone aspiring to progress up the global reward and benefits ladder.
• Consider an organisation that has international operations.
• Once appointed to an international role, build a strong network of local teams and consultants to help ease the workload.
A global position is the ultimate career goal for many reward and benefits professionals, but just what does it take to achieve international status? Nick Martindale reports
As with many careers, the route to the top in reward and benefits is not set in stone, but a global position is often seen as the ultimate goal. This was certainly the case for Carol Baylis, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) total rewards director at Hitachi Data Systems, who progressed through a combination of job moves and putting herself forward for posts or projects that would enhance her international credentials.
She says: “If there was a project coming at a global level, I would volunteer to be involved to get that experience, and when we went through some mergers and acquisitions at a previous company, I volunteered to be the regional representative. But I got myself the opportunity; it was certainly nothing formal.”
Baylis believes regional experience, at the very least, is essential for anyone seeking to climb the global reward and benefits ladder. “You get to a certain level and if you haven’t worked globally, you are restricted in the type of roles you can take,” she says. “It is an important perspective that you need to have if you want a more senior role, certainly in the area of reward.”
It was this kind of desire to broaden his horizons that saw Breckon Jones, director of benefits, health and wellness, EMEA at American Express, leave his native Australia and head for Europe. “There is a natural progression to expand your responsibility and include more countries until you get to a point where you have a global role,” he says. “I think you have a choice: you can either go to a different country or you can go to an organisation that has multiple countries as part of your responsibility.”
But not all routes to a global post are so measured. Sarah Moise, global insured and medical benefits manager at Schlumberger, moved into the reward and benefits arena after gaining international experience in HR. “If I was advising a young person about how they should follow their career, I would say you just have to remain flexible,” she says.
Dan Couzens, EMEA rewards programme manager at Yahoo!, also moved across from another discipline in June last year. Couzens, who left a post in recruitment, believes the key to global career progression lies in finding the right employer to work for.
“It helps to work in an organisation that has some international operations, but is of a scope and size where it is not divided into the HR team and the reward team because then people can become much more specific in terms of their roles, either geographically or by discipline,” he says. “So you can’t look at organisations that are so small that they can’t support growth or ones that are too big so the roles are very highly defined.”
However, a wide geographical remit presents its own challenges, particularly in terms of the sheer scope of the role. Moise, for example, looks after Schlumberger’s healthcare provisions for 27,000 employees across 80 countries, and last year evaluated 26 of those schemes.
Building a strong network of local teams and consultants can help ease the workload. Mohammed Valjy, international benefits manager at Thomson Reuters, explains: “Recently there was a change in legislation in Denmark which will affect our pension scheme there. I knew what kind of scheme we had, but I still had to look into it a bit further before I could respond to a query from a local HR [employee] about what they needed to do. You need to have a large network of contacts around the world, both within your company and outside.”
Understanding what matters to employees in other parts of the world is another different element to the job compared with a country post. “The things that motivate a UK employee are quite different from what might motivate a Spanish employee or a Greek employee,” says American Express’ Jones. “There are also a lot of things that are mandated by [overseas] government[s] which you have to provide in certain countries, so there may be less leeway in terms of the scope or structure of the package you provide.”
Cultural differences must also be considered. Jones says this is simply a matter of experience. “I’ve learned as I’ve gone along just how acutely aware you need to be of cultural differences,” he says. “As an example, I was in the Nordics recently for the launch of a health and wellness programme. I didn’t fully appreciate things such as their emphasis on collaboration and group consensus when it comes to decision-making. But I learned from that and adapted my style for when I next went back there.”
Despite all the challenges involved, a global role can be extremely rewarding. Baylis, for example, says she could not see herself returning to a country role again. “There is a tremendous amount of variety,” she says. “All the different elements of the different countries make it a lot more interesting. It is challenging, but it is also very rewarding to be able to put in place a global or even regional process and get everyone to buy into it.”
But anyone thinking of moving into a more regional or global position will need to keep an open mind, Baylis adds.
“The key is to learn from people who have already been doing the role or have experience in a particular part of what you are responsible for.
“Don’t think that you know it all. Read as much as you can; there is plenty of information available. It really is a continuous learning experience.”
A travelling life
Travel is an inevitable part of a global HR and reward remit. Sarah Moise, global insured and medical benefits manager at Schlumberger, spends about six weeks a year training staff in regional service centres, plus up to eight weeks in other parts of the world. Last year she travelled to Cameroon and Venezuela.
“I am away a lot,” she says. “I have a 10-year-old son, so I don’t enjoy being away from home, but I like being in the field. I couldn’t do the job without it.”
Carol Baylis, EMEA total rewards director at Hitachi Data Systems, also spends a lot of time away, particularly as the organisation’s headquarters is in the US and she is based in the UK. “You have to accept that there’s travel and sometimes inconvenience with regard to conference calls,” she says.
Mohammed Valjy, international benefits manager at Thomson Reuters, went to Argentina, Brazil and India in 2011, but budget restrictions mean travel is now less frequent. “We try to make sure that when we go away, we visit more than one country,” he says.
Viewpoint: Caroline Jowett-Ive, group vice-president reward at Travelport
For Caroline Jowett-Ive, group-vice president reward at Travelport, a global role was always her preferred destination.
After starting her reward career in a UK reward and benefits post at Virgin Mobile, she was offered the chance to move to Virgin Management, the holding company for all Virgin’s operations, in a global position three years later.
Jowett-Ive believes internal progression is the surest route to the top. “It would be very difficult to walk away from a UK-based company and go to an agency and say ‘I want an international role’,” she says. “By joining a multinational, even if it is a UK subsidiary, you have a much better chance. Most people who move into global roles do it through internal career progression.”
Two years on, the opportunity arose to join Travelport in a broader international position with a heavy US focus. “It is quite unusual to have a role that is very [US]-focused based out of the UK, but that really appealed to me because I wanted that true global remit,” she says. “I now have employees in 48 different countries, so there is an obvious progression there.”
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