Business Assurance Manager
“I remember very well how I struggled when I was just starting in SGS as a data processor nearly 20 years ago. I started in an entry-level position in the Manila Liaison Office (MLO) with Economic Affairs Division (now called Governments and Institutions Services), before moving up the SGS corporate ladder and eventually becoming an expatriate. I want to tell them that anyone can achieve success at any time, at any age, at any place, given the right opportunity. They just have to work hard and believe that they can do it.
It all began when I was relocated to Lagos, Nigeria in January 2008 for an initial six-month secondment for an international assignment to set up a back-office function in GIS. This took a big adjustment and was a life-changing experience, but I kept focusing and thinking positively about my everyday challenges, and looking forward to the opportunities ahead. I learned as much as I could about the job, the country, its language, its people, and the culture by getting out and meeting the locals not only in the city, but also in other parts of the country. It is very different to where I used to live back home, that’s for sure, but living ‘outside your comfort zone’ can be a great personal experience as well.
While expat life is generally a very rewarding experience, there are also many challenges that we face as a result of relocating to a foreign country. Living abroad and meeting the locals and expats from all kinds of cultural backgrounds can result in a dose of the ‘culture shock’ bug (as well as that other chronic disease called ‘homesickness’). All expats and travelers experience this at one time or another, and I’m no exception. But for me, everything is relative. You might as well accept the inevitable, not waste your energy getting annoyed about little inconveniences and just live life to its fullest.
Even though I frequently traveled during my short-period overseas assignments in past, and had the chance to visit other SGS offices, this is my first long-term assignment in this oil-rich country and my first experience of being a JJC (‘Johnnie just come’) Oyibo, also known as a ‘newbie white-man expat’ as they popularly call us here in Nigeria.
I live in Lagos, one of the most populous cities in West Africa. It may not have the multicultural lifestyle of the UK, or Hong Kong, China, or New York City but it has a unique charm all of its own.
Driving in Lagos is an art! I describe it as controlled chaos. I was amazed how close the cars, tokombos (local bus), and scooters (called okadas) got to each other without a collision. I had the chance to dine with my local co-workers in one of the Naija restaurants, and enjoyed eating amala, pounded yam, nkobi, Fufu, moi-moi, suya meat, egusi, and pepper soup (a very common and very spicy Nigerian dish), washed down with the local beer. I also enjoyed a drink called a ‘Chapman’, (a fruity soft drink, made of Sprite, orange soda, Angostura Bitters and black currant concentrated juice) while listening to the homegrown music of P Square and Wande Coal.
It’s been three years now and I’m soon going to be off on another international assignment, but one of the greetings I heard that struck me most upon arrival on my first visit in Lagos was ‘You are welcome’. And I did indeed feel very welcome, and have ever since.”
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
“When I was young I never imagined that I would one day become an expatriate. Like most people, I had always wanted to travel and see new places, but the idea of living in a new culture was initially a daunting one. However, I regard it to be one of the best decisions I have ever taken in my life.
Being an expatriate has allowed me to gain a wealth of experience and an entirely different view on life. Working and living with people from a different culture has shown me that what I regard as normal is completely different from what others regard as normal. My way of approaching a problem can be totally different from the way others approach a problem. By seeing these fundamental differences in action I have been able to adapt and improve my whole approach to work and life.
Every country and culture has its own unique differences and advantages. I was born and raised in England and I still love my country, but after seeing so much more of the world I have realized how much more other countries have to offer.
There are some difficulties with expatriate life, especially now that I am married and have a daughter. However with good quality housing provided, and with schooling fees paid, we are able to live a good life in a climate far better than my home country. The fact that SGS pays these costs also allows us to save more than we could if I were working in my home country.
I have been fortunate to work in 5 different countries on 3 continents during my career, as well as visiting several others for short-term assignments. I am looking forward to moving on to a new country and a new challenge in 2012 or 2013.”
“After having spent three years working for a number of expats, in 1996 I suddenly found myself in their shoes when I upped and left the Ukraine for China. In those days, I honestly don’t think two worlds could have been further apart.
As an expat employee, you’re an expensive commodity and you have to deliver. And you cannot deliver if you don’t know your environment. You quickly have to learn how to smile, how to talk, how to listen, to walk, to drive, to eat, to judge and a great deal more about your new country. Most importantly, you have to learn to accept that people are different. And you have to learn fast, otherwise you are out.
It’s rather like being a celebrity. News about you spreads like wildfire, and colleagues hundreds of miles away know your every move. You are expected to share your knowledge of the world with the staff who would like to know how harsh winter can become in Siberia, or what people have for lunch there.
Of course, most importantly, you have to work! Expats are like vitamins, essential to keeping things operating in the best way possible. You may dispense with them (and you do eventually), but if they did what was expected of them, they leave behind operations of truly international level.
All things considered, this is a most exciting life and one which very few people would trade to go back to their former routine.”
Fairfield, NJ, USA
“I originally joined SGS Industry Division, as a Non-Destructive Testing Technician in Australia in September 1986 and spent the next three years living in Karratha, Western Australia. I became the company Radiation Safety Officer and conducted other commodity inspections in the area. Following the completion of the LNG refinery in Karratha, I returned to Perth as the Regional Qualitest Supervisor for Western Australia.
In 1991 I transferred to Adelaide, South Australia where I took up the position of Senior Radiographer/Contracts Supervisor for Industry. I was given the opportunity to start cross training into the Oil, Gas and Chemicals, Minerals and Agriculture businesses and became the South Australia Coordinator for the Government and Institutions business. During this period, SGS provided me the opportunity to start an Associate Diploma in Management through the local Technical and Further Education Institute and I went on to become the Engineering Inspection Services (EIS) Superintendent covering all Non-Destructive Testing, Consumer and Industrial Services operations within South Australia and Northern Territory.
In 1993, I set up the operations of the SGS International Certification Services Pty Ltd in South Australia and become more involved with general management within the State. In 1995 I was appointed Business Manager for our Food Monitoring Services for the South Australian Government as well as our Certification Services. In 1996 I was appointed the Business Manager covering all operations in South Australia.
In 1997 I was given the great opportunity to move to Vietnam with SGS, as the Deputy General Director/ Business Manager for CTS, Industrial and GIS. In 2004 I was appointed the Managing Director of our Vietnam Operations and in addition became the Vice President of the CTS Global Food business.
I remained in Vietnam for eight years, which I must say were eight of the best years of my life. I was presented with a new challenge in 2005 which took me to Indonesia as the Managing Director for our Indonesian Operations. In late 2008, SGS asked me to transfer to the US and take on the challenge of managing the US CTS Operations as their Managing Director. That’s where I am based today, as well as continuing to hold the position of Vice President of the CTS Global Food business.
I have to say that the opportunities that SGS has provided, not only professionally but personally, have been outstanding. They have provided me with coaching and external development, even including the opportunity to attend a short course on Leading for Performance and Growth at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland. SGS has not only supported but encouraged my development. I am extremely fortunate to have spent nearly 25 years with SGS in numerous roles in numerous countries and would not change the experience for the world.”