Interview with Brian Friedman : the latest trends in Global Mobility
Brian Friedman is a veteran of Global Mobility having worked for nearly 40 years in the industry. His leadership positions have included UK CEO of EY’s Human Capital practice, Global Head of Human Capital at Arthur Andersen and Founder and CEO of the Forum for Expatriate Management (FEM). He is currently a visiting professor at ESCP Europe and Strategy Director at Benivo. His extensive experience in Global Mobility gives him a unique insight into the future trends affecting the industry. Didier Hoff, UniMobility’s Head of Center of Excellence, sat down with Brian Friedman to discuss the latest trends in Global Mobility with a focus on new digital offerings. 1) What do you think are the major challenges for Global Mobility in the near and long term future ? I think there are 4 major challenges facing global mobility over the medium term. Firstly, all of us have grown up in an era when globalisation was seen both as inevitable and as a good thing but these days the very concept of globalisation is being challenged by the forces of populism. Economic nationalism is now becoming increasingly vocal throughout the world (notably in the US and the UK but also with the rise of parties such as the AFD in Germany and the 5 Star movement in Italy. The resulting impact is that cross-border working may become more difficult as visa and immigration rules are tightened. The days of moving staff globally with minimal legal obstacles may soon be over if populist parties start a race to bottom with retaliatory measures to restrict labour mobility. Secondly, technology makes it easier to work cross-border without physically moving so we may see more and more “virtual assignments” where people work cross-border without ever actually leaving their front door. Thirdly, risk and compliance are becoming ever more important. Global mobility professionals will need to become even more aware both of Duty of Care issues and of the tax/legal minefield of cross-border operations. Lastly, economic pressures are forcing companies to pay increasing attention to the cost of assignments. As a result, we are seeing a greater focus on lump-sum and other expat-lite policies and a noticeable shift away from the traditional “full-fat” type of assignment. These four challenges are very real and becoming more pressing year by year. The impact of the global mobility is already being felt among suppliers as evidenced by the recent wave of merger activity. Our profession is consolidating due to systemic pressures and the future will belong to those organisations which can most readily adapt to change. There is an old saying in business “Go large, go niche or go bust”. My guess is that there will always be a role both for the industry ‘goliaths’ and for the specialist ‘ boutiques” but I would be very surprised if we do not see more merger activity among the mid-tier relocation companies. 2) So, do you think that technology has a special role to play ? Technology will be huge and will impact global mobility in ways the we can scarcely imagine today . I can see a world where Artificial Intelligence will automatically write policies, prepare assignment letters, handle the immigration and tax formalities, monitor performance and liaise with vendors. The traditional look-see visit and home search will be facilitated by virtual reality. Even household goods shipping may be reduced as future generations have less physical belongings. My generation would typically have large record collections, bulky hi-fi units, televisions, dvd players, hundreds of books and camera equipment. These days all of this can be consigned to a single iPad or cellphone. Put simply we all have less physical possessions than previous generations and there is no reason why this trend should not continue. Personally, I am a bit of an Alexa fan (Amazon echo). I know that Amazon are working on Alexa for Business and I am pretty convinced that we will all have digital assistants helping us with all the mundane issues of day-to-day work within the next five years. The scary thing is what happens when Alexa moves from being our assistant and instead gets promoted and becomes our boss! 3) Tell us a bit more about Benivo and why you think their offer is unique ? I met Nitzan Yudan, the CEO of Benivo, through the work I do at the business school (ESCP Europe) and was immediately attracted to their business model and concept. Benivo is not a relocation company but an employee welcome company. We do a lot of work with mobility programs but actually our main focus is on recruitment generally. From a mobility perspective you can consider us as a digital destination services company. We assist relocating employees settle into their new roles by providing hyper-personalised, hyper-localised information. Cutting aside the jargon, what I mean is that we can provide relocating employees with detailed company specific answers to questions like “what do people like me do?”, which ultimately is what every new employee wants to know before they start work. The question may be “where do my colleagues tend to live, what sort of accommodation do they rent, how do they commute to work, where do they eat, drink, socialise or spend their leisure time. Using technology we can provide unprecedented levels of information on literally thousands of towns and cities worldwide. And typically we can offer 12 months online support for employees and their families for less than the cost of a typical single day homesearch. What’s even more amazing is that included in that price is also an interest free Pay Later financing facility which employees can use to pay their rental deposit so no-one is out of pocket before they start work. 4) Do you have any other plans in the near future ? I am pretty rubbish at retiring. I tried it once when I retired from EY and a second time after I sold FEM. The reality is that I get bored and I love global mobility too much to stay away. I don’t think I could ever retire completely. I mean if you’re not doing anything, what’s the point of living ! These days, I try to split my life into thirds - one third work, one third leisure and one third charitable/community activities. My work at ESCP falls into this latter category and I love the buzz of teaching young MBA students from throughout Europe and helping them find their way in the world. From a work perspective, I spend much of my time working with Benivo and hopefully acting as a helpful mentor to their CEO Nitzan. It is truly energising to work with such a talented and committed team. I also undertake a few independent consulting projects and some angel investing. I am also chairing a brand new global mobility conference which will be launched early next year.
Thank you Brian for your insights.
If you want to learn more about Benivo: https://www.benivo.com/