Margaret McCartney is a celebrated pioneer of the Australian relocation industry.
As the founder and CEO of Expat International, Margaret shares her extraordinary journey of 30 years in the relocation profession.
How did you begin in this business?
In 1983, I founded Expat International’s relocation services and in 1985 I introduced migration consultancy services. As an expatriate spouse, my family and I have lived on five continents. When my American husband was relocated to Australia, I found the transfer surprisingly difficult without a support structure to assist with the transition. I felt passionate about helping others in this challenging situation. My business, human resources and board level professional experience provided me with a strong base to establish a relocation service which was directed, initially, to American companies who were transferring personnel to Australia. In my first year I secured three significant contracts and these were the genesis of my growing business.
Please tell us about your professional journey of 30 years in this industry
The journey has been fantastic! I have witnessed the growth of this profession from a home based enterprise to a respected industry. Prior to the far-reaching establishment of global relocation providers and as a direct corporate requirement to support our Australian clients’ overseas destination requirements, it was necessary to appoint Expat’s own relocation consultants, which at one stage amounted to covering 15 different cities in strategic global locations.
As the relocation profession grew and spread, I was able to reduce those arrangements and align with other like-minded, quality relocation consultancies. Today, Expat conducts operations in all Australian capital cities and regional areas, as well as in London. Our global alliance partners provide programs around the world on our behalf.
Expat has been built largely by drawing on my own broad experience as an expat, coupled with my business background. I have witnessed and embraced the changes inherent in maintaining a viable business – from my first Expat days at the IBM electric typewriter; the interminable requirement for the ‘right’ coins and finding pay-phones whilst on home search, to the amazement of the fax machine – all prior to the welcome upsurge of technology in the 21st century! The profession has developed over these three decades from small, often single, operators to significantly large organisations.
The establishment of Relocation Management Companies principally based in the United States has set new expectations from a client perspective for a single point of global service. Only in recent years has industry-specific education been introduced for the newly sophisticated profession.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of the relocation profession in Australia over the past 30 years, in particular with the corporate sector?
It’s no secret that the relocation profession in Australia has come of age. Companies today recognise it as a well-respected and sought-after service and an integral consideration when preparing for either global or domestic talent mobility. The profession’s basic model has transformed from a predominantly interpersonal business relationship with HR personnel to a more commoditised, commercial service, with ultimate provider selection influenced to some degree by Purchasing. The entry of removal companies into the market in recent times has been a further change in the evolution of the relocation provider’s relationship with the corporate sector.
Another exciting and significant shift for Australian businesses is the widespread appointment of specialist Global Mobility managers or administrators as a key role in organisations’ HR, Talent or Rewards teams. Today, Australian businesses recognise that mobility is not simply an administrative function; mobilising a workforce across state or international borders requires a high level of in-house specialist skills, in order to protect its brand, build a clear value proposition and meet its compliance obligations in Australia and overseas. To keep pace with this development, businesses are seeking programs to up-skill their internal team in various strategic and operational disciplines. This allows organisations to integrate their employee mobility program into business expansion activities.
Trish Hansen, Expat’s Managing Director of HR & Mobility, and I have both been accredited by Worldwide ERC as Global Mobility Specialists since their GMS education programs’ inception early in the 2000’s. The Council provides valuable education and resources to relocation-associated and HR professionals worldwide. This in-depth learning and accreditation has provided a recognisable edge for Expat in providing global mobility expertise to our clients.
Similarly, in Australia this learning and development requirement has been satisfied by the recent launch of The Employee Mobility Institute (TEMI) in Australia. Akin to ERC, TEMI strives to become Australia’s only industry body focused on providing valuable educational programs to Australian HR and relocation practitioners. In fact, practitioners can now earn CPD points in recognition of their commitment to ongoing learning. We are very excited to see this type of initiative take place in Australia.
What is the key to Expat International’s success?
I am totally passionate about this profession and have established commanding standards, which my fabulous staff delivers. My credo is highly developed ethics, thoroughness in all aspects of our work, continuous training and capable, personable staff who build long-lasting relationships with clients and corporates. We have survived a raft of challenging economic periods including the 1987 and 1991 stock market crashes, 9/11 the sudden demise of Ansett and the GFC in 2008 to name a few. We are delighted to be entering our fourth decade of supporting companies and their mobile workforce within Australia and around the world.
What are the next steps for the industry in the coming years?
Mobility is here to stay and in its developing maturity there could be a consolidation of numbers in Australia which may occur through Relocation Management Companies purchasing in or providers merging. Perhaps the same number of operators and personnel will exist under a smaller number of company names.
What advice would you have for staying relevant in this profession?
Corporate policies change frequently in terms of handling tax, benefits, health and length of assignment. These impact the entire HR perspective of relocating employees and their families. Accordingly, it is important to gain as much relevant education as possible and stay current with the broadly developing components that constitute professional knowledge as it relates to employee mobility and on-the-ground information and detail. The Employee Mobility Institute’s newly devised training initiative is a timely and valuable development for Australian-based operators wishing to expand and maintain currency of their knowledge in these areas.
A further point for remaining relevant in our profession is the importance of maintaining excellent quality delivery whilst juggling the increasing demands to provide cost effective programs.
BY LANA LACHYANI
Lana Lachyani is a Melbourne-based Freelance Writer and Communications Consultant. Lana lived overseas for several years, working across Europe and the Middle East before returning to Australia in 2012.