Santa Fe Relocation Services: It’s about relocation, relocation, relocation

Global businesses usually relocate staff around the world and every year that process becomes more complex. Ensuring the right global mobility strategy is in place and managing the details of each move can be made simpler by calling in the experts. Finance Director Europe speaks to Martin Thaysen, global CEO of Santa Fe Relocation Services, about how companies and individuals can benefit from receiving the right advice to make relocation a beneficial and productive experience.

We live in an age when the world is shrinking and globalisation is a key element in the strategy of an increasing number of organisations. Employees might relocate anywhere around the world over the course of their careers and companies must ensure that with each relocation process, the individual and the business as a whole derive maximum benefit.

These days, more companies need a global mobility strategy that is supported by a full-services relocation provider.

"A lot has happened in terms of corporations professionalising global mobility and seeing it as an essential part of fulfilling business needs, although many still don't have a global mobility approach or a policy in place that can really support a global mobility programme," says Martin Thaysen, global CEO of Santa Fe Relocation Services. "But a lot has changed in the past five years, and corporations are looking more at the organisational need than just the administrative processes involved. They are looking at how global mobility plays a part in supporting business strategy."

End-to-end support

Santa Fe Relocation Services is a global provider of corporate and individual relocation services, with offices on seven continents. The company not only helps with the practical aspects of an individual relocation process, but it also helps businesses define the right global mobility policy.

"At one end of the spectrum, we do everything like managing expatriate programmes, managing the relocation of people around the world and managing policies for companies," Thaysen explains. "At the other end, we handle the hands-on business of getting someone a visa, packing and unpacking their homes, finding them a house and sometimes a school - and everything in between. We manage the whole chain, for the corporation and the assignee.

"In the past ten years, there has been profound change in mobility. Ten years ago, I was doing talent management for Maersk and it was very simplistic. It focused on expatriation mainly as a talent-development opportunity. Now, some companies run a complete global mobility programme and look at the processes they have in place to relocate different types of employees. There is more focus on making sure employees and their families are productive as quickly as possible once they get to where they need to live. My sense is that change will continue. In five years, I expect we will look back and think that we were not doing much at this point."

Serving the old and the new

The traditional image of the expatriates as a senior executive still holds true to some extent, but that picture is changing very quickly.

"Employees have changed their expectations," Thaysen says. "The old-style expatriate is mostly at a high executive level, but that is still becoming a smaller proportion. Younger generations are much more flexible and much more willing to go through relocation on their own, but they still expect to receive a lot of support as quickly as possible from their companies.

"Corporations are trying to adapt to that change, and to the demands of employees from different generations that are looking for different benefits. More employees are looking for dual careers, and so want more services for their spouses to ensure dual income in a new location."

There is now more relocation of employees at different levels of an organisation, meaning companies have to adopt differentiated policies.

"This ramps up the inherent complexity of a global mobility programme," Thaysen says. "Against this backdrop, global mobility management is an increasingly important pillar of a wider strategy of globalisation, so the need to enable people to work freely and flexibly around the world is at once more complicated and crucial. Relocating people around the world and navigating a regulatory framework that consistently throws up new hurdles are issues that any global business must master."

A growing trend

Thaysen adds: "Globalisation is here to stay - and it is expanding. Corporations are moving people around the world much more frequently, and they want to be able to do it easily and flexibly. Individuals are also moving around the world more.

"Around two thirds of graduates from business schools and universities want to relocate and work abroad. It must be doable. As governments want to get hold of taxation and better manage a workforce moving in and out of the country, it becomes more complex to handle the compliance aspect. As a global mobility company, we must help solve those problems."

A key challenge is finding the right balance between talent management and cost management. Companies need to keep employees in the organisation, ensure they can relocate efficiently and provide the right opportunities for career development.

"Compliance with company policy and government regulations has quickly risen up the list of priorities," Thaysen says. "It is expensive to relocate people, so you have to do the right kind of relocation, for the right reasons, to get a return on that. A lot of companies have spent a lot of money relocating people but haven't been able to retain them or get the value back. So, talent management is a big challenge.

"We work with corporations - usually the HR department, but also the finance function and the line organisations managing the relocation process - to execute corporate policy and to understand the needs of the business. For the assignees, we understand what they are going through with their families. That kind of empathy is very important."

Thaysen has been through the relocation process himself, so he can talk about its pressures from experience.

"When I moved for Santa Fe Relocation Services, I moved from Shanghai to London and decided to do a total immersion in relocating myself," he says. "Getting all the practical things in place when you have children going into a new school and a wife who is leaving her job is stressful. The last thing you want to do is spend hours searching the internet to get home contents insurance, for example, only to find that you need a utility bill you don't yet have in order for it to go through.

"It used to be that if you were relocating to a developing country, you needed help, and the assumption was that if you were moving to a well-developed location like London, you didn't. The bureaucracy now is possibly greater in London than it is elsewhere. You need all the practical things to function well in order to lower the stress of relocating your family, so you can focus on doing your job."

Santa Fe Relocation Services' approach is to work with the individual and company together to ensure that the right processes are in place from the top down.

"To ensure the process is smooth, a company must have a clear policy in place and a plan to ensure the process flows for the assignee," Thaysen says. "The other aspect is information to help take away uncertainty, to ensure that the person understands the process that will take place and can simply focus on what they need to do in terms of their job. Often, it is a family that is going through the significant change, so having people in the locations that understand that change is critical.

Different types of expatriates

"The global mobility programme must be appropriate for the different types of employees. The process must be planned well from the beginning to the end. Many companies don't have a global programme, but taking relocation piece by piece can be dangerous. We also see some companies fail by just focusing on one aspect of the assignment - often cost reduction - but without understanding what the implications of it are.

"In the past ten years, as the global financial crisis hit, companies started looking purely at taking out cost elements. Many things were taken out of global mobility to make it cheaper, but those reductions have resulted in things like loss of talent, because people were not happy with their relocation. A lot of supposed cost savings have come back to those organisations a few years later."

Relocation may always be expensive ensure alignment, as well as taking care of the bureaucracy. It could be the difference between a successful strategy for global mobility and costly failure. , so it must fit with a company's business strategy and talent-development plan.

A partner like Santa Fe Relocation Services can help to ensure alignment, as well as taking care of the bureaucracy. It could be the difference between a successful strategy for global mobility and costly failure.

Martin Thaysen, global CEO of Santa Fe Relocation Services.