Working overseas
a fascinating professional challenge
This article dispcls some of the myths surrounding cmploymeiit as an expatriate enginecr in the developing world. Whilc tlzc article focuses primarily on gciicralities applicable to most assignments, elaboration by the author of his owii recent expcriciice as the cliicf executive of an independent powcr company in PaIristan illustratcs the type of situation senior expatriate engineers may facc on acceptancc of an overseas position.

by A. R.Midgley
rom Somalia to Siniih, dic applicntinn of succcssfiilly [ransfcrrcd tl-icir skills be~wcen f cnginccring, thcrc good ~nmagcmciit principlcs togcthcr wry differclit scctni-s o with an ctltrcprcncurial and adventurous rctriains xi unclcrlying fcnr o l the unknown i n spirit can provjtic a fascinating mix of chnlleiig- dcploying cxpcricncc in ncw cultural ing job opportwiitics for prolcssional cngiticcrs circuinst:itices. Many cnginccrs' d e n t s and cxpcricucc could casily bc adaplcd for roles in in the dcvcloping worlci. Projcct inarragctnenr it1 thc ciiginccriiig field arcas wliich seein I'CIIIOIC and unsiiitctl tn tlicir ahilitics. tias bccn practiscrl dlroughrrut thc world by Working o~crscasns ii sctiior cxccutivc 011 sltillcd profcssionnls for thousands of years. 'I'he developmcnt o[ coii7pimics to I ~ d l c cnnti;ict 1i;is inni1y nrtractinns to anyonc whosc prioritics arc iinrticd to a stablc cnviroiimcilt ol such activitics is a soincwliat more r e c c i i t phcnomciioi~ IIUCiicvcrthcless h x a p c d i g i of ~ family, friciirls and local commiinity nctivii.ics. ~ l g1, Excavation of cooling I hwcvcr, such preoccupations can soinclinics towers piles ovci' 100 y c m . ' 1 ' 1 1 ~ncccssary atcributcs and cxpcricncc 10 rnatlagc such coinpanics arc readily availablc throughout thc wnrlil, but clicre are inany indivicluals who could a.spirc to a senior rolc if thcy coulcl nverciiiiic thcir fcars and misgivings about living in s t r a n g or unfamiliar cnviromicius.
Managcincnt skills l'licrc is nftcri tho presuinp[ion t h a t otic m u s t liave spent a full cacccr in the relevant discipline in order to aspire to a sciiior cxecutivc role, but the ability M apply souiid and intcrnatioi~nlly rccrignisccl managcrizcnt principlcs is R inuch more iniportant rcquircincnt in much of the clcvcloping wnrld than slacc-of-tllc-art technical knnwltdgc wliich caii be acqiiircd horn the cquipmcnt supplici-s, 'I.'hcsc ~ n a ~ ~ a g c nzciit principlcs c a n Lc Icamt ancl pr.actiscd in a vaaieiy of ways during cntccr r l e v e l o p ~ ~ ~ n t ,


cither in the public 01' private sector. Whilc here are tnany cxaiiiplcs 01cngirmrs who havc

is a n iiita tigible rcward for thc timc. There arc gixvc ~nisconccptions. takcn for grantcd by tliosc fortunate ciiough t o livc in Curlpc or othcr dcvclopcd parts oi thc world. is not available iri most of thc dcvclopirig nations and tlic h p n c t of uncinployincrit or poor health has to Iw boriiu by thc funilks 01 thosc unallc t o work.ctnurieratinn is gcticrally much inwer than the expatriate prnfcssional cngii-icer. dangerous.WORJUNG 0 VERSEAS Flg. thcii. and this pi~nvidcs grnutd for cxpericnccd cxccutivcs t o impart hc used as a shicld to discollragc an approach. a n clcmciic ol nliruisin docs not tiiscase. It is thc prcdorriinancc of youth which i111mediately st r i kcs those fam i1iar w idi the vcry fcrtilc developing wrrrld.often individual over and above any I-cmuncration gencrarcd by die media. and recognition by thc 111' thosc around that u n i ~ m ~ ~ ~ such l e lay1-olc.iow in such dillicult CircLiInstaiices can also bc 1-cwirtliiig LO thusc who witncss unfolding cvents a t first hand. lnspectlon struggle tn sustain thc hasic ncccssitics of Iifc. manageiiicnt sltills IC. In go~ieral.cant. Projcct managcmcnt lticvitably thcrc arc profcssional friistratitrns in niatqiiig prnjccts i n thc dcvcloping world. howcvcr. but this is a distorted attractivc salary and Lcncfit packages to and ill-conceivcd impression of large arcas of expatriate coiltract cxccutives wliich arc comt h c world whcrc tlw cinergcncc of Impc and a pardde with those available to cmpioyces in tlic desire to acquire self-sustaining slrills arc thc UK a i d othcr E i i q w a n countries. drug. enthusiastic but incxpcricnccd young pcoplc. Often in the past such cxccllcnt quditics wcrc to thosc whose motivation is priinn'rily alrauimpractical due to tlic prcvalcncc of war nnd isiic. hiit thc dignity which so many pctiplc sl. Whilc oiic caniiot ricny that tlicrc arc still parts of tlic world whcrc such circuimtaiiccs remain. Working o ve 1-SCRS is 11o L t h crclo 1-c con fi ricd dntninant factors. Eurcaucratic dclays mid intIansigcncc a r c a n cvcryday uccurrciicc wtiicli can havc scvcrc budgetary implications atid result in cxtcncled irnplcmcntation schcdules. Thu social security safety nct. t h a t lifc in thc Lcncfit.intcrtxitiona\ cnmpaiiics offcr 1-iddcn arid dcprcssiiig. This Crcatcs situatioiis which arc visibly cvidcnt to cvcry cxpawiaic workcr and in somc instances can bc very distrcssing. and hugc populations siirvivcd iliroiigli go aiiiiss w h e n living in clic rlcvcloping world trailitioiml minimal is^ xtivicies in a coiistmt atnorig peoplc whose i. which inay not in itself Lic insignilidcvcloping world is dirty. most of ~ h c clcvcloping world has cincrgcd frrrm this situation and now has a n u r p t nucd to acquire a n d absorh mndcrn inanagctncnt techniqucs i n order t o encourage the h o p and aspiratioris of a rapidly increasing profcssionally qualified popdatiori of wcll cducatcd. This can o c c u r at tlic apprtwal s t a g for a myriad of rcasons a i i d in somc inslsuces can rcsiilt in projcct canccllation. or bc sclf gcnciaiccl in ordcr to cotwincc oncself I<espcct for such skills. cvcii whcn . good advantago. is iriiprmiccal at the prcsetit praccical liclp. indigenous population that they need this wliilc cxciting. 2 Team bulldlng at slte colony flna. and pariuncc and pcrscvcrancc arc csscntinl prcrcquisitcs to SUCCCSS.

. Thc sensitivc liatidling of ilccply i. either in cnnjunction wich t h c cxccutivc inanagcrncnt or indcpendctitly. . will mcrcly frcczc projecis while rhcy carry out a progwimic review. but in inucli of thc world it is still not ~lfccrivelypractiscd.mtcd cultural issucs js a fiscinating challcngc for those cxcciitivcs scelriiig IICW lioriT.it higher rate cluriiig t h e implcrnciitatiori pliasc wlicn thcrc arc only liiriitcd opporiuiiitics COrcducc non-producrivc cxpcnditurc. dcfcrial. Hr~wcver. scnint expatrhc inmagcrs are introduccd i t 1 order to couizicr such influcnccs a n c l Dritisli values rcmain highly sought after and rcspcctcd tliroiighoLir ri~uchnf Asia. I'olitically gcncratcd dclays arc gencrallp t h c most scrious bccausc it is almost itnpossiblc for cxccurivc managctnent to resolve tlicsc in a rlcvcloping world context. Ou occasions n iicw govcr~iitnetir. but it is not iiucot~iinoii f o r projccu to bc ar-hitrarilycniiccllcd with little rccoursc for coinpcrisation tlirougli ihc courts. In gmcral. aiid siicccss iii siich iiiattct's can bc cxtrcinely rewarding. .driiig i n xi cxptriatc situatioii. thc projcci spoiisoi-s I?. In such a sicu. hut this is not iitiiquc t o wt. mid costs acctim~ilntc ~t a (:. 't'hcrc is lirtlc tlic chicf exccutive c m do in such x situnrioii aucl for chis rcasor it is particularly important wlicn workiizg on coiitriict in ttic dcvclopirigworld that u x p d a c c ctigincers liavc unambiguous a n d cnforcealdc contracts of cmplaynicrit wliicli can provide adcquatc protccLion tn the indiviilual in the cvctit of projcct cancellatinn. and R siirprising lewl of feudal coiitrol still cxists in 1atgc . h c y ciin causc vcry considerable problcms 10 any niiijor infrastruciure project and usually folhw ii changc in govcrnincnt.ltioti. but iii gcncral tlic ISritish 237 .oIis. cnvironincnt may appear to iriany pcople to he both conhising and risky.ircas . As always. dclays during projcci itnplerncntation arc gciicrally ttic i w r c scrious Ixcausc tiinc lost can ticvcr be rcgaincrl. Aucocratic and clictarnriiil rnnnngcrnciit liolds sway. Local eiwironriient Nothing in life is ccrrain atid workirig ovcrscas in n n unfamilint. or ctiangc of ownership. Paticncc and pcrscverance arc csscntial qualities iii this dclicatt nrcn. 4 Power Filanl1 under cons1mction approval t o procced nppcars to have Lccii granted.Flg. Tlic itnprcssinii that ihc ciizcrgencc nf a burgcoiiitig rriiddlc class 01 cdiicatcd profcssional cinployccs has changed A iiaiion's culturc cnii bc iiicorrcct 3s trarlitioual values still militace ngniost ttic iinplcmcn~n~ion 01' riiatiagcnicnt praciiccs long cstablishcd in t h e itidustrialiscd iiatinns nf Wcstcrn Eiiropc atid clsewhcrc. but in practice this is not iicccssarily the case p r t i c i i l d y i f sensiblc prccniicions are talccii and as miich preparation as titne allows is madc prior COdeparture. rosulting lnrgclp fmin culriiral cliffercnccs. lcssmis n w somctitiics Ici~rncrithc hard way and tlic sanic misialrcs arc riirely matlc iwice. of Asin. ' h n building to achieve I-riisincss dcvclopmcnt i s univcnally rccogniscd as an imporiatit rnauagci~iciit xtivily.cnmlly act to rninirnisc thcir losses. as iiinny pmfcssioiinl cngiticei-s Irnnw to thcir cost in the UK and clscwlicre iri EuInp~.

5 Turblne hall almost complete have a good reputation for achieving positive a n d long-lasting rcsuits whcrc soinetiiiies other natiotials have failed thrnugli hasty nr prccipitatc action tint fully utidccctond hy local cmployccs. but personal iutenriews caii quicl<ly leave the expatriate manager confiised.hosc wlio livc pcrniaiicncly in thcsc countrics can bc vcry difficult and not conducivc to high productivity. ttic differciicc is thc 238 meilsures which may be consideid acceptable in ordcr to achicvc such a prizc. it is riierely aii additional cultural ditnension CO clic job for which oric is being engaged. the working cnviroii~neiit Cor t.KING MANAGEMI"' JOURNAL OC'I'OUEK 1999 . Tliis situation nftcn lcads to crivy and dysluriction lietwcen the public and tlic privacc sector. disappoititcd and ai1gi. in general this is not officially comlonccl nnci multinational companics arc bccoming mrirc resistant to any such approach iindcr prcssiirc from wcstcrn govcrntiicnts and lcndiiig jiisiiiutioiis.WORKING 0VERSEAS Fig. the availability of jobs for local cmployccs is a high priority for bntli politicians and feudal landlorrls who c m gain considcrablc status and crcdit among their constituents and tcnniits through SUCC(ISS iii this arc+ as is tlic caw in dcprivcd rcgiom nf i i i d c r i i industrial countries. working conditions in governincnc offices are generally poor. Engineers with broad corntncrcial experience have an inhemit fccl for ttie valuc o f a t a s k in ttie coritext of projcct achievemcnr. 'I'his Ciiti casily lead to cyiiicistn arid disillusinn. hut usually rcflcce the despcration atnong whole swathes of the population to gain cmploynicnr. but should not h e dccnicd a major liiiidrancc to rlic acceprancc of a challeriging appointmcnt overseas.easotiably able to rnakc t h c corrcct IINGINl!F. tlic salary Icvels of govcrninent ernployces arc inuch Iowcr than those paid to the employees of inultinatinnal coinpanics. Political and fciidal influcncc is oftcn A major factor in attcmpting t o gain cmployincnt for favmiritcs. 'I11 gcneral. Ediicatioiiil qualificntiom can be mislcading throughnut inuch of thc devdoping world as forgot1 ccrtificatcs arc not LiiicoIniiion. with air conditioning rcstrictcd to thu pcrsanal oificcs of senior officials only. oftcii with little regnrd lor tkc nctiial slrills iquircrl to carry OUT the rliitics anti rcsponsibilitics of a particular position. In addition. at wliatcvcr cost. Job applicntioiis inay nppcar cxrrcrricly impressive. m r l ' minor gratifications arc cnmiiionplacc and accclxed as part of thc busincss prnccss. and coiiiprelierisivc checks arc not always made on tlzc idcntity of thosc sitting cxaminations. I n most underdcvelg~cd countrics. Very careful handling is rcquircd in such a situation as consideralilc difficulties can be placcd i n chc WRY of a ncw inl'rastructurc projccc if appropriate action is noc rakcii CO rcspond to local scrisitivities. rclativcs a n d othcr individuals.y. As most undcrrlcvclopcrl countrics arc located in the hotter rcgioiis of rhc world. I-Innclling such situations is a fcaturc of cxpacriatc scizior rnanngcmcnt. Howcvcr. Whilc almost incvitably grccd and cnrruption can develop frorn this sitiiatim. and are thercfore i.

. irue of p w n n i c t i t s and politicians b u t thc ordinary citixens nccd nnrl arc w r y gralcftil f o i I 1 . I lic availability of vo1uiirai. Iiitcrvicws etc. and thcrcforc claioration of thc pariicular aspects of oiic positirm is only uscfiil in ordci. 6 Chairman’s visit lor ~ O U I I ~ ~ I . Working in Paltistan EvvL‘ryoverseas job is dilfcrcnt.ofessinnal ill-couiicry I Liviscrs. local senior staff are gcnci. my initial rcaction wis to sxy ‘OK in principle’. and only at rhc final stage dirl I h a w thc opporcutiity to scc written contract tcrins. A s thc erriploycr was a I’al<istari rcgistcretl cotiipwy it wns riccessary for meto talwccrtaiii issucs on trust. I was of coiirsc onc of scvcral possiblc ciwdidatcs aiicl the wrong rcsponsc would h a w resultcrl in my not bcing o h e d special induccrrictits. In-country advisers Most devcloping coutitrics hnvc aplcthora OC local cnnsultants who opcrate cithcr a x inrlivirluals or in partuei-ship. Howuvci. time was of thc cssciicc for rhc eniploycr and [ tiad to cvaluatc thc offer fairly rapidly 10 secwc tlw position. I was callcrl onc day by n hcadhuntcr who had bccn givcii m y tiatnc. cduc&n n r administratinn and the thanks which flowwlicn oiic has to finally pack up and lewc is ilcinonstrablc cvirlcticc of thc grarilude and affcciion fclt bp thosc who havc bcnefitcd froin such coritriburiong.~ ~ . In m y casc.and Fig. and many lainilics sap that this contrihiiou has been the innst wwarrliiig aspect of what at the outset inny havc sccimcl R 1iin. ’Tllcrc arc good local nnd cxpatriate schools in m o s t of the large cirics thl~o&out tllc W O I . ’This sclcccion 1 x u x s s is oiic of rlw mosl important activirics for any foreign cmnpmy wishing to expand iritn n dcvclopiiig country. and care inwt bc cxerciscd \vhcn sclccting who to work with. chiklren education is not iiurinilly a prolicm. ’ help in kind.‘I’his can bc in hcaltlicnre. frustrations ancl cxpericriccs Ol’ wnrking ovcrscas.qtunattract-ivcjnh cdfcr. Also. but tlic wrong politicnl co~iiicctiniis can bc disastrtms arid delay projccr implementation by tnntiths or ycars without necessarily any clear iiidicntion as to t h e roo[ cause. b y n third party-the usual thitia.y -work for spouses and young adult hriily mciiibcrs is alintisc uiilitnitcd arid can be w r y rcwartliiig for thosc individuals scarching for a way tn iiinkc a rneaningful pcrsonal contributioti tu ilic materially lcss wcll off in sociely. albcit wc l i d agrccd that arbitration woti\d b c through dic [titclnational Uomcstic cmisirlerations ‘But the family will hatc it’ is a coiiiiiicnt oiic hears only too ol’tcn ftom thosc seriously considering an ovcrsc~s position in R dcvcloping country. A good consultant can h e invaluable.to illiistratc the rcwards. but ovcrscils ernhassics can also 'help through the cxccilent scrviccs provided by comiiicrcial comscllors and thcir pi. T h y we normally i ndepend e lit of the mu It inatio nal c nn s 11 ltancp companies. ’I’hism a y b c . this is thc first hurdlc bccause a ncpativc ai iliac p i n t would h w c dosed off an opportuiiicy which all m y family IIOW agl-cc NJS proliably n high point in our Iivcs. c x h family has ics particular mcds.judgments in such situations. O f cnursc. considcrations and prcjudiccs. Pcrsond contacts Through biisincss collcag~ics and diose familiar with a particular country arc pmbably tlic niort ruliable sourccs for evaluatinK consultants. Whcii told that the position would rcquirc iiic t<)iiiovc to Pakistan C o r two ycnrs. wcrc all cnnductutt in London. Iii fact thc variety which overseas trnvcl provides often eiihanccs thc cdiicatinnnl vnliic. I t is a gross misconception that the pcriplc ol‘ developing countrivs only scclr firiancinl help.ally wcll adjusted to prevailing conrliiiotis and can providc vahiablc ad V l’C C to cxpatrinies in this delicate but important area. but invariably the realisation is niuch bcttcr than the cxpcctniion. and hdrd and fast rulcs arc difficult to clnlomtc.

and enjoying my last a h wcrc subordinated t o political cxpcriicncy. and only suslaincd iritcrnntional ovcrscas invcscors. 240 Court and English Law would prcvail. iiiatters cultureand busincss mcthorlology arc s o differhavc beeti satisfactorily rcsolvcd and thc powct ciit firm those I l i d prcvioiisly cxpcricncerl. 'I'hc project has bccn rchnbilitatod. but tnistrusl was cndcmic and situation cxtrcincly difficult. would not be my major prcoccupxtion. Hogmanay. for the cnntirictrt and thc wholc cxpcriciicc has bccn a ovcrsuas sponsors it was alarming and it iiiaric fascinating professional challenge. and const. i 111p rcs s c ri by the s IC i 1 1s a TI d p i 0 li 1ciii -s o I v i izg abilities of the intcmationiil concmctors cinployccl mi my projcct. arid ~ h o s cmajor cnnccrn was I boardcd thc aircmft for Islamabari o i i a cnld tiiatiageinetu ol' fin ovcrscas dcbt which had arid wcc early January moriiing in London. and the confitlcnt that thc individual who was sent deveIoptnent of a w c I I structured npcrating over to conduct thc interview was trustworthy. was ti& how business is coductcrl in thc Inclinn sub. I was of 'OKin principle' 'was m e ol the b c s t off-thcablc to lcavc Paltistan i t i lhc ItnowIcrlgc that thc cuff dccisions of my li L. x nd from a statc-of-rhc-xri indipuiious gas-fircd climatic conditions cxtrcnic is not casy at thc powcr plant financed largcly through Islamic best of time. had becn rccruiced EO lcad liad fallen foiil of tlic capacity. SuUicc to-s l y that. Nurncrous committccs wcrc S C ~ Thc Icariiing curvc \vas thcrcforc vcry stccp . cspccially whcn the governinerit whosc clivii priorities clid not align coiiiracc is not bchg placcd or guaraiitccd by a with those of die iiidcpcndciit powcr plant wcll rccogniscd multinational company. cfforc and tny iiiitial rcspoiisc t u tlic hcadhuiitcr in fras truct urc projcc ts in the dcvclopi ng world.1 solutimi thi-ough largely cosb a d e ilirougli ~ h c iritcrnationnl criurts with nictic atiiendnicrits LO the coinplcx clcctricitp no guarantcc of rc11rcss or rccovcry of funds cariif scrLiciurc. job 1 was recruitcd for I d bouii satisfactorily co~npletcd. plant will corne on stream in 1997 mdcr a Pcrsannl relationships wcrc always cxtccmcly cotnlhation ol local and Malaysian managc. tcmpcrcd for a n expatriate to fathom in n country whosc by good seiisc and ccchnicalinnovalion. Rnthcr t h x L had to coIiccnrratc primarily 011 thc projcct cost h s c .q. stood citlicr to sustain very pressure I 2 y govcrnrnciits and Icnciirip agencies substmtial lclsscs or to pursuc a lcngthy lcgal finally Eorccd .I ~ I W I ~ L2nd thc indcpcndcnt was abrngated arid sovcrcigii gunrniitccs wcrc up povxr plant project was about to bc canccllcd. '['lie rewards m c a w x c at first hatid of thc sitbslantial risks as usud have bccn conimciisiiratc with thc which jlrc inlicrcnt in thc financing of niajoi. If tnctit. Task priorities Buildiiig a modern power plant in thc and the pcoplc of North Sindh I'rovincc will developing world in an arcn whcrc facilitics shortly ctijoy a guaranteed clcctricity supply are I ini itcd. of thc short tirric ccnnotriy and policical vncillation.11d imcntar y.ktlowlcclgc of what to cxpcct on through corruption.c 1. Dcspite die problems arid frustrations.IS and then disbaiidcd before thcir reports could the project sponsors.int load shcdding was blntncd on 1lack of gctieriting O n arrival.cordial. What was crucial a t that point was that 1 had trlct . Howcvc~~. Superimposed on all this was an already invcstcrl. igtiored. all ol whom WCIT iimjor hu publislicd. mishanrlling of tlic arrival. Encrgy forecasts by iriclcpcndcnt profcssioiiavailablc in chc Uli making visa npplications. i 11 fris~rUct I I 1. 1 effectively bccii allowcd to run nut of control had little .WORKING 0 VEICSEAS cornpauy rcporriiig prtmsscs. arid I felt initially had a majority liolding.coiif~isiiigto rlic corripaiiy cxwutivu. For my part I liavc lcarnt much about ana1ysi. onc o f my tnslts a s chicf cxccutiw of thc operating coinpitiy. It was quickly appxcm CO rnc chat thc ovcrscciiig of niajnr contixtors. ns I hati spcnt mosr. arranging pcrsonal affairs. Whcn compmies. intcractions bctwecri tlzc various iiivestors none nf wlioiiz wirti the cmploycr in London. In addition thcrc was the cverpart in any dccision to accept an O Y C ~ S C M prcsciiL role ol tryiiig to mend fcticcs with a contract of cinpluymcnt. I h a w b c c n most cn-operation by thc GovcrnIncnt of Malaysia. company for thc iuturc inanagcmctrt of thc Inevitably personal judgments must play a big power plant. I ciiscovcrcci that thc cornpany I evcry possible lactor cxccpt . aftcr two cdificc of political inlriguc almost iinpossiblu years of argument arid prcvm'ication. '['he sancriiy of iiztcmntional contracts hlristati ~ O V C I .

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