Avrom Goldberg: Winner of the 2016 FEM Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mobility in the APAC region

Courtney Ellis-Jones interviewed Avrom to discover why he was such a deserving winner of the acolade.

Most people tend to fall into a career in the global mobility industry, as a kind of happy accident. It’s a natural extension of working in human resources, international tax, immigration and compensation and benefits, but few people set out to work in the relocation industry.

So,a career in global mobility is not often a deliberate choice, ­­but for Avrom Goldberg, Senior Vice President of Global Solutions at Lexicon – it was the only one. His career has spanned over thirty years, beginning in Amsterdam in 1984, just as the idea of ‘global business’ was becoming a reality, and partly as a result of booming worldwide economies, a relaxation of compliance regulations and new partnerships and friendships between Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

A journey that begins in Europe...

In Amsterdam, Avrom says he was fortunate to be part of the very first international destination consultants for the then leading US-headquartered Relocation Management Company with a UK subsidiary. “I’m very fortunate, my whole career has tracked the development of the global world,” he says. He remains thankful but modest about being at the forefront of the history of relocation going global. And while it’s true that he was lucky to have found hiimself in the right place at the right time, the mobility industry was also fortunate to have found Avrom.

His drive, passion, commitment and innovation have underscored the development not of just the companies he has worked for, but global mobility as a whole. As an industry pioneer, he led the West into what was the politically distinct Central and Eastern Europe in the early nineties and he was a trail-blazer in China too, guiding Santa Fe in an advisory capacity to create destination services in China and what ultimately became Santa Fe Relocation Services.

As one of the relocation industry’s foremost experts on the China and APAC markets, he has been widely published and produced some of the industry’s leading research into the region including the 2008 SIRVA China Mobility Report, the 2015 Lexicon China Global Mobility 360 Report, as well as Dragons, Tigers and Talent: Global Mobility in APAC published in September 2012 and deep-dive white papers on China and India published in 2013 and 2014. He also contributed to the 2010 Asia Guide to International Assignment Management published by CCH. Avrom has also spoken at numerous forums and seminars, led panels and contributed his expertise to pieces in trade publications as he has witnessed and helped shape the evolution of global mobility in Asia.

Thus, when it came time to award our Outstanding Contribution to Global Mobility in Asia, Avrom was the natural, unanimous choice.

Avrom heads East

To understand how Avrom ‘arrived’ in Asia, we need to begin with his role in the Netherlands. He started in the industry working as an international destination services trouble-shooter for all of Europe on behalf of the then leading US RMC, and he learned the ropes through first-hand experience of the challenges of markets opening up and walls coming down.

In 1990, he established his own destination services company in Amsterdam. His vision was to create the first genuinely pan-European network covering not only the leading cities of Paris, London and Zurich but all of Europe. Mobility was changing, it was growing exponentially, but it was led exclusively from either the US or the UK. There were significant geographic gaps which fascinated Avrom and he wanted to close them. He saw the opportunity to create the differentiation he could and should offer in these exciting times; to develop new services and talent in new markets where demand was starting to unfold in an increasingly globalizing business world.

Avrom’s Amsterdam-based company became the first destination services company to operate across all of Central and Eastern Europe. He expanded rapidly, developing service capabilities in countries including Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and what was then Czechoslovakia. “Expat wives were the cornerstone at the time of DSPs programs in established locations such as London and Paris,” he says, remembering the heady days of exploration into these new markets, “but in these former Communist countries, as they opened up, there were no such individuals to be found, there were no established real estate practices or multiple listings systems. So we broke the mould and country-by-country I sourced reliable local professionals who came from their country’s tourism, professional services or government sectors and trained them as destination services consultants”.

Developing talent worldwide

For four years, until 1994, Avrom worked on this. He is extremely proud of the local people he found and developed – and delighted to find many still work in the field today – many of them now running their own companies. In fact, his efforts to create a genuinely pan-Europe network led him not only into additional European destinations such as Greece, but even further afield, into the Middle East where again, those former connections now run highly successful destination services businesses after getting their start working with him. Avrom’s commitment to growth and learning is apparent not only in own development, but in those around him too. He is an enthusiastic mentor and an advocate of regular training and development. He is giving of his knowledge, sharing experiences, thoughts and ideas without guile.

Avrom’s interest beyond Europe was piqued by a 1993 visit to China. “I got the China bug early!” He says, laughing. His enthusiasm for China was contagious and as previously mentioned, he was drafted in by Santa Fe to develop the blueprint for what would ultimately become Santa Fe Relocation’s destination services.

Next, Avrom began working in collaboration with Windham International which at the time were offering a unique blend of destination and cross-cultural services to create the GRP (Global Relocation Partnership). Windham contributed the Americas destination network while Avrom brought all APAC and EMEA members into the GRP network. In this role, he was introduced to Coldwell Banking Relocation Services. “At the time, they were the second largest RMC in the US, but their focus was purely domestic US. They wanted to go international…” And they did, with Avrom coming onboard as Managing Director of Global Networks. Together with a small handpicked team he built the worldwide destination services network known as GlobalNet in record time. In late 1997 PHH merged with Coldwell creating Cendant Mobility which was the forerunner of what would ultimately become Cartus. GlobalNet became the global destination services provider for Cendant. Following this successful transition, Avrom was chosen to become the first VP of Sales for Cendant outside the US, responsible for both EMEA and APAC from a London base.

A difficult choice

In 2001 Avrom was presented with a choice that would change his career: EMEA or APAC? Growth in both EMEA and APAC made it more realistic for him to focus on just one of these two vast regions. Remembering the excitement he had experienced in his 1993 visit and subsequent trips to China and Asia, he made his choice confidently. He moved to Hong Kong that year, transitioning in 2005 from his sales role into creating consulting services for Cendant Mobility in APAC. Yet, still, Avrom felt he missed something: he wanted to experience all sides of mobility services delivery. He had developed unique business plans, built destination services networks, marketed and sold successfully and worked with many of the best in the industry, but he had yet to manage and lead a regional operation for a sizeable RMC. He didn’t have to wait long though, as the opportunity presented itself in 2006.

SIRVA was looking for a Managing Director in Asia and the Middle East – just the kind of position that Avrom neede to fill what he saw as the gap in his CV. With consultants working out of allied offices in China (Beijing and Shanghai), Hong Kong, Singapore, Melbourne, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and a franchise operation in Tokyo, Avrom was drafted to consolidate all activities into a single regional operation and P&L for SIRVA. He achieved this with the help of a talented and dedicated team – so good were they, that when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, SIRVA in APAC continued to grow both top and bottom lines – while other businesses and regions suffered. The sustained global economic downturn, however, put a restraint on exploration and creativity as companies sought to consolidate and re-determine their strategies. For Avrom, being part of a culture of innovation and development of a consultative assignment management deliverables was key to his working life. Having acquired such a substantial body of experience and expertise across both APAC and EMEA he needed to put it into practice, so it was time to do so in a brand new environment. The organisation that would give him this opportunity was Lexicon Relocation.

Forward momentum

When offered the chance in 2012 to work with their then-President, defining and developing their global strategy and building their global capabilities, he jumped at it. “I haven’t looked back,” he says, the smile evident in his tone, “and with Lexicon, I get to keep looking forward.”

What is unique about Avrom is that in his long and distinguished career, he has only held a handful of positions and, perhaps more interestingly, he has never held a position where he had a predecessor. He has always been the first person in whatever position he has held, a true trail-blazer in more ways than one, operating with the spirit of a pioneer.

Avrom is a creative, intuitive person. He likes to push boundaries and to discover. It is what drew him to China, too, he took delight in the exhilarating speed at which the market developed and he readily absorbed all the energy around it.

“What gets me out of bed every day?” He repeats to himself while he considers why he has spent over 30 years in the industry. “It’s the global nature of what we do and the variety in what we do. Every single day is different. We work with, support and personally help individuals and corporations, across cultures and geographies. How great is that!?” Avrom’s enthusiasm is infectious. He finds wonder, still, in what he does. His innate curiosity, drive and knowledge set him apart from many of his peers: he is insatiable in his pursuit of learning and kinder, still, in how he teaches. “I suppose I find an enormous amount of satisfaction in being engaged with so many different cultures, industries and businesses on a continual basis. Nothing is one size fits all, nor should it ever be. It’s challenging and enlightening – global mobility ­– and I am sure that only very few industries offer that.”

As a man who helped usher the growth of the global mobility industry in both China and APAC as a whole, it is our great pleasure to honour him for the change and difference he has not only championed, but brought to the region. I ask him if there is anything people would be surprised to learn about him and he thinks for a moment. “I was really into electronic dance music in the 80s. I was an aspiring DJ. To this day, can you believe I have in storage in London a record collection over 1000 vinyls? I even had my own radio dance music program on Amsterdam radio once.” “You did not…” is my response. “I did so!” He confirms, chuckling.

If we’re lucky, the photos of the 2016 APAC EMMAs will include a few of Avrom on the decks.

Avrom was the 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Mobility award in the APAC region as given by the Forum for Expatriate Management. Avrom is Senior Vice President, Global Solutions at Lexicon Relocation and has long served the APAC market, particularly in China where he is a leading expert on global mobility. Congratulations to Avrom for his well-deserved win!

©2016 Forum for Expatriate Management (FEM). All rights reserved.

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