Gareth Davies: Winner of the 2016 FEM Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mobility in the EMEA region

Gareth Davies, in common with many global mobility professionals says that he “fell into” the industry rather than setting out to join it and at the 2016 FEM EMEA Summit in London, this was an often-repeated phrase that was picked up by our closing keynote speaker Damian McAlonan.

Go to the profile of Claire Tennant-Scull
Nov 21, 2016

Damian, who as an award-winning communications professional advises blue-chip companies on their marketing strategy argued that this phrase perhaps devalued the specific skills and abilities that are necessary to thrive in such a diverse and challenging sector, but it could be looked at another way: In my short profile of Gareth Davies, the recipient of FEM’s EMMA for Outstanding Contribution to Global Mobility in EMEA, I said that like many of the best mobility professionals, Gareth set out on a different path, but it may be that it is this very experience of ‘other’ spheres of business, industry and life that gives the leading global mobility people the edge.

If we look at this in the context of public life, in the UK we now seem to have a generation of politicians who have largely spent most of their careers in the Westminster bubble, working first as researchers then advisors before standing as MPs – and the recent surprises at the polls can perhaps be partly explained as a reaction to their rather narrow experience of the hardships and difficulties of life. Contrast for instance, the generation that includes David Cameron, George Osborne and Ed Miliband, with those of the post-war generation of prominent politicians such as Aneurin Bevan, Dennis Healey and Lord Carrington who had worked in the coal mines or served in the military and lived through really tumultuous times and then used those leadership skills to push through radical change and far-reaching policies such as the creation of the NHS.

Gareth Davies would undoubtedly be embarrassed to be likened to such political titans – my personal experience of talking to and meeting him is of a quietly modest man – and his touching acceptance speech at the EMMAs bore out that impression. The cheers that greeted the announcement of his name though, also spoke of the industry’s great respect for what he has achieved.

Gareth Davies displays his EMMAs trophy presented by Carla Foden (right) Business Development Director at category sponsors, Sterling Relocation.

(also on stage is FEM's Head of Content, Claire Tennant-Scull and the evening's host, Shappi Khorsandi)

The building blocks of a solid career

As I mentioned that night, Gareth originally intended to study geography at university, so he displayed an early interest in the wider world, but equally, he also demonstrated the capacity to listen and to use his ‘commercial brain’, when he took advice from his mother and followed his father into Construction Management. Studying at Manchester University. “I was sponsored during my course and worked three six-month placements in the first three years of my four-year course,” he says, “so I had a guaranteed job with my sponsor post-graduation. I worked with them for a year but the lure of working for Arthur Andersen (seeing a job advert in the Sunday Times) was too great to resist.”

Gaining vital skills in the financial world

So after three years with Arthur Andersen as a senior international tax consultant, Gareth moved to PwC, where he worked in their expatriate tax consulting and international social security solutions businesses as well as supporting their international and domestic training courses to further develop his skills. There then followed a two-year stint at financial services company State Street, and it was here that Gareth really showed his capacity for tackling a challenge. The company had an immature mobility programme at this time, he says, and there were great market opportunities emerging in Europe and Africa, so it became clear that expansion was an imperative, so with characteristic can-do aplomb, Gareth drew on all his previous experience, acquired new skills and set about building a comprehensive programme.

In 2006 Gareth moved to Accenture and became the UKI Lead for Individual Taxes & Global Mobility where he headed the expatriate tax team and client service teams for UKI business. There he had two global lead roles including leading the Assignee Experience Centre of Excellence and lead roles for Human Capital Compliance and Integration connect with Accenture's M&A activity.

The irresistible appeal of an iconic brand

Five years later, the role of Head of Global Mobility at Rolls-Royce, one of the UK’s most iconic brands beckoned and since then he has moved thousands of highly skilled people across the globe, often to repair a stricken ship or plane – and so averted many a disaster – or at the very least a late flight. He says he is most often asked whether he drives to work in one of his company’s classic motors, but he says it’s “unfortunately” something far more modest. “It’s important to mention that the Rolls-Royce I work for is not the car manufacturer” says Gareth. “I work for the Civil & Defence Aerospace, Marine & Nuclear business that is R-R. The car business was sold some decades ago and is an independent business now owned by BMW.”

Facing global challenges on a daily basis

Asked what he thinks have been his greatest challenges so far, Gareth says “We GM professionals learn new issues and skills almost on a daily basis – especially given the broad range of technical, procedural and practical issues we come up against. To manage difficult issues in mobility, there are two pieces of advice I would give based on my learned experience. Firstly, often it can be powerful to elicit a rational answer from a challenging customer, to turn the matter round and ask them the question – what would they do in this situation? It can instantly change the tone and prove to be a game changer.

“Secondly (and the gravity of the matter must be wholly appropriate) but sometimes with complex mobility matters progress can be made by just doing and asking for forgiveness later. If the plan is well thought out, nearly always the outcome is seen in a positive way and so forgiveness is wholly unnecessary.

“I think the greatest challenge I have faced has been to introduce a new lower cost mobility policy here at RR. This very much challenged the paternal culture of the company. It took a long, and challenging 18 months, with a significant level of challenge from the business leads and assignees – but as a team we have fought through. It’s now our most widely used long-term policy and it is operating well with only the occasional grumble. The falling value of Sterling recently posed a problem but we intervened proactively and introduced protected split currency delivery to eradicate the impact. The team have faced up brilliantly to the many bumps and bruises and responded very professionally. I am so delighted to win the FEM Team Award for Large Programme of the Year as that is just what they deserve for every effort and commitment they have shown.”

Gareth at the EMMAs with representatives from the award-winning Rolls-Royce Global Mobility Team

Why Brexit is 'horribly fascinating'

So what does Gareth think will be the impact of the vote for Brexit on the policies and programmes that he has instituted at Rolls-Royce? “Mmm, I like to call Brexit ‘horribly fascinating’” he says ruefully. “’Fascinating’, because it will affect so many aspects of our lives, and ‘horribly’ so because people like me will have to deal with it!

“The outcome of the vote for Brexit will potentially have quite significant consequences for Rolls-Royce. So far we have captured 60 different business issues and prioritised these. To give you an idea of the complexities, a Rolls-Royce engine would typically be made up of around 30,000 parts – sourced globally with many from our European supply chain. The assembly process involves modular assembly with many cross-border transfers with value being added at each and every stage. For example, elements are assembled in Germany, then the partly-built engine will be shipped to the UK, for more parts to be added, then it could go back to Germany, then on to Spain, and back to the UK and so on… So you can see from this that the customs union and tariff implications alone are quite mind-boggling.

“Immigration policy also makes the top five most pressing issues, especially considering we have around 900 employees whom may be impacted if Right to Work restrictions are imposed. Our wish is that Freedom of Movement is retained, but as most resources we deploy across borders are degree, if not Masters, PhD educated, we expect that our employees would qualify under a visa / sponsorship regime. We are looking at the Global Immigration policy that Global Mobility own and considering whether we support permanent residence support to employees who qualify to remove any uncertainties. We are speaking regularly with the government’s Brexit Department in relation to our top five issues.

A talent for dealing with the unexpected

“Every challenge is an opportunity though! Brexit is not something that I would personally wanted – but it is providing great exposure for GM professionals.” In fact, this is an important point – if any one group of professionals had the skills and breadth of experience to deal with the unexpected – and the myriad implications of such a change, then global mobility people are surely it. So what kind of qualities do they need to do the job? “Creativity and innovation are key attributes. So are diplomacy and patience. We need to be good at saying No and Yes in the right measure. Finally, I’d also say that empathy and strong communication skills are essential.

“I have worn many hats during my 21 years of working with assignees. During my time at the professional services firms I found that for the first 10 years I had to act as a consultant and advisor to my customers. After moving in-house, I have needed to function as a leader and innovator to drive change and offer new support solutions. Many mobility professionals say that financial services assignees are challenging, but let me tell you, engineers give them a run for their money. They are extremely analytical and challenge every single detail of the policy or package – often trying to dissect allowances like Cola to the miniature, or putting back alternative interpretations of immigration or tax legislation.

“We also operate in some very challenging destinations, the most difficult of which are generally those where security risks exist. We have 1,500 globally mobile field service engineers that we can deploy and often, we have to send people at the drop of a hat ­– to repair a stricken ship off the coast of Africa, or a grounded plane somewhere in the Far East. Emerging markets offer great opportunities but it’s the high security risk locations that are the most challenging by restricting movement and many basic fundamentals in life that we take for granted. We monitor and assess risks for 10,00 or more employees who operate across international borders. We might not have to take action in the vast majority of cases, but we still need to be aware and ready to act if necessary.”

The changing nature of assignments and assignees

“The nature of assignments has changed significantly though, and the numbers at R-R have halved over the last three years. The Gen X that we hear so much about have high aspirations and expectations for their careers, but the consensus amongst my peers is that their desire is not so much for long-term deployments – more short-term international opportunities, commonly up to only one year. think that’s partly because younger people tend to be more concerned about their social lives, which at that point are generally built around their home or friends from university – who are usually at the same stage in their careers and personal lives. I think one of the biggest challenges for people like me is dealing with an ageing workforce – I think this is going to be a really significant issue down the line – especially in the UK where we already have a shortage of STEM skills. So a huge part of our job is gaining a better understanding of the key skills that we need, not just now, but in the future.

One of the greatest changes that I’ve seen in my career is the fact that in my role I am now influencing a change in culture and the expectations of assignees at R-R – moving away from a very paternal and what can seem an expectant culture to one where results and outcomes are driven by performance. Managing our assignees through this shift has been very tough, though very rewarding in equal measure. Especially as we feel we are now operating in the right ‘mobility space’.”

Getting stuck-in at the business

Within Rolls-Royce I represent HR in our Company’s Steering Committee Group – led by the Group President. It has given the function great exposure and in return, I have learned more about the business and internal workings in the last six months than during the prior five years. As mobility professionals, we need to change our language away from ‘International Assignments’ to cross-border mobility and take ownership for all cross-border populations. We have done this at R-R providing mobility solutions for Assignees, Business Travellers, Commuters, and Field Service Engineers and local hire immigration CoE. We have gained tremendous exposure as a consequence.

So does he have first-hand experience of life as an expat? “No, but I have undertaken a number of short-term projects in the US and Sweden and I have travelled extensively,” he says. “I work to live – and in particular to travel – having visited over 65 countries in all corners of the world. My favourite cities include Seville, La Paz, Rio and San Francisco.

Practical skills and running towards a challenge

“In my private life I just love to spend time with my family. I am very practical so enjoy DIY and taking on big DIY-Construction projects. Though, ‘Big’ may be a slightly exaggerated term. They perhaps are by some standards. So I will happily build walls, new patios, landscaping, block driveway, tiling floors etc. I have a garage full of power tools and its hugely satisfying to get stuck in.

“I’ve long been a keen runner and I love to do it – it gives me time and space to think clearly. I have changed many things in my life as a result of my clear thinking time. I’ve done three marathons in London and New York as well as some half-marathons and the Hell Run in Delamere Forest, where you’re ‘running’ through mud and across all kinds of terrain. It’s messy but I love it!”

“It’s messy but I love it” could perhaps be a kind of catchphrase for any ambitious GM professional. Being a Global Mobility practitioner is the kind of job where at times you have to be willing to get your hands dirty, to deal with unfamiliar and difficult terrain, and to just keep on going through sticky situations to complete the race – Gareth Davies is one who certainly will keep on running…

To see the full list of winners at the FEM EMMAs in EMEA, see our Winners page

Were you there? See the photographs of the EMMAs at the InterContinental at the O2 on our EMMAs Gallery page

To find out more about the global mobility industry's premier awards that take place in three regions across the globe, see our Events page

Go to the profile of Claire Tennant-Scull

Claire Tennant-Scull

Head of Content & Events Director, Forum for Expatriate Management

Claire Tennant-Scull is Head of Content and acting Events Director at the Forum for Expatriate Management (FEM). She chairs all FEM’s Conferences and Summits in the Americas, APAC and EMEA. Claire also leads FEM’s London Chapter and manages the FEM website and associated reports. Claire has more than 20 years’ experience in publishing, working as a managing editor, writer, journalist and broadcaster, both in the print and digital world. She has worked for major publishing houses and was previously the Online Editor at a respected global mobility publisher. Claire is always keen to meet new members and to broaden the FEM community.

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