Berna Anderson - recipient of FEM's Americas EMMA for an Outstanding Contribution to Global Mobility 2018

​A generous and inspiring mobility leader, Berna Anderson’s name was announced at the Americas EMMAs ceremony in San Diego, May 24, to great applause.

Like Comment

A generous and inspiring mobility leader, Berna Anderson’s name was announced at the Americas EMMAs ceremony in San Diego, May 24, to great applause.

Unlike all the other EMMAs which are solely assessed by a team of independent judges, this award, for the Outstanding Contribution to Global Mobility is in the gift of FEM and so it is particularly special to the team. 

Berna has been a valued judge at the EMMAs and an influential speaker at FEM’s global mobility events for a number of years. Born and raised in Germany, Berna’s family background is international and she says she always wanted to live abroad. Berna began her Global Mobility career with PwC and the firm provided her with the opportunity to move to New York when she was one of their Managers. From there she continued her career in the US, but included a few years in Switzerland where her in-house career was launched. 

At this year’s Americas EMMAs, Matt Burns, the 2017 recipient of the Award teased the audience with a few facts about Berna before revealing her identity. Following the news of her achievement I asked Berna some questions about her career so far: 

The crucial opportunity

Claire Tennant-Scull (CTS):
How did you begin your career in global mobility and did you know that such a thing existed when you started out from university? 

Berna Anderson (BA):
I knew nothing about Global Mobility or ‘International Assignment Services’ as it was called back in the day while I was at university. I thought I would become a CPA and my first job out of University was with a local CPA firm doing personal and corporate tax. Some of our clients were expats and I learned about double tax treaties and started developing an interest in this population. So, a little later, when I had an opportunity to work for PwC in their International Assignment Services I took it and never looked back.

You studied Business Administration at Frankfurt University, how did your experiences during that time inform your global mobility career?

I majored in Accounting, and still today sometimes situations come up where having basic accounting skills help you solve a problem, like reconciling numbers. Although it’s been a long time since I graduated and we tend to think that what we learn at University is not relevant to our career, it does provide you with a foundation of basic understanding across different business disciplines that you then build upon throughout your career.

How have the expats and assignees changed over the course of your career so far?  

It’s interesting that we talk a lot about different generations and how Millennials are different than the baby boomers. However, I do not think the expats themselves have changed a lot. Yes, they are now more self-sufficient and utilize different tools than we had 20 years ago, however, expats still have the same requirements. They want the process to be smooth and easy and want the best for their families. They worry about housing as their first priority as much as they did before. The new generation of expats might be more open to cash, however they still want the service, so we as GM experts are not seeing a difference in the services provided. I think the expectations have changed though, with technology and everything being at our fingertips, there is a higher demand for fast turnaround and immediate information. 

The importance of sharing 

You have generously shared your knowledge and insights at a number of FEM events for global mobility professionals, why is this important to you and what do GM professionals need to further explore or push higher up their business agenda? 

One of the things I enjoy the most is sharing knowledge and supporting others developing their career. When I see those who were on my team in the past in Mobility leadership positions today, it makes me proud and happy that I might have been a small part in their journey. Being part of professional events such as FEM does not only allow me to share my knowledge, but I always learn from others every time. Every question someone asks when I am on a panel provokes me to think deeper and gives me a different view point and ultimately makes me more knowledgeable, so it’s a two-way street.

As for what GM professionals need to do to further explore and push higher, I always tell my team members to network as much as they can. Keeping current and aligning with your peers is very important in our industry. Mobility is not learned from text books, it’s learned from what you see and hear and practice and how receptive you are to change. Besides staying current and developing the technical skills, being an adaptable, critical thinker and communicating fluently across all levels of the organization is very important. One thing that we often forget in support functions is to add business acumen to our agenda. I learned this later in my career when I realized that I needed to fully understand the products and services my organization provides, to be able to understand the business needs. It takes effort to learn this when you are not close to the action, but it makes you a much more valuable and strategic business partner when you can talk “shop”. 

At our Americas Summit in San Diego, you are taking part in a panel discussion about rethinking policy. Why is this particularly relevant to you? 

I worked in different industries and managed different kind of policies. Throughout my career Global Mobility Policies across the board have changed dramatically. When I started, everyone was on a home-based tax equalized program, one policy, one size fits all. Today, most companies put an emphasis on aligning the Mobility Policies with their business and talent needs and the culture of their organization which makes it more challenging but also much more interesting to design policies. 

Policies are the foundation of your Global Mobility Program. If I have learned one thing, then it is that you constantly have to change your view point and develop your policies as business changes. Every time I design a new policy and roll it out, I learn more about my organization and it helps me to better understand how mobility can provide better services to the business. Also, experience has shown that you need to be prepared, so that even if you have done all the benchmarking and analysis in the world, once the policy gets implemented there are always things that you did not think of, or that do not work as well as you thought, so changes or different approaches are inevitable. I think Mobility Policies are a sure constant for change given the ever-changing business landscape as well as compliance changes and I am excited to see what else is in store for us in the future.

Overcoming challenges to turn them into opportunities

What have been your biggest challenges in your career so far, how did you deal with them and what do you see as your greatest achievements?

I have been very fortunate that I have been able to work in different roles and different industries throughout my career. There have been many challenges of course, but at the core the challenges are the same for Mobility in most companies. Mobility is something everyone has an opinion on, and most outside of Mobility don’t fully understand the complexity. It is a constant challenge to educate stakeholders without being the policy police and sustain that education. At the same time, Mobility is 1% or less of the population and getting the attention and recognition that the sector needs is often very difficult. My greatest achievements have probably been to be part of great teams that worked together to overcome all these challenges.

What are the most important qualities of a global mobility professional and how would you describe the role to someone considering a move into the industry? 

If someone considers moving into Global Mobility they need to be comfortable with change and accepting of the need to challenge themselves constantly. Being a good communicator and listener as well as being empathetic is key. However, with the growing importance of data, being comfortable with numbers and being able to interpret them is also very important.
I always compare Global Mobility to an Octopus, we touch so many different areas of the organization such as benefits, compensation, tax etc. and are the key to bring it all together. It is a job where you never get bored and where you constantly learn new things.

A constantly changing discipline

How do you think the discipline has changed and how do you think global mobility can gain more recognition as distinct 'profession'?

When I started in Mobility, it was purely transactional. We were informed that ‘person X is moving from country A to country B’ and we applied our policy and sent them on their way. There was one policy and everyone was tax equalized and paid from one payroll. The highlight of our existence was to manage exceptions, that would be the only time we would engage with the business, if at all. Today, the expectations on both sides are quite different. As mentioned before, the role of the Global Mobility professional has changed from transactional to a consultative role. 

The process and Mobility operations is something leaders expect you to have figured out. What they really want to see is how Mobility is adding value with subject matter expertise and how Mobility can become a lever for talent development. Also, today with the automation of many processes and the utilization of outsourcing providers and shared services, Global Mobility is challenged more than ever to bring change and innovation to the table. With the change of the talent landscape and skills shortages all around, organizations change their strategies around hiring and retaining talent that has a knock-on effect on Mobility. Mobility professionals have opportunities to provide their expertise outside of the traditional Global Mobility role. With a more strategic approach, Mobility professionals get involved in “neighboring” areas such as Talent Acquisition and Talent Management to provide advice. 

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

I have to admit, I still like the fire-fighting! But what I enjoy the most is that every day is different and I never know what awaits me when I look into my emails. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and still every day I learn something new.

What the EMMA means

Finally, what does being given this award mean to you?  

It’s hard to describe what it means to me. I am very passionate about what I do and sharing my ideas and visions with others in our industry. I view myself as one of thousands and I am humbled that I was chosen for this award as there are so many fantastic and talented Mobility leaders out there. All the people I worked with throughout my career, my colleagues, my managers, leaders, vendors, they are all part of this Award and my thanks go to them.

Congratulations to all of our Americas EMMAs (Expatriate Management & Mobility Awards) winners. You can see the full list of winners here

Don't forget you can still enter the APAC EMMAs and the EMEA EMMAs

Go to the profile of Forum for Expatriate Management

Forum for Expatriate Management

Updates & Alerts, FEM

The Forum for Expatriate Management's (FEM) mission is to distill best practice across regions, industries and functions while providing valuable networking opportunities for knowledge sharing and program support. Through our multi-platform of content and events we are able to encourage dialogue and enable mobility professionals to unite, learn and grow.

No comments yet.