An interview with Robert Horsley
After Robert's win for Outstanding Contribution to Global Mobility in the Americas, FEM sat down to speak to the man himself.
Time is called the currency of life. As a result, you must be careful to spend it wisely. Robert Horsley is aware of that and his time is spent, therefore, as shrewdly as possible: achieving more, transforming everything, pushing boundaries and, most importantly, with his family. He also sat down with the Forum for Expatriate Management recently, sharing his insight on the industry as it stands, discussing the future he sees and reminiscing on his past career as he has gone from strength to strength, improving Global Mobility around him with each step.
Robert can fondly recall a conversation with his father, an influential accountant: “I looked him in the eyes and I said to him: ‘I will never travel as much as you’.” He laughs about it now, having racked up enough flight miles that he is as well known in airports by flight crews around the world as he is in the halls of our industry’s events, but at the time: he was serious. He had dreams of remaining rooted and, to be honest, he has. He’s just branched, sharing bits of him across industries and regions while remaining firmly in California with what matters most: family.
His career began in business, not law or immigration as some think, and as a result he brings an entrepreneurial mind-set to his position as Executive Director for Fragomen
With the help of those around him he realised what he was good at and what it was he wanted to do. He found himself reporting on what had happened, instead of what he wanted to do, which was to focus on the future and the strategies of how to get there. So, he pivoted from auditing to consulting and Corporate Finance in the newly conceived investment banking practice group within the Big Four. It seemed a natural fit: high octane, analytical, strategic, people facing, constantly evolving. Robert and that team revolutionised that industry, making their consultation about how businesses could not just change, but also invent. It was here, while working in the investment banking space, Robert was introduced to the man who would bring him into Fragomen.
“I fell in love with the space from the first conversation. It was about helping people and business at the same time.” Robert pauses. I seized the chance and asked if he still believes that, after so many years at helping to lead the Firm. “More than ever I believe mobility is the future of business. In a world that has moved to include an increasingly large talent pool, a migration mentality is critical - for people and for businesses. The human capital flow is now more than ever a highly talented group who don’t view borders as obstacles.” You can hear the smile; his passion for what he does is evident. “And in my role? I get to be at the front of that, working with the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the business to bring it to fruition.”
What strikes you about talking to Robert, even before you get into his achievements, is how dedicated to service he is. No matter what he has accomplished, he is humble: deferring success to other people, thanking the multitude of talented individuals who help lead Fragomen and, especially, acknowledging his friends and family for their support. He’s also committed. Not just to Global Mobility, sharing knowledge and a vision for the space as a whole, but to what he does ultimately: working with organizations to ensure they can leverage mobility in a way as he often says “moves the needle for the business at a velocity that matches the pace of today’s world.”
“When I came into Global Mobility, the world was a different place. It was transactional: you brought people in. Doing that really well and with scale was what the industry wanted. It allowed people to offer more valuable services and products to the buyer, but we have evolved past that. Now it’s about the strategy of moving the talent flow … as you move, where do you play? How do you leverage this amount of talent and their education? How do you harness people and focus it on your business ambition?” Robert believes it’s about a deployment and acquisition mind-set and immigration is the tip of that spear. It’s part of the ‘weapon’ for combat, but he’s not just an immigration thought leader: he’s a key advisor on Global Mobility. The question he is working on solving? “How do we move our industry from a tactical caregiver to a talent deployment strategist?”
Robert sees this as necessary because we are in the human capital revolution. We have moved past who can build (industrial) and where to invest (capital) instead into a combined ideal of who and where (human capital). This is often referred to as right person, right place, but Robert sees it as more than that. To him this evolution is all about people, not just money. The right person isn’t necessarily a cost exercise, it’s truly about who can deliver hyper value in the place you need them. As the world is moving into this, he finds it exciting: “It’s about how do we have the best people, how do we keep them and how do we get them there when we need it? What’s fantastic is those of us who work in mobility have a role in all three.”
I bring up the idea of retention and how critical it is right now. There is talent, but there is a global talent mismatch between where the supply and demand are. “To answer retention, we need to look at how we engage people. People want different things. Look at the Millennials. How do we expand people’s skill-sets and leverage them, without the old notion that longevity in a role or organization is paramount? Technology and massive amounts of data play a key role here but so is the Mobility professional and their ability to access that knowledge and turn it into power for their organizations.” Robert sees Global Mobility as not just a strategic partner to the business, but as an enabler: driving the movement, engagement, retention and champions of the organisation’s talent as a whole.
Adds Robert on the topic of the Global Mobility professionals: “Mobility professionals are the trusted sources which can then inform the business decisions. It’s a skill-set; we know how to interpret the data and face with people, it’s a rare talent. We’re becoming much broader in our skills and being able to turn information and knowledge into power and therefore more valuable. We know the why and the how to interpret both human communication and data. Leveraging this position in your organisation will allow those of us working in Global Mobility to influence more.” That said, as an industry we need to make sure we are helping people attain those skills and articulate them to a higher level of the business.
As someone who has sat at the forefront of the changes in the industry over the last few decades, I ask him where he thinks the industry is going. Robert is a champion of transformation and keeps his finger close to the pulse. There is a lot of talk about the future: will Global Mobility exist in five years? Is it going to be folded into a broader concept of Talent Mobility? His take: “We’ll move away from the aggregation model of bundling, to an open highly integrated one of core competencies both inside organizations and service providers. It’s a consultative approach at its core for those who have access to real data and the ability to communicate. Business is going to be more about the real line of expertise.” He doesn’t believe Global Mobility, as is traditional, will disappear, but he does think: “You have to pivot and adapt. You need to be willing to examine who you are and have the flexibility to learn and deliver as the market changes.”
The one thing he does think will change, and will do so immediately, is that as the world becomes increasingly more connected and transparency improves there will be less of a silo. As a result, more parts of the business will look to Global Mobility. This means more scrutiny, but also more opportunity. The Global Mobility professional of tomorrow will be the one delivering the employee experience. What Robert cares most about inside his position is how to help people and companies achieve the best at what they do. It’s at the core of why he joined Fragomen and why he has remained for 23 years, helping envision a path for both employees and clients and ensuring they deliver the highest quality while solving problems day to day, year to year for people. “We work with businesses, but this is a company about people on all fronts.”
Robert stands for four things in his position: collaboration, connection, integration and transparency. These are the tenets in which he makes decisions for himself and professionally. He believes in investing in his people and encourages them to keep their eyes open in all areas of their lives, try new things, learn more and develop. The divide between service provider and in-house professional is lessening. “Global Mobility has to be a highly integrated ecosystem. People want to be important, to have an impact. We need each other.”
One of the things he is most proud of in his tenure is bringing technology increasingly into Global Mobility. From his vantage point in Silicon Valley, he has seen new technologies rise and fall and he is considerate about which to implement. Robert believes: “Technology is critical for how we share information. It should be integrated, comprehensive and relevant to four different stakeholders: the employee, the business, the Global Mobility professional and the supply network. And yet, it must be personal. It has to work on the people level, as well as the engineer level.” The business of people is what we do. Even our data and the way we interact with technology must reflect that to Robert. “Technology is not a transaction. It isn’t just data strings. It’s knowledge. It’s powerful. I’m very proud of how I have helped implement technology as a standard part of Global Mobility and how we look to make data a more powerful predictor.”
We go back to the Millennials, of which his children are part. He tells me while he is proud of his role in spurring the industry onward, he’s most proud of them and what they have accomplished. And, he must admit, he’s really proud when they tell him: “Dad, you always know what is next before we do.” It’s a delightful sentiment and it wraps up everything about Robert: a man deeply committed to what’s next, but fiercely loyal to where he is.
Robert was the 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Mobility award in the Americas region as given by the Forum for Expatriate Management. Robert is Executive Director at Fragomen Worldwide and has been a wonderful champion to Mobility. He is also an executive committee board member for Worldwide ERC. Congratulations to Robert for his well-deserved win!