Global hotspots

Aug 06, 2019
Some 4,000 Irish Chartered Accountants hold senior financial and management positions in 93 countries worldwide. In this article, members share their first-hand experience of working in the four corners of the world.

Vietnam

Name: Derek Stokes
Title: Finance Manager
Company: Mainstream Renewable Power

I work for a global renewable energy developer, which is currently expanding into high-growth markets in the Asia Pacific region. In 2018, I relocated to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam to implement a corporate structure for the Asia Finance Department and manage the finance and accounting for an 800MW offshore wind joint venture in the country. My overall experience of Vietnam is very positive. Understanding the cultural differences did take time, as doing business in Asia is very different from doing business in Europe. That said, the locals were very welcoming and helpful – notwithstanding the language barrier – and the quality of life is very comfortable. There’s a very active ex-pat community here, good quality accommodation and a range of high-end restaurants and bars. Vietnam is also an ideal base as it gives you the opportunity to explore the rest of the Asia Pacific region. If you’re considering a move, expect everything to take a lot longer to complete – systems and processes aren’t as advanced as they are in Ireland and sometimes, even the simplest of tasks can be quite protracted.

Canada

Name: Brian McKenna
Title: Operations Leader
Company: DeloitteEvery city I’ve been to in Canada has been fantastic. Toronto is one of the most, if not the most, diverse cities in the world. It makes for a culturally rich society, diversity of thought and amazing food choices. For me, the ease of transition to working in Canada came as a surprise. The fact that I had a common employer on both sides of the Atlantic certainly helped, but it was more than that; other than driving on the other side of the road, and that crazily cold first winter when the army ended up on the streets of Toronto to clear snow, everything related to integration came pretty naturally. Assuming you make the move, look for opportunities to engage in your local community as a volunteer. Canada is a rich volunteering nation and it is a great way of making a local impact, making new connections and paying forward in a country that will inevitably give you so much.

South Africa

Name: Eoin O’Driscoll
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Alphamin Resources Corporation

My time in South Africa has been a wonderful experience so far, both personally and professionally. I’m based in Johannesburg and work for a tin mining company that has just completed the construction of the Bisie Tin Mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the first conflict-free industrial tin mine in Congo. It didn’t come as a surprise, but the high crime rate in Johannesburg did take a bit of getting used to. Also, frequent electricity outages are the norm here. Overall, though, it is a fantastic place to live. You get 300 days of sunshine each year in addition to world-class health, education and recreational facilities. The outdoors lifestyle also makes it a great place to raise a family. If I had to give a fellow Chartered Accountant considering a move to South Africa one piece of advice, it would be quite simple – go for it.

Singapore

Name: Myra McSweeney
Title: Head of Finance
Company: The Working Capitol

It’s a complete 180 entering and working in Asia. Every nationality seems to be represented in the area but Singaporeans are very open to foreigners – it’s the most tolerant society I’ve ever experienced. It is expensive, though. There are small trade-offs like not needing a car because public transport is accessible and cheap. It’s also somehow cheaper to eat out than cook a meal at home! There’s also security in Singapore in every sense of the word. That said, most things in Singapore come with a hefty price tag. Rent is unfathomably expensive, clothes come at a premium and going out feels like highway robbery – but all of that contributes to a really high standard of living. That high standard of living has allowed me to rent a condominium in the central business district and I get to walk to work. I also live 10 minutes from Sentosa Island so I can pop to the beach anytime. That said, it can be difficult to find a role in Singapore as companies are required to favour local talent and have quotas for the number of foreigners they can employ. It will be easier if you can transfer with your current company but once you have some experience in the region, opportunities will open up.

Japan

Name: Lorcan Brophy
Title: Director of Corporate Strategy
Company: Walmart

I work for Seiyu Walmart Japan, a wholly owned subsidiary of Walmart. My overall experience of Japan has been extremely positive, but not without challenges. The Japanese are meticulous when it comes to planning and will not execute until everything is agreed upon by all parties – a plan will rarely change once signed off. Western people tend to take a more flexible approach to planning – executing much earlier based on a rough plan and updating as we go. Much of my time in the workplace is spent bridging these cultural gaps between Japan and our headquarters in the US. I was initially surprised by the level of safety in Japan – you can walk almost any area of Tokyo at any time without issue. However, I was disappointed that the country’s policy and action does not always match – despite huge efforts to promote meritocracy and equality, Japan can be slow to adapt and this results in lost opportunities. Japan in general is a very easy place to live and with 14 million people living in central Tokyo, the city never sleeps. But if you need to get out of the city, you can be half way across the country in just a few hours using the bullet train. If someone was considering moving to Japan, I would advise them to begin networking immediately – recruitment agencies offer little for non-Japanese speakers. Instead, consider reaching out to people in companies you like, through your network or directly through LinkedIn. Join professional groups such as the Chamber of Commerce or any networking events you see a value in. I met my boss at a business networking event; he shared his mandate for his three-year ex-pat assignment with me and thankfully my skills and ambition matched. We shook hands on a deal there and then.

USA

Name: Shane Scanlan
Title: Head of Finance
Company: Applegreen (now with Prodieco)

My experience in the States was fantastic. Applegreen’s head office was in Andover, just north of Boston, and I lived in Boston itself. At work, I was surprised by how slowly things are done. When dealing with a challenge, I found that Americans talk much slower than in Ireland, and lack the sense of urgency that I was used to when trying to resolve an issue. Outside work, rather ironically, I was surprised with how impatient many drivers are! The quality of life in Boston is very similar to that of Ireland, but things aren’t cheap. If someone was considering moving to Boston, I would say do it. It’s a great life experience but be conscious of where you live – the traffic is crazy in Boston, so a place near the underground would be optimal. Also, do all of the touristy things and make sure to travel but be warned, Americans don’t get sarcasm so be prepared for literal interpretations.

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