The success of Jotun in relocating expatriates to managerial positions in South East Asia is no coincidence. The ‘secret’ is the company’s high level of awareness and attention to the needs of not just the person, they are relocating, but in particular to the needs of his spouse and children.
Human Resource Manager of Jotun, Hilde Bettum, who is conducting this relocation programme, knows personally how important this is. She used to be an expatriate spouse herself for many years, when she was living in Kuala Lumpur together with her husband who was heading Jotun’s operation in Malaysia.
Jotun’s expatriates are almost only recruited for higher managerial positions, like country managers and regional managers. Other positions are usually filled with locally employed personnel. They may be Norwegians; but there are also several other nationalities working as expatriates within the Jotun Corporation.
Whenever a position is becoming vacant, the task of recruitment and relocation is handed over to Hilde Bettum at corporate HR, who starts the process. Normally the process will take about 3-6 months from start to end, but sometimes it is shorter and sometimes it can take up to 9 months, Hilde Bettum explains.
Three day seminar
When a suitable applicant is chosen, the corporate HR department, together with the local HR department, organizes an initial look-see even before the contract is signed. The next step is signing the contract, and then the real preparations commence.
The whole family is invited to a 3 days seminar on expatriate life. Here there are different groups for the spouses, for the expatriate worker and for the accompanying children. Two days are devoted to all sorts of practical matters in general, matters that apply whatever foreign country you are going to, like ethical rules, insurance, schooling, pension, and so on.
There will be a corporate lawyer present, who can explain all the legal and formal implications, especially to the accompanying spouse. For instance, what if she quits her job, how will this affect her rights in the National Insurance Fund?
One full day is spent with someone that knows their particular destination, and they talk about cultural differences, climate, and how to behave in the foreign country.
“The families really appreciate these seminars, they feel it is a good preparation for them”, Hilde Bettum says.
The seminars are compulsory for all staff before their first foreign posting.
Not too short – not too long
The contracts are normally for 3-5 years, as it is Jotun’s policy that these top managerial positions should change reasonably often. On the other hand, not too often, as the personal contacts are extremely important in foreign business.
“The first year are mostly used for adjusting and familiarizing yourself both with the country and the job, from experience we know it’s more or less from the second year the really useful work is done”.
Some of these contracts are extended beyond the initial 3-5 years, if everything works out fine for all parties involved. Jotun wants the higher managerial jobs filled with employees from headquarter, as this means better communication and more corporate control.
No repatriation guarantee
“Since 1998, nobody that applies for a job as an expatriate with Jotun is guaranteed a job in their home country, when the contract expires”, Ms. Bettum explains.
“In most cases they do get a job somewhere within the corporation, but not necessarily a return to where they started out, and not necessarily to the same rank”, she adds.
The fact that the spouses now have their own independent careers has indeed made a difference. Only 5 years ago it was easier to get applicants for their foreign positions, as opposed to now, where many of the younger families have both adults climbing the corporate ladder. This means less flexibility, which makes it more difficult to recruit expatriates. In some cases this has lead to commuting arrangements, i.e. he gets a trip home to Norway once or twice a month.
“Although we do prefer the whole family to go, because we think it is better for the family all together, but if that is not possible, we will have to make other arrangements”, she says.
One week with the ‘old’ family
Hilde Bettum says that the most important preparation is when the arriving family meets the departing family. Often they spend a week together in the foreign country, where the new family can ask endless questions; the “old” family can show them around, share all information that they can possibly think of, and generally ease them into their new situation.
The country managers meet with one another frequently; in their regional meetings. Ms. Bettum also meets with the local HR Managers twice a year. The more practical local aspects of the relocation, like visas, housing, car, children’s school etc., are handled by the local HR departments.
When asked if everything actually is as blissful as it sounds, she laughs; admittedly it is not, she says. She wants a more formalized debriefing when people returns, and she feels that they still could do a better job when it comes to the spouses.