“Plan, plan, plan, and do your due diligence long before you actually come home,” advises John Weste, as he reflects on his international life of more than 20 years. “If you’re thinking of returning to Australia, know that it’s not going to be easy. You need to start preparing a long time before you return.”
John is no stranger to both the challenges and opportunities that come with expat life and returning home. Having returned to Australia twice over the past three decades, and in between, he has lived and worked in Europe (including the UK), the Middle East, and Asia, and managed international consulting and technology teams in countries across the globe from Chile to South Africa to the United States.
He is currently managing partner and director at privately owned corporate advisory and consulting firm, The Richelieu Group, and lead partner heading up the C2 Angels and C2 Ventures at C2 Capital. He has held senior leadership roles with some of the world’s leading consulting and advisory firms and continues to collaborate with partners around the globe to systematically build and transform corporate entities, and more recently, to advise early stage technology-based start-up companies on strategy, investment, capital management and growth.
The international seed started way back in the late 1980s while completing his MBA where sage advice at the time about the value of international experience really struck a chord. Early international exposure with Arthur Andersen, a work opportunity in the early 1990s when NAB (where he was a senior manager) acquired Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks, and major changes in international politics stimulated by the fall of the Berlin Wall prompted John’s first move abroad. After early reconnaissance in late 1992, John finished at 500 Bourke Street on the Friday and started work at Mustek 9, Prague on the following Monday – a significant change for John and his young family.
Over several years with many challenges and highlights along the way, John and his team grew the Arthur Andersen business consulting practice rapidly to form a major regional consulting group across central and eastern Europe with more than 70 professional staff across 12 countries. He was also a member of the wider leadership team that built a high growth and profitable business across the region during a time of significant change and transformation.
He recalls how repatriation journeys are challenging for many international workers, and how businesses have difficulty retaining staff after overseas assignments. “In 1998, when considering a move from Prague, I observed that a lot of the Arthur Andersen returnees to the US left the business within a year of returning home,” says John. “The team were exposed to such a dynamic environment working abroad, and that unless somebody understands the value of this global experience at home, it can be difficult to re-settle.”
In 1998 John and his family decided to relocate back to Australia, a great decision for the family but disastrous from a professional perspective. John remembers well the lies and half-truths about the condition and culture of the consulting business at the time and rues not drilling down in more detail on the ground prior to making the decision to return. “I guess the history of Arthur Andersen is now well known!” adds John.
Another return from Singapore after 3 years in the late 2000s was also less than satisfactory. “Looking forward to settling in for the long term in your hometown is always appealing but you need to balance high emotion with a more pragmatic professional approach. Once again you have got to do your due diligence to sort out fact from fiction and most importantly the personal dynamics.” says John. “Rarely does Australia offer anything like the dynamic challenges and opportunities that are on offer in an international environment.”
John offers the following solutions to the returning home journey, including “constantly updating and maintaining your contacts and networks in multiple markets, including those on home turf, documenting your international experience – personal and professional and how it may be applied in the Australian context, and actively seek out people and organisations that understand the value 0f international experience and expertise. It may take a little longer but well worth the effort.”
Since returning to Melbourne in the late 2000s for the second time, now more than a decade ago, John has made a point of keeping his global connections up to date and relevant, both in Australia and overseas, as he continues to work and consult internationally.