“I could have remained in Australia and taken a safer, predictable career path,” says Ian Griffiths, reflecting on the beginning of his global journey, which he embarked on some 25 years ago. “But I have always had an adventurous spirit and viewed the offer as a great ‘life’ opportunity.”
This particular offer Ian refers to is one decision to take a newly created regional role with Unilever Asia which marked the beginning of his extensive international career. Newly engaged to his wife Viki the pair relocated from Melbourne to Indonesia for 3.5 years (plus 2 kids), before relocating to Zimbabwe for 2 years, then back to Australia (twice), Indonesia (twice again) plus a stint in Malaysia – to mix it up.
Ian left Australia as a young gun Unilever graduate and returned 25 years later as a seasoned executive (with the scars to prove it). He and his family made the move home to Australia 18 months ago with their two sons, who grew up living an equally international life as a family.
Now based in Melbourne, Ian is the CEO of Signcraft and has worked in senior leadership roles in a diverse range of Australian and international markets with blue chip FMCG companies (including Unilever and Campbell Arnott’s).
He loved the experience of working on a global stage in high growth Asian markets, and all the challenges this presented as well as experiencing the rich cultural diversity across many countries – and having the opportunity to travel and see the world (while getting paid to do so!).
After more than two decades abroad, Ian’s repatriation journey was one of contrasts, but ultimately he felt a readiness to return home to Australia. “Once our children had finished their schooling in Indonesia they returned to Melbourne to attend university; this absence of family associated with aging parents became a driver to return home. The only reason we stayed a few years longer was in essence the difficulty in landing a Melbourne based professional role.”
However professionally, upon returning home, Ian says he felt like an outsider in his own country, as most people couldn’t relate to his international experience. After spending 20 plus years parachuting into markets – where international experience was a key element of why you were there – in Australia, the reception was not quite as warm.
On one hand, a professional evolution needed to take place: “I had to ‘re-think’ my value proposition as a professional and seriously consider a change of industry,” says Ian. “After many months of networking within FMCG I had to come to terms that the industry was now unattractive (shift in power to Coles & Woolworths) and that Asian market expansion strategy was still more words than action.”
But on the other hand, a profound sense of gratitude for being home near family, and enjoying the great Australian lifestyle, continues to anchor him to his decision to return. “On a personal level I have gained a great appreciation for the rich diversity of humanity and also an enormous appreciation of how lucky you are to be an Australian.”