For those who have listened to our new podcast, Boomeranging: From Expat to Repat, you may have noticed an emerging theme amongst our guests. That being, how many repats have found their place back in Australia’s start up community. Be it starting their own business or in entrepreneurial rapid high growth ventures. This is either a result of realising that there isn’t a market for what they did overseas or out of sheer frustration of not being able to get a job because the local market doesn’t know how to translate their overseas experience.
One such guest was Jan McGrath who ended up in the Fintech space after her 20-year experience in card technology wasn’t of interest to the big four banks.
Like Jan, many repatriates I have spoken with have found success in these communities. So what makes this path an increasingly common one for expats? And why aren’t more Australian companies who “say” they are striving for innovation, not looking at this group of skilled entrepreneurs more seriously?
Whilst there’s no denying that the Australian market is considerably smaller and the number of senior opportunities are less obvious, many are finding the start up community and private sector welcoming their offshore experience. Global knowledge, international networks and first hand offshore market experience is proving to be the ‘golden ticket’ for many.
There is a long list as to why I think our returning expats are the key to unlocking Australia’s competitive edge and why they are so well suited to innovation cultures. The following top five skills and attributes include:
Measured risk takers
To move your life overseas, to navigate not only a new job but the day-to-day challenges of setting up home in a culturally different environment, making new friends, and simply ordering a beer in another language – takes a bit of guts and a whole lot of effort. Experienced expats are by nature, measured risk takers. Balancing both a desire for a career with the experience and challenges of living in another country, they rarely take the easy option and can weigh up short term pain for long term gain.
Someone who lives and works in another culture, is required to be culturally adaptive. They are aware of the need to be open and curious, to observe and enquire and know that different business cultures require different things. Returning expats bring insights, knowledge and experience of not only what to do or say (or not to) but when and how. It is this knowledge that not only helps organisations identify opportunities but how to do it in a timely and culturally inclusive manner that builds trust and buy in.
People who successfully manage the complex transition of life abroad know how to step outside of their comfort zone, reframe challenges and solve problems. Optimistic by nature, they invariably bring a high level of self awareness, strong sense of curiosity and are well equipped to remain calm under pressure. It is this high degree of resilience that sees many repatriates confidently navigating rapidly changing environments and cultures of uncertainty and volatility.
Like anyone with a significant career, expats and repats have networks and global ones. After they return home, most repatriates try hard to maintain friends and contacts overseas. For companies looking at growing in markets outside of Australia, these existing international networks often prove to be invaluable with local intelligence, connection and speed of entry to market,
Expats are still Australian – it doesn’t matter how long they spend overseas. The notion that an expat who has spent years overseas won’t fit in to the Australian market because they have been out of it for a period of time is nonsense. Australians living overseas maintain regular contact not only with Australia through friends, family and colleagues but with the Australian community in their overseas country. Expats become more global as they live overseas, they don’t become less Australian.