Consulting Overseas – Where are the best places to work as a consultant?

One of the many draws to a career in consulting is the opportunity to travel while working with businesses across the globe. At some point in a consultant's career they may be required to work for an extended amount of time overseas or have the option to relocate to a different country. We spoke to four consultants about their experiences consulting abroad.

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Paul Davies, Partner – The Observatory (Asia Pacific)


How did you decide to work abroad?
My decision was based on an opportunity to open a consulting division of OgilvyOne in Hong Kong in 1993 (I was working at Ogilvy in London at the time). I hadn't been looking for a new role but when the opportunity came up I knew it was a rare chance to work abroad, with a job already provided and see some of the world.
What are the difference in business etiquette and manners in Singapore?
Business etiquette and manners in Singapore is not that dissimilar to the UK/Europe – I say that without having worked in Europe for over 20 years so that may be wrong now! Singapore is maybe a little more conservative at times and some things are a little more respected like the handing over and inspecting business cards the first time you meet. But Singapore has now become such a cosmopolitan city even these traditional manners and not always followed. I think one thing that is different is that confrontational or direct meetings are a rarity and 'giving face' is still important especially when dealing with Chinese business people especially. Business attire is one that is a little more relaxed in Singapore given the heat and humidity.
How do you keep up to date with work developments in your UK based office?
The Observatory Partners meets twice a year in person and in addition we have regular conference calls – so that tends to keep us in the loop on what's happening across all offices. Having two very open and communicative founders in the UK also helps hugely.
What are the pros and cons of working in Singapore?
Pros – Dynamic, growth, a desire to progress and improve (both staff and organisationally); multicultural, low tax rates, great holiday destinations on your doorstep and lots more including a great lifestyle.
Cons – Not that many I can think off. Late night conference calls, particularly with the US, were always a challenge given time differences. Whilst travel is a good thing the size and scale of Asia means that travel can be a huge proportion of your role and that ultimately means a trade off to a regular life.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work abroad?
Always visit beforehand, ensure the terms are right and you know what you are walking into – i.e. the culture of the organisation, style of your boss, etc. This is especially true if you are joining a local business rather than a multi-national. Make sure you (and if appropriate your partner and family) are prepared to be open, try new things, give it time and be committed. A lot of it is about attitude. Be prepared (especially if you are not that social) to go out and make a life outside of work and meet new people.
What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you have learnt?
Many, but one that always struck me when I first came to Asia was the formality of meetings in very traditional (local) Korean and Japanese meetings. The seating positions, the bowing, who speaks and who doesn't and more.


Michael Hill, Regional Director, EMEA – Quest Worldwide
How did you decide to work abroad?
Quest is a global management consultancy. We have undertaken client assignments abroad for the last 25 years. We probably first worked in Africa 10 years ago. For the last 15 years I have done consultancy internationally; mainly in Europe and the USA. I enjoy working with different cultures in their local environment – a part of life’s experience I guess. I choose Quest because of the type of work they did, their size and international dimension. Working more in E. Africa and the Middle East really makes it an interesting job – always learning.
What are the difference in business etiquette and manners in East Africa?
Politeness and patience is very important. Being overly pushy or openly very opinionated is counter cultural. Challenging a client’s points of view needs to be done extremely sensitively. They appreciate challenge, but in a non-aggressive manner.
How do you keep up to date with work developments in your UK based office?
We keep up to date with work developments by the usual means (calls, e-mail, etc). This is not an issue in cities.
What are the pros and cons of working in East Africa?
Pros – extremely pleasant, willing, professional and very intelligent clients. It’s a delight to work in the Region.
Cons – decisions can be slow, but once made they want immediate action. Getting workshop materials through customs is painfully slow.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work abroad?
Just do it – the experience is great.
What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you have learnt?
Getting a group of 15 senior executives to interact in a workshop environment is tough. Split the same group into sub-groups of 5, they will not stop talking! As well as first-hand experience, I’ve observed the same reaction with other consultants from South Africa; which completely through them off track!


Julian Farrell, Business Development Consultant – Huthwaite International

How did you decide to work abroad?
It’s driven by the demands of the client. The latest piece of work was to work with the Australian division of a European company we’ve been working with for a while.
What are the difference in business etiquette and manners in Australia?
There are minimal differences. The culture in Australia is certainly one of intense work, at a fast pace… probably because they know they can head to the beach in the evening and at weekends. It’s also been a different economy with their proximity to the ‘developing’ markets of China and the wealth of mining resources that Australia have been exporting in recent years. Although I understand that might be slowing down a little now.
How do you keep up to date with work developments in your UK based office?
Email and strategically planned phone calls.
What are the pros and cons of working in Australia?
If you’re there on a short term assignment the jet lag can be difficult to work with, as can the fact that you are often managing client engagements from this side of the globe as well. However, the outdoor culture and the array of things to see and do soon make up for that. As does the fact the Sydney is an amazing city and there aresome great restaurants!
What advice would you give to someone looking to work abroad?
Go and do it.
What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you have learnt?
How little coverage The Ashes was getting at the time.

Tom Gowing, Corporate Strategy & M&A Manager
How did you decide to work abroad?
The nature of the work that I do, focussed on M&A transactions (e.g. due diligence, target screening, post-merger integration, transaction and divestiture support) tends to be cross-border in nature, with buyers and sellers often based in different geographies. The opportunity to travel and work abroad was one of the key attractions for me to get into Consulting, so specialising in that sort of work provided the most opportunity to get out there and get some diverse experience. I think it’s probably a lot harder to do as you progress through your personal life (settling down, having a family etc.) – so I decided to do it in my earlier years in the industry wherever possible.
What are the differences in business etiquette and manners?
Obviously this depends on the country, and I don’t necessarily think that you have to work abroad in order to get an education in this. In fact, the biggest cultural education I’ve had was working on a project in the UK, but for a far-Eastern client. The culture from “Head Office” was so strong that in permeated even the leafiest suburbs of the UK (although the canteen food was excellent)
The biggest variance that I’ve observed is in decision-making processes. Some cultures seem to default to decision-by-committee, others are more autocratic in style, whilst others seem to be incapable of decision all-together (Consultants especially love the latter – plenty of opportunity for work) – but it’s hard to define if this is a geographical culture or a corporate one.
It’s important that you leave your stereotypes at the door with this sort of thing. Whilst many of them may actually turn out to be true (I never quite got used to the levels of German work ethic at 7.30am), many are simply dependent on the individual characters you come across.
How do you keep up to date with work developments in your UK based office?
Most of my engagements have been within a 2-3 hour flight, so I’ve tended to work abroad Mon – Thurs where possible (bar a few crucial client meetings which couldn’t be moved) and then spent Friday working in one of our London offices or working from home.
Where I’ve been further afield, there’s always e-mail. It’s no different to being on a non-London UK project.
What are the pros and cons of working in the country you’ve been working in?
To provide a few examples:
  • Paris: Amazing hotels and restaurants, but I found the taxi drivers to be worse than useless (albeit, we’re rather blessed when it comes to London cabs)
  • ​Switzerland: Going for a run around Lake Geneva of an evening and having a view over Évian-les-Bains is rather nice, but the price of food is extraordinary
  • Norway: I loved the people, but there aren’t too many hours of sunlight in the winter months!
What advice would you give to someone looking to work abroad?
Don’t be too fussy – even the most bizarre locations make for great stories come the weekend.
Make sure you know what you’re getting in to in terms of time commitments and the amount of fly-backs or flexible travel that you’ll get – a 4-week stint or a 4-month project with weekly fly-backs has a much smaller impact on your life than year-long engagements or ones where you’re a 12-hour flight from home.
What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you have learnt?
  • I learnt to sleep on planes (in economy, and to wake up for the 10-minute period where breakfast is served)
  • I learnt to like airline breakfasts
  • I learnt that smiling nicely at, (a) the fast-track security person and (b) the hotel check-in person, can improve your day faster than pretty much anything else
(All views are those of the employee, not the employer)