At what stage in your career did you go on secondment?
I joined Baird in October 2007. I started as an analyst in our M&A team, then progressed to associate level, and about 18 months into that role, went on secondment to the bank's headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I spent two years in the US, working primarily in the industrials team with clients all over the country. Much of my time was spent on the road, meeting with companies everywhere from Georgia to California.
I'm now back in the UK and am a vice president in our M&A team. When I did my secondment three years ago, it was less common for our junior staff in the UK to travel to the States - it happened much more often the other way round. Nowadays, though, there are more opportunities for people who join the London office to go to the US, Asia and Europe, and I would wholeheartedly encourage it.
Did you find that the approach of the M&A team in Milwaukee to their work differed from that of the UK team?
I found that the American attitude to work is vastly different to our own. For instance, if you're about to embark on a large project, the British will spend weeks or months planning, considering every eventuality. After all the planning is done, they decide to start. The Americans prefer to see immediate progress: they start pushing forward immediately on it and if they encounter a problem, they fix it as they go along.
When I first went, I would be asking: ï¿½Have you considered X, Y and Z?" and the American response was: ï¿½We'll address that before it becomes an issue, but it's not preventing you from making progress today, so keep going." The attitude seeps into general office culture too. It creates a positive atmosphere. They like to get on with business, rather than dwelling on things that might not happen. In a way, it's a more efficient way to work.
How did the work itself differ?
Teams in the US work in the same sectors and industries as those in Europe and our job in both the UK and the US is to give our clients the best advice possible. However, I noticed a big difference in the way client relationships work in London and the US. US clients tend to view their advisors as being the experts and they trust the advice for which they're paying.
In Europe clients seem to prefer a more consultative relationship with their advisors, which maintains their participation in the process and ensures they have an informed position when making decisions.
How did you adapt to the lifestyle in the US?
It took me a while to get my head around their sports! Football as we know it is a minor sport in the US. Depending on which town you go to, you'll be immersed in either American football, baseball or basketball. In Milwaukee, it was American football. It's pretty much all they broadcast over the weekend and you have to get involved to participate in the office chat on a Monday morning. But considering sport is so intrinsic to American life, I found that becoming interested in it enables cultural barriers to be broken down so that you are viewed as less of an outsider.
While the car is hardly an alien concept in Britain, I was taken aback by just how significant it is to American life. Anyone living in London would get a bit of a shock when they see how much it's used outside of the larger cities like New York and Chicago. It doesn't matter if you're going to get a pint of milk for your tea or going to work: people drive everywhere. So I'd say the differences in lifestyle weren't drastic, but interesting nonetheless.
What are the benefits of doing a secondment for both Baird and the secondee?
From a personal perspective, you get to experience a completely different attitude and way of working. When I returned from the US, I felt I had learned a lot and I was able to combine the way I worked before with the more proactive American style. I would encourage anybody who has a chance to work in another country to try it. While it's easy to communicate with people in another office via email and phone calls these days, there's no substitute for experiencing the subtleties of another culture first-hand.
From Baird's perspective, it's a great way to build bridges between our people in different locations. In our increasingly connected world, Baird has offices all across the globe and it's important for all of us in these offices to interact with each other to share sector knowledge and so that we can work together seamlessly.