Farming the imperial motherland

Farming the imperial motherland

As our government prepares a campaign to attract Kiwi expats to return, IT executives say time spent overseas is vital for career development. Darren Greenwood investigates the Kiwi IT diaspora and what it means back home

For Paul Bryant, a Kiwi executive now based in London, the so-called 'brain drain' is nothing for our leaders to worry about. As head of technology for a City finance house, 32-year-old Bryant has found the streets of London 'paved with gold' and he intends bringing some home - one day.

New Zealanders, says the former Te Awamatu resident, have always gone overseas to work.

"They leave when they are relatively young and unskilled and they return with human (and liquid) capital they have developed or enhanced while away.

"I don't think NZ loses in the long-term from this. In fact, I like to see this as 'reverse colonialism', whereby the colonies are now farming the imperial motherland and returning the 'foreign riches' back home," he explains.

Bryant is one of more than 600,000 New Zealanders who live and work overseas. Around two-thirds of these are in Australia, with perhaps 200,000 or more in the UK. The rest are mainly in the United States and mainland Europe.

After positive net migration in the past four years, New Zealand again faces losing more people than it gains, and heightened pressure to win the global war for talent.

Studies by Waikato University say Kiwis will always return home one day, because the bonds of family and home are so strong. On the other end, some IT executives tell MIS tax rates and lower wages are affecting their homecoming decision, with a few claiming the weather is "better" in Australia.

To peregrines everywhere

Bryant's case is typical. He left New Zealand in 1998 for an "extended OE" and plans to return home one day, even if Auckland's booming house prices encourages people to stay away longer to "get ahead of the game for when they return".<p/>

"New Zealand is where your family, friends and preferred lifestyle is. However long you stay overseas, you will only have one real home," he says.

Until that day, Bryant happily heads a $10 million or so IT budget and a department of 30 staff. The role followed several years in IT risk management for CSFB Bank in London and UBS Warburg in Auckland and after finishing a master's degree in law, saying the UBS experience counted more than the degree.

Living in a Docklands apartment, Bryant admits the UK lifestyle is &quot;less balanced&quot; because there are fewer opportunities to surf, for instance. However, better pay makes up for this and while he faces &quot;relatively low incomes&quot; on his return, a better lifestyle will compensate.

A lifestyle, he says, more could enjoy, if the New Zealand government did more to attract technology industries here to support a skilled workforce.

Such lack of opportunity drove away John Emerson who started his career with Canterbury Frozen Meats in Christchurch in the 1960s.

He first spent 17 years in IT across Canada and the US, before returning to New Zealand in the late 1980s for family reasons, working for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Healthlink South in Canterbury.

In 2000, Emerson became CIO of Stanislaus County in California, a local body serving 500,000 residents, with a US$21 million IT budget.

Emerson says his "challenging role with more responsibilities" has been good for his CV and overseas experience is something everyone should consider to broaden their experience.

Working in California means a pay packet 50 per cent higher than New Zealand, with lower tax rates. It also offers lifestyle. "I can get to work in 15 minutes. I am in the mountains within an hour and I can be on the coast within two hours."

Emerson says returning to New Zealand is &quot;an ongoing consideration&quot; but disincentives include having fewer senior level IT jobs than 10 years ago. Higher personal and corporate taxes also prevent the country from gaining "a 21st century economy while retaining the best features of New Zealand life", he states.

Mark Willis, originally from Mangakino in South Waikato, is the new CIO of ANZ Bank in Australia, joining the bank after 12 years with Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong.

Willis says better education for his 10 year-old son helped him decide on the move, as well as ANZ as a company. The Melbourne-based bank, he says, was keen on his "record in meeting the challenges of managing technology globally".

Indeed, the "challenge of delivering solutions in a complex environment" is his driver. Pay follows delivery, Willis continues, but Kiwi pay rates slip further behind in the global race for top talent.

As for lifestyle, he says, that is "a manifestation of New Zealand parochialism" and it is no better here than elsewhere, as personal attitudes drive lifestyle, wherever you are.

Willis finds it hard to see himself returning to New Zealand, saying he prefers to play on the international stage and such opportunities here are limited.

This not just an IT issue, but one of "a more insidious flight of industry and creativity". So rather than target IT, the New Zealand government needs to do more to "make the country attractive to industry", he states.

Two years ago, Russell Jones, former chief of information technology at Carter Holt Harvey (CHH), transferred internally to a similar role at parent company International Paper.

Based in Memphis, Tennessee, Jones, 43, says he is actually UK-born (from Chelmsford, Essex) and came to New Zealand in 1997 because of his Kiwi wife.

Jones and his wife had worked in the UK for six years, with him previously as IT director of Sappi Europe - a South African-owned paper company based in London.

He joined CHH thanks to the "credibility, experience and specific skills" he gained from the London job. But after six years, he saw International Paper offering so much scope that the "opportunity was too good to turn down".

Jones notes business problems are similar the world over and it tends to be just size and scale that differs, so

Kiwi experience does count

"The relatively small size of NZ businesses means that you get to do and be involved in a lot more functions and projects than you would in larger com-panies. This leads you to have a wider range of skills than you would otherwise develop," he says.

Jones agrees New Zealand does not offer the &quot;best career development prospects" but ultimately people get paid what they are worth. If they are underpaid, it's their own fault and they need to "do their homework". If overpaid, you will soon be found out.

Moves are often dictated by the whole package of money, career development and lifestyle.

Consequently, there is little the New Zealand government can do, other than strengthen the wider economy to create top jobs. While citing low bureaucracy and red tape as a barrier to economic growth, Jones says the US does not necessarily have lower tax thanks to more state and local government taxes.

Jones "misses" New Zealand and hopes to return for "quality of life" but accepts a remaining working life of 25 years may keep him away.

"I think international experience is something every executive should try and get. Increasingly, the world operates as a global economy, so the more you understand about different places, people and cultures, the better your decisions can be," he adds.

The homecoming

Back home are Laurence Chiu, head of strategic planning at the IRD and Patrick Cole, MD of Auckland e-commerce company Corpendo.

Cole left for London 10 years ago in his mid-20s seeking a career change, and returned six months ago. He worked in the City, first for financiers JP Morgan, initially just filing and faxing, and then spent eight years at Deutsche Bank, eventually becoming director of global technology and operations.

The British work style is more structured, he says, but offers a greater depth of experience, size of projects and opportunity. The pay is also higher. So, he says, "make money then come home - the only reason I am back is lifestyle and family. Others will say the same."

Cole says the government needs to "sort out" the student loans system, help promote the country to skilled migrants and make New Zealand House in London offer a better service to potential migrants. And we should not worry about people leaving, as "they will always come back".

Of Chinese ancestry, Kiwi-born Chiu has worked in London, California, Australia and finally Hong Kong for IBM Global Services, to live close to his wife's Chinese family.

"I like the culture, the fusion of East and West, plus the money was very attractive. Taking the tax into account, I probably tripled my (New Zealand) salary," says Chiu.

Chiu found his Kiwi-Asian background opened doors because he was a foreigner who could speak their language, but it also caused problems because he did not work or think like the locals. Hong Kong working hours, he adds, were longer but "not focused and they overworked".

Now based in Wellington, Chiu believes overseas work experience is invaluable, but it is rather from experiencing larger organisations, the challenges they face, the perspectives they bring, and what you can learn from this and apply in New Zealand.

For Chiu, this means forging links and sharing experiences with senior IT people working for government tax departments in Britain, Canada, the USA, Australia, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

Chiu misses the excitement of Hong Kong but also fancies working in Brisbane and California "for lifestyle".

Money is not Chiu's sole driver. If it were, he'd be back in Hong Kong, but New Zealand pay lags global levels, while its higher tax rates are "disincentives".

Chiu believes the government needs to cut taxes and help boost investment in developing IT jobs, including at entry level. "IT skills are one of the most transportable around the world. No matter where I go, my skills are always respected, he says.

Andre Snoxall, CIO of Capital and Coast DHB, agrees about skills transferability. Snoxall, 45, is UK-born but went to Australia aged three and has worked for academic institutions, paper mills and mining companies.

He came to New Zealand in 1998 to work for Taranaki Health in New Plymouth, then the Dr Global medical software company, before taking up his current role in 2001.

Snoxall recently announced his resignation from the DHB, planning to head to the UK later this year. His wife aims to study there. He fancies the challenge of "achieving success in such a large market" and cites, "the UK [National Health Service] is investing real money in healthcare." He also wants to experience his own English born culture and believes he has &quot;the intellectual and visionary capital to succeed anywhere.

Snoxall doubts he will retire in New Zealand, but rather Australia, where &quot;I love and miss the heat, the flies and the humidity so much.&quot; His children also live there.

To attract people home, he says the government needs to offer things other states consider normal like decent superannuation schemes, longer paid holidays and to "get rid of the ridiculous student loan system". The country also needs to dump its "tall poppy compulsion".

"New Zealand and Australia are two of the luckiest if not the two luckiest countries in the world. You need to sell this and recruit the best people from overseas and then mine them for their skills and their experience," adds Snoxall.

'Selling' New Zealand through marketing and closer links with expat groups and recruiters looks set to head the government's impending campaign.

Richard Manthel, MD of recruiters Robert Walters NZ, says he has been speaking with Immigration Minister Paul Swain about the campaign, though neither will say in advance what it might feature.

However, bringing Kiwis home could be a hard task. Robert Walters in London is in close contact with 7000 Kiwis there. and has just surveyed 1200 of them, discovering what Manthel says are "alarming stats and major concerns".

While he declined to elaborate, Robert Walters released in March the results of a straw poll, which found a median stay of around four years for Kiwi expats, after which they return home for family, friends or lifestyle reasons. If money and career mattered more, the recruiter reports, they would go to Australia.

Million dollar baby

While the tech boom has yet to return, rich pickings beckon for IT executives with the right skills - and more so if they are in London and New York. Britain's Sunday Times newspaper recently reported rising IT salaries, of up to GBP234,000 for those controlling budgets in excess of GBP100 million. Those at the smallest firms spending up to a million earned just GBP50,250.

Furthermore, added benefits typically included bonuses (averaging 24 per cent of regular pay), private healthcare, con-tributory pensions and a company car or car allowance. And CIOs were typically generally satisfied or satisfied with their package.

Recruiter Robert Walters says in 2005 a CTO/CIO in Britain should earn GBP130,000 (NZ$340,211) or more. The global recruiter says UK pay rates have increased by up to 15 to 20 per cent over the past year and also offers other international comparisons.

In Singapore, a CIO should command S$250,000 (NZ$210,000) to S$450,000 (NZ$378,200). In France, an IT director would earn 60,000 euros (NZ$108,000) to 150,000 euros (NZ$272,000) according to experience. In Sydney, A$185,000 to A$300,000 is the going rate, compared with just NZ$130,000 to NZ$200,000 in Auckland.

Grant Burley of absoluteIT says Kiwi CIOs can expect NZ$100,000 to NZ$250,000 depending on their employer, role and budget, around 20 per cent less than Australia. Wellington has seen much recent 'movement' and people were coming home, but only for lifestyle, not money or opportunities.

In the US, the Walters salary survey shows modest increases for CIOs in 2004. Some 72.8 per cent earn US$200,000 to US$300,000, while CTOs command US$125,000 to US$300,000, with 41 per cent getting US$150,000 to US$200,000.

These US figures are boosted by cash bonuses. A quarter expect to get US$500,000 to US$1 million, on top of their regular pay, but just over half expect to get under US$200,000.

The Janco Associates salary survey in January 2005 showed mean salaries for CIOs growing a few per cent to around US$170,000.

But big bucks can be made closer to home. Across the Tasman, clearer financial reporting rules force corporates to identify their top earners. Thus, Qantas CIO Fiona Balfour is on a reported A$1.2 million package and Peter McKinnon of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia earns a similar sum.<p/>However, this pales into insignificance to Wall Street, where media reports say the finance houses pay US$3 million to US$5 million salaries, and some CIOs are even six million dollar men and women!

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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