by Martha Heller

Global Work Experience As A Career Boost

Jun 25, 20093 mins

Time spent working abroad can often provide critical experience and lead to great career opportunities. But making the transition isn't as easy as you think. CIOs share their experiences.n

At barely 25 years old, the CIO profession is still young. We can’t yet define a standard CIO career path, but we can identify some critical experiences. And working outside one’s own country is one of them.

It may seem easy: Convince the family it’s time to move, raise your hand for a plum assignment, pick up a copy of Saudi Arabia for Dummies and book your flight. But life as an ex-pat CIO can be harder than it looks.

Know your personal limits. In 1997, Curt Petrucelli moved from Pfizer’s U.S. IT organization to run European IT in Brussels. “With the company globalizing, I realized that I could not compete for senior roles if I never left New York City,” says Petrucelli, now U.S. CIO of AstraZeneca.

“My first step was to talk with my family about location,” says Petrucelli. “This way, when opportunities arose, I could be clear about my availability.”

Brussels proved to be the right fit for Petrucelli. He not only returned to the states with a broadened cultural perspective, he believes the experience was “one of the reasons I was hired for the AstraZeneca role.”

Acclimate before you manage. “The first six months is a significant adjustment as your family acclimates and you do your new job and maintain ties back home,” says Petrucelli. “If you plan for managing your time, it will help when the pressure hits.” Ten years ago Pieter Schoehuijs left his job with IBM in the Netherlands and moved to Texas as Flowserve’s IT director. Six years later, he became CIO of Engelhard, then BASF and then Church & Dwight in 2007. He’s learned to leave time to adapt.

“The culture of your company will be grounded in the culture of the country,” says Schoehuijs. “Arrive a few weeks early and get to know the culture before you start work.”

For example, you’ll want to learn the appropriate tone to take during performance reviews and how a particular country tends to handle letting people go. “There are cultural nuances that impact workforce management,” says Schoehuijs. “If you don’t get them right, you can cause problems.”

Mike Capone, CIO of ADP, joined the company out of college and rotated through everything from product development to finance to IT before being selected for a team needed to integrate a large, overseas acquisition. He suggests CIOs rely on old networks as well as build new ones while they settle into a new job overseas.

“You will face situations you’ve never faced before,” says Capone. “‘How do you set up call centers in central Europe? How do you attract local talent?’ I relied on my networks to compare notes.”

Capone found new relationships with tax, treasury and real estate locals. “People I had never worked with became my best friends. Take them out to dinner early,” he says.

Question everything. “You’ll find some deep cultural assumptions about what you can do with your operations,” says Capone. “People may assume a service doesn’t sync up with a country’s regulations, but have never checked. You may find a different answer.”

Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at ZRG Partners, an executive recruiting firm. You can reach her at or read her columns here.