The Secret Diary of a Global Mobility Manager: A call to save the CEO

by Gina Tonic

Expat Academy The Secret Diary of a Global Mobility Manager: A call to save the CEO

Sometimes, as a Global Mobility professional, you feel like you are a prophet of doom crying out loudly on the street corner about some impending judgement, while the passing crowd laughs, stares or even politely ignores you. You preach diligently about what should – nay, must – be done, but your words fall on deaf ears. Until of course, something goes very, very wrong.

An unexpected call

This tale comes from a few years ago. I was enjoying a work from home day, no fires were burning, and I was steadily chipping away at the day to day tasks of assignment management and overflowing email inbox wizardry. My equilibrium was disturbed by my mobile ringing. It was my Mobility Director. As we all know, a phone call from your Mobility Director is not necessarily a good thing, especially when you already have regularly scheduled conference calls with said Director, and impromptu connects are not the norm.

Bravely swallowing my rising sense of panic, I answered the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hi Gina, do you have a few minutes?” he asked.

No I don’t. But I can’t really say that, can I?

“Sure!” I replied. “How can I help?”

“I need you to speak with the HR Director in Malaysia. The CEO needs some help and I don’t have full context. I’m not going to be available for a few hours, but Ahmad* can brief you. Can you call him right away please?”

To borrow from Lewis Carrol, this was getting curiouser and curiouser.

I picked up the phone to Ahmad shortly after my Director hung up, and he wasted no time in answering.

“Gina!” he said, “We have a problem and I was hoping someone in Europe could help. John Adamson* – yes, the CEO – is in Italy right now meeting with clients, and he’s scheduled to travel with them to India today! The problem is that his visa has expired.”

“Why didn’t he renew his visa from his home country before travelling to Italy?!” I asked, thoroughly frustrated.

“I don’t know, but I need you to call him and let him know what we can do to help. Here’s his mobile…”

Aha. So that was it. I was to call the CEO, our great and noble leader, and tell him that there was nothing we could do for him because he had not followed due process and didn’t check with us about his trip before he set off. It simply wasn’t possible to get his visa renewed on time. Brilliant.

Time to talk directly

I called the CEO and heard the quiet distress in his voice. I tried to be reassuring. I tried to show him what a consummate professional I was, and how fantastic our team is, all while delivering the message that he would have to miss the trip to India because there was no way he’d be able to get a visa on time. I didn’t tell him that he had been very negligent and really should have checked with us in good time so that his visa could have been renewed. I didn’t scold him at all. I even refrained from pointing out that if he’d followed the travel guidance we’d painstakingly issued over the previous months and years, he would not be in the embarrassing position that he was in then. I valued my career progression too much.

Instead, I told him how long it would take to get the visa and what next steps he had to take so that he could contemplate rescheduling the trip with his client. My brush with greatness lasted for less than 2 minutes after which he thanked me absent-mindedly, and hung up.

I never did hear back from the CEO. I suspect the trip itself went ahead without him. What I do hope is that he learned and passed on the lesson to others, that it pays to listen to advice from one’s Global Mobility team. The odds are good that he did, because from that day until now, I never received another “save our CEO” call again.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent

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