I’ve had great experiences at Grant Thornton, but the most exciting was an 18-month international assignment (known in the firm as a secondment) in Singapore.
My wife Jessica and I celebrated Chinese New Year with my co-workers, and I was welcomed to join the company soccer team.
The idea to work abroad came during an international cruise my wife and I were taking. Grant Thornton has offices all over the world so, I thought, why not really go overseas? I brought it up to my wife, who asked, “Can we do that?” As it turned out, we could.
After receiving approval from Grant Thornton US, my wife and I flew to Singapore. We stayed there for 18 phenomenal months.I talked it over with our office managing partner. He said he’d check into it, though he warned me that usually secondments are granted for levels above mine. Then, within a week, an email came from the Singapore GT firm. Tim Braun, a partner, was overwhelmed and needed someone with public company experience to come help him with audits. I forwarded the email to my wife, with the message “What about Singapore??” Tim and I talked that night for two hours. The more he discussed the position, the more it sounded like a great opportunity. I interviewed for the position, and an offer was extended. After receiving approval from Grant Thornton US, my wife and I flew to Singapore. We stayed there for 18 phenomenal months.
There’s a lot to explore and adjust to in a country so different from your own. The first adjustment for us was condensed living. Singapore is an island country about the size of the city of Chicago but with more than twice the population. We had a bedroom in an apartment shared with four other people. Since the kitchen was used as a common area, we’d often walk to local restaurants or food courts for our meals.
A meal in Singapore can cost anywhere from $3 to $300 at restaurants that are usually right next to each other. For convenience, we would usually eat at a food court. In the United States, “food court” means an area with commoditized McDonald’s, KFC or any other type of fast food. But that’s not how their food courts operate. All of the food courts have multiple stalls, and each stall is owned and run by a family. Stalls typically specialize in a cuisine and have five to 10 food choices. Each offers a different type of authentic Asian food, so there is definitely a variety. Alternatively, you could sample what the people there consider “Western” cuisine. However, sometimes the dish would be something like a plate of pasta and mashed potatoes served together, so we usually kept to the local cuisine. When we did want a taste of home, we’d head to a McDonald’s or Subway, which you can easily find.
Singapore is a stunningly beautiful city; Jessica and I took a great interest in the local cuisine.
At these places and everywhere else, language is generally no barrier. My wife and I don’t speak Mandarin, but many people in Singapore speak at least some English. You might be served pork noodle soup instead of chicken and rice, or you might get into a taxi and have to pull up a map on your phone to show the destination. It’s just a matter of adapting and having patience. At the end of the day there is an understanding that everyone is doing their best and everything will work out.
We traveled throughout Southeast Asia, including to Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Translators are seldom necessary in business; work is conducted almost entirely in English. My work, along with Tim’s, focused on auditing subsidiaries in Singapore for Grant Thornton US offices. As the main contact for these audits, I was in touch with managers, directors and partners around the United States. As one of the go-to people in the Singapore firm, I was relied upon heavily to advise about U.S. best practices. Because U.S. audits are stringent, the local personnel would often come looking for advice when faced with a challenging problem. I was also given an opportunity to share my knowledge during training sessions.
My international work expanded further as I was called upon to provide advisory services as needed. In one instance, a company bidding for a project with the government of Indonesia requested a financial model and summarized business plan. Tim and I flew to Jakarta numerous times to help them complete their planning and presentation.
My secondment produced many benefits
In Singapore, I typically worked with 10+ clients at a time. The audits weren’t complicated, but I was often in charge of multiple audits simultaneously. The number in Singapore was much higher than the number I had been in charge of in the United States. With this experience, I became better organized and capable of staying on task.
Even though just about everyone in Singapore speaks English, you have to be precise in what you say. I learned to be unambiguous in my speaking and writing.
Though principally trained as an auditor, I gained an overall business perspective by accepting some advisory responsibilities.
“Help desk” skills
Though principally trained as an auditor, I gained an overall business perspective by accepting some advisory responsibilities. This is proving useful in understanding client issues. Fielding a variety of requests taught me to be efficient in problem-solving. Now, as an Audit Services senior manager in an office in the Midwest, I’m giving auditing instructions and answering questions from member firms around the world. I also continue to conduct trainings of senior leadership.
My wife and I got to travel throughout Southeast Asia to some places we didn’t even know existed in Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Australia, Japan and Cambodia. It was like an extended honeymoon before we settled down and had kids. We also formed lasting friendships. One of them is with a secondee from the Grant Thornton UK, Glasgow, office. We became great friends with him and his fiancé. Our daughter, born after our return to the States, was a flower girl in their Dublin wedding.
We formed lasting friendships and were invited to a wedding in Dublin.
Everything I learned in my international assignment was possible because Grant Thornton leadership listened and supported me in my request. They still do. My initiative is encouraged, and my network and capabilities are broadening.