Spotlight on Kraft Foods’ Sandra Howell: FEM’s 2010 Global Mobility Professional of the Year
By Andrew Kittell
Outstanding international opportunities often come to those in the right places at the right times. Talent and hard work help. This is pretty much the course for Sandra Howell (pictured), Kraft Foods' director of compensation and global assignments, the first recipient of the Forum for Expatriate Management's Global Mobility Professional of the Year.
Sandra first joined the ranks of globally mobile professionals in 2002 while directing compensation and benefits for Kraft Foods Asia Pacific. Even though the post included managing international assignments worldwide and Kraft had regional staff in similar roles around the globe, there was no leader for the function. In 2004, Sandra accepted that new leadership position.
A proud British national, Sandra subsequently became a Fellow of the UK's Institute of Personnel & Development. Her responsibilities at Kraft Foods were broadened further, as Sandra describes: "I focused on getting the right people on the right assignments to make best use of the individual's talents, and our investment in them. We also implemented an expatriate management system, made vendor changes, updated policies and a successful exception approval process."
The assignees Sandra manages today have career-grounded reasons for accepting the risks associated with international relocation. She opines, "The often excessive expatriate packages of 20 and 30 years ago are a thing of the past. Employees today are doing international assignments to enhance their careers rather than for financial incentives. The focus today is on the skills and experiences individuals will get from an international assignment, enabling them to progress to senior management positions. And, where Western expatriates used to dominate the assignments, today you are just as likely to see managers from developing markets being offered opportunities."
Global mobility management is constantly changing and becoming increasingly complex. It's Sandra's role to help make sense of all this for Kraft Foods' managers, HR generalists, and, ultimately, the company's employees on assignment. This challenge is also her greatest reward. "I encounter many different situations and issues every day, so I am constantly learning new things. I get tremendous satisfaction knowing that I played a role in navigating employees through a complex and often stressful process and helping them develop into better leaders," Sandra concludes.
The process of international assignments is very personal to Sandra. She's lived it with husband and children (pictured) accompanying her across continents. Even her two teenagers now agree that the Howells' transitions have provided unforeseen benefits. Sandra explains the upside: "A few years ago, my own children would have said they saw no benefit from moving to three countries in a span of 11 years. They dealt with leaving friends they only just gotten to know. But their tone has changed and today they would say this gave them a more mature outlook than other kids their age. It developed their social skills and ability to build relationships, and it's quite normal to them to have a worldwide network of friends, which they converse with through social media. All this has changed dramatically in just the last decade."
As with any high-achieving family, the Howells ranked their children's education as a top priority. Moving across international borders presented some challenges along the way. International and home-country curriculum schools helped. But that doesn't mean the experience was seamless, even with moves among English-speaking countries. A consistent curriculum like the International Baccalaureate may have helped. Sandra describes the family's most recent move to the States from an assignment in Australia: "Moving to the U.S., we knew we probably wouldn't move again until our kids finished their education. Again, we settled them in very good local schools, but our daughter was only six months before she would move from middle to high school. We were not prepared for the differences in curriculum, even coming from a country with a common language. In retrospect we would have made different course choices and getting additional tuition."
Ultimately, experience helps define us all. And the experience of a globally nomadic family can provide some profound lessons. To conclude, Sandra shares one: "I am British and my husband is a New Zealander. When my son was nine we were living in Melbourne, after having been in Brussels, and he asked about his nationality, but phrased it in terms of "what am I?". I replied that he had a British passport. But this was a philosophical question so, I told him, it's about where you feel at home, where you feel connected with family and friends."
Director Compensation & Global Assignment Programs
Kraft Foods Inc.
Three Lakes Drive
Northfield, IL, 60093, USA
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