Director of Global Mobility COE at CGI
David Carmichael is the Director of Global Mobility COE at CGI, a global IT and business process services provider delivering business consulting, systems integration and outsourcing services. David has responsibility within CGI for the policy and processes that support the movement of staff across international borders within the company globally.
In this in-depth interview, David discusses his unusual career, from the ocean to the desert; explains the global mobility program of CGI; shares his perspective that everybody should command the same level of respect within an organization from the cleaner to the CEO; highlights the importance of employee and employer experience; and describes how we are moving towards a new stage of automation.
Brian Friedman: Hello and welcome to The View from the Top, a podcast series brought to you by Benivo. My name is Brian Friedman and I'm the Strategy Director of Benivo. The world's leading welcome as a service mobility tech company. Now we've had many guests on The View from the Top, and they've all fallen into global mobility through different routes. Some of them have started out in HR, others have started in tax, some have joined the family business. Others have simply started their own businesses.
But today's guest has possibly the most unusual career path to date. David Carmichael is the Director of Global Mobility at CGI. And as such, overseas, over 2,000 moves a year. But his route into the profession was far from conventional. He started life as a radio operator in the Royal Navy Submarine Service. After leaving the Navy, he joined the U.K's foreign office before becoming the Expatriate services manager for a multinational peacekeeping force. And was based in the Sinai Desert for over five years.
After that, life got a bit more conventional. David joined PWC, and lastly GMAC, which was a forerunner of , as a mobility consultant. He then moved from being a vendor to a corporate role at Logica where he remains today. Although Logica has itself now become CGI through an acquisition some years back.
So David has seen it all, from the ocean to the desert, literally. And many, many places in between. David, welcome to The View from the Top. And congratulations on your impressive, and indeed slightly unusual, career achievements to date David.
David Carmichael: Yeah, many thanks, Brian. I really appreciate the invitation, I look forward to the discussion.
Brian Friedman: Well thanks for being here David. Let's just find out a little bit more about yourself and your current role. Tell me a little bit about CGI and what you do and the program at CGI.
David Carmichael: So CGI for those that don't know the company, is a Montreal headquartered IT services company. Headcount globally is currently around 74 thousand members. We refer to employees as members. In terms of global mobility, we've got around six to seven hundred people on assignment at any given point. And as you said, our rotation is quite substantial, around 15 hundred to 2,000 moves a year.
So that's people going on assignment or coming back. In terms of my own role, so I'm the Director of Global Mobility COE, and my role is primarily to look after the policies that we have that govern how we move people within CGI. Permanently or on temporary assignment. The governance generally, to ensure that we are compliant with relevant legislation. I own the contracts with our three main suppliers currently, and also why use the players. So the strategy around, what do we insource? What do we outsource?
And I also have a role around processes and procedures, ultimately around how all of that is operationalized. And just for context, while I own the policy, the strategy that drives the policy. The governance, that supply relationships, all of the day to day operational aspects of how we move people sits within a shared service structure. Which is independent from the Global Mobility COE.
So that might be unusual for some, where in fact we have two streams of mobility in CGI. The COE that reports up through total compensation, and then the Global Mobility Operations who report up through the shared service structure.
Brian Friedman: And how many people are in your team?
David Carmichael: In the COE, it is me, globally, that was a decision that we took in April of last year. Where we didn't see CGI as a whole. HR is implement in the model of COEs, shared services, HR business partners. And COEs within CGI are primarily there to look at leadership, policies, governance, and then the relationships, and then the strategy. Again, or why use particular vendors for particular services. Why outsource some things, why we insource others.
So it was deemed in a restructure last year the COE role within mobility in CGI could be won. It's being re-evaluated at the moment. Within our shared service group, there are currently 30 people who are doing all of the day to day operationalized, the policies, procedures, vendor contracts that within the COE.
Brian Friedman: Cool. So one person looking after some 2,000 moves. No wonder you're busy.
David Carmichael: Yeah I wouldn't say... Again, so I look after the policies and vendor contracts, et cetera, that govern how those people are moved. But I work hand in hand with the operational team. I couldn't function without them, and I would hope that they would say they couldn't function without me.
Brian Friedman: Okay, fascinating. Let's just go back to your early career, I mentioned that you started career underwater as a submariner. And you, of course, you went completely the reserves. You went to a place with no water.
David Carmichael: Yeah.
Brian Friedman: The Sinai Desert. Just on the Sinai Desert bit, just tell me what was like. 'Cause you were there for five years as an expatriate services manager for a multinational peacekeeping force. Can you just tell a bit about what that was like and what you were doing, and what your day to day routine was like there?
David Carmichael: Yeah it was actually a fascinating place to be. So it was a peacekeeping organization, it was primarily funded and staffed by the U.S Military. But it was an 11 nation multinational force. So there was military contingents there from places like the U.S first of all. But Fiji, Colombia, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, et cetera. And it was also jointly funded by Egypt and Israel. It was primarily created at the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And it was designated that there would be a peacekeeping organization independent from the U.N in the Sinai Desert to monitor the peace treaty.
It was actually, the place where we lived, was an old Israeli air base in the north of the Sinai Desert. Truly fascinating place to be. We would have, in the morning, you would wake up, you would see the perimeter fence and the Bedouins moving their cattle around outside the camp. And then within the camp, it was kind of like I can only describe as a small town in the U.S. You had bungalows where some people would live, some of the senior offices, the senior civilian workforce, a shop, you had operational buildings, et cetera. Fascinating place to be in the desert.
Brian Friedman: And this was your first taste of managing expats was it?
David Carmichael: Yeah, yeah it was. I went into it because of my military experience. So when I came out of the Navy, first of all, I went to the Foreign Office primarily because I wanted to travel. So the Foreign Office would have been a good opportunity 'cause I would have come out of London had I stayed and then gone to an embassy or a consultant. But through a military career network, this opportunity in Egypt came up. It was too good to be true to turn it down. I took a two-year contract out there to go out to the desert and ended up being there closer to six years.
Brian Friedman: And was there anything different about handling expats in the military to expats that you've dealt with later in your career?
David Carmichael: Yeah so civilians that we were managing were a mix. At the start of the role, it was traditional UK and primarily US expats who were there skills, engineers, primarily those in it with construction skills, et cetera. And it was really managed in their package that benefits being the link between HR as a function as it was, to the headquarters which was based in Rome. Latterly in the role, the organization decided to recruit local hires.
So traditionally, all the civilians who worked on the camp were foreign nationals. Then there was an initiative to bring in what we called local hiring Egyptians who had skills we that would develop and in the Egyptian workforce. And I left I think one year after that model had come into force. It's very interesting to start hiring in the local market, versus say the traditional expat. And they were real career expats. These people were people how had come out of the U.S and U.K and had been working across the Middle East for 10, 15, 20 years.
Brian Friedman: Okay, and then you moved from the fairly boring world of being in a multinational peacekeeping force in the middle of the desert to the much more exciting world of PWC. But tell me, obviously at that point your life is getting a little bit more conventional and you're with PWC. And later GMAC as a mobility consultant, and then you moved into a corporate role.
What was the biggest sort of difference you saw between being in a vendor role at BGRS and PwC and being in an in-house role. What do you think the major difference is between those two roles?
David Carmichael: Well if you're providing services to a client as a vendor, you can't necessarily steer directly where that client is going in the decision making. So you can guide them, but ultimately the client is coming to you for you to provide services to them. And they have in their mind exactly what it is that they want you to provide to them. When you're the client you can drive the services that the vendors are providing to you.
But on the flip side, you have people above you within the corporate who are mandating down to you what they want you to do, which then translates into what you want your suppliers to do. So I think where I benefited was from having first of all the experience of working overseas. And then the experience of working for underseas.
Brian Friedman: Or undersea.
David Carmichael: ... yeah, yeah or undersea. Yeah. The experience of working for one of the big four. In a major outsourcing role, but of course with a more compliance and social security focus. And then working for a more traditional relocation company where the focus was more on individual care, providing general services. At the time more traditional relocation services, household good services, et cetera.
And then taking all of that experience, working overseas or underseas, the tax and compliance focus, the more traditional relocation focus, then coming to corporate, it worked really well for me because I could relate to each aspects as kind of the mobility process. I could relate to members who were or employees that were moving and were challenged by working in a foreign location.
I could relate to the compliance aspects, and the compliance challenges of moving people around from an immigration and a tax point of view. And I could relate to the challenges of the logistical aspects. What is that people need to be moving? How do they do the simple stuff? Opening bank accounts, finding somewhere to live, putting their children into school, et cetera. So I was really lucky that I've had the experience of kind of all of those aspects 'cause it came together very well.
Brian Friedman: So for people coming into the profession today or people who sort of working their way up, would you recommend that they actually work both sides of the fence? Both as a vendor and as a corporate at some point in their career?
David Carmichael: Yeah, I'd probably first speak so they don't necessarily need to join the Navy and be in submarines. And they probably don't need to work in the desert, but they could something similar in terms of gaining the experience. I would definitely say that people benefit from being on both sides of the fence. To be a client, to work in an in-house role, it really benefits to understand how the outsourcing providers, tax, immigration relocation services work.
What their mindset is, what their processes are, what their challenges are in delivering services to a client that might be difficult or a client that may be good. And equally, if you work for a supplier, it's good for you to understand the mindset of the client. I'm not necessarily there's a right order that you need to be working with the third party first and then a client. Or that you need to be in an internal role first.
It probably makes some sense to work for a third party and then go to a client, but maybe they need to go back again. Because then you've got more experience to bring back to a third party supplier environment.
Brian Friedman: Okay, I get that. And obviously different people want to end up in different places. Either on the vendor side or the client side.
David Carmichael: Absolutely.
Brian Friedman: Tell me, I'm just interested, you've had a pretty fascinating career, who is that you felt sort of inspired you in your career? Is there somebody out there that you felt that maybe early in your life, or during your career that has really taught you something that is a life lesson that you've taken to heart?
David Carmichael: Yeah. There are a couple of individuals and there are a couple of personality types. So one or two specific individuals, it goes right back to my early career, being in the Navy I was really impressed by and inspired by my first captain. And also one of the first lieutenants, so obviously the first lieutenant is kind of the second in command of a submarine. And I wasn't only inspired by them because they were in the position of captain or first lieutenant, it was the individuals.
I only worked with one captain and two first lieutenants. One of them really stood out. And they stood out because they were very focused, able to deal with huge amounts of stress. Sometimes lost their temper when the stress became too much from them to handle. But they had a general respect for everybody who was working for them and under them. So they are in positions of extreme power and responsibility, but they maintained respect for the crew and people working under them at all times.
I think that comes on to, that leads me into individual types. I truly respect people who have respect for those under them. So if your example, if you're a cleaner in the street or the CEO of an organization, everybody commands a certain level of respect. Everybody should be treated with respect. So people who treat people with respect get my own respect.
I'm using the respect a lot there, but kind of reinforce the point. And then some other individuals is my family, they keep me grounded. And they constantly remind me why we're here and what we're here to do. Your career is one thing, your family is another. And you need both to be successful.
Brian Friedman: Okay, wise words. And from that, or other areas, are there lessons that you would pass on if you were sort counseling somebody today who might be coming into the profession? Is there something that you would suggest to them?
David Carmichael: Yeah, I think mobility is a fascinating world. It's an interesting world because you don't necessarily go to school, college, university and say, "I'd like to become a mobility professional." I'm sure that that's not what people set out when they're getting an education. But you fall into it and it's a fascinating world to fall into because it's multifaceted right? There's so much to it.
What I would say to people is everything changes. That's kind of a cliché, but it does. You need to be ready to adapt to those changes within the GM environment. And I think GM will change, and it is changing. Don't become complacent around models you have, the policies you have. Everything could always be improved.
Things are working well today, I wouldn't necessarily say flip things up on their head and just change things for the sake of change. But always be prepared to adapt and take the best of what you got to refine it and prove it and be ready to do things better.
Brian Friedman: Okay, you talked about adaptability. Let's sort of just dwell on that a bit. One thing about the reason we all have to adapt is because change itself is inevitable. Change, somebody said, is the only constant. What are the biggest changes you've seen throughout career? And the second part of that question is what are the changes that you predict? But let's start on the first part first. What would you say are the biggest changes you have seen?
David Carmichael: I put the military and the experience of being in Egypt to one side, but I will use some of the experience from the Foreign Office as a great example. So I was in the Foreign Office in the late, mid to late '90s. And for those listening from outside the UK, the Foreign Office is equivalent to like the US State Department. At that time, we were using ledgers. And I mean paper ledgers, big heavy phone book type ledgers.
To record events, we were using letters. Letters that you would put in an envelope and post to people and put stamps on. Kind of intriguing and ironic to be thinking about that today. So in terms of the biggest changes, obviously technology has played a massive part in my own personal career, the introduction of mobile phones. And now we're seeing, I'll give you an example. Our desks in London, we don't have desk phones, we're now primarily on mobiles. We don't have laptops.
Now we're going into a new stage of automation. So automation technology and digitalization I think it's fascinating where is that gonna lead us next. Does it mean for example that people who are primarily in administrative roles will the focus of automation digitalization, et cetera? So technology again, it sounds a bit of cliché that it's played such a major part in changes I've seen, but it's true. It has played a massive part.
Brian Friedman: Okay. And you think that's obviously gonna continue?
David Carmichael: Absolutely, yeah.
Brian Friedman: Yeah. So what do you think the function will look like in 10 years time?
David Carmichael: Well if you obviously took in GM function-
Brian Friedman: Or 20.
David Carmichael: There's obviously a huge push for global mobility to become more strategic, which I find it's obvious but it's fascinating. And let me sort of explain why. Mobility is very heavily geared to make sure that an organization is compliant, that people have the right work permit. That those permits are tracked, that taxes are paid when they need to be paid, et cetera.
And that's a complex thing to do, but it's not what HR leaders are particularly interested in. They just expect that that will happen. What they're more interested in is global mobility strategy, the policy. Why are we moving people? Could I hire somebody locally into a position for less than moving an assignee? Why do I need an assignee versus somebody on the local market?
And that I think will continue to be in focus, there'll be more push for global mobility leaders and teams to be seen as strategic. And I think global mobility leaders and teams might struggle to be strategic because they're so focused on keeping us all compliant.
Brian Friedman: Okay. Another subject I just wanna talk about was the generational differences. I mean people talk a lot about next-genners at the moment, that seems to be the buzz word at the moment. What would you say that the major differences between today's new starters, the nextgenners, and, without making you sound old, your generation?
David Carmichael: Yeah.
Brian Friedman: You're younger than me.
David Carmichael: I was kind of thinking about this, I think about this constantly. Are people really that different? Or are they just a product of their own generation? A product of the world as it is today? So if you're on public transport today, everybody is on their phone, everybody is on social media. That wouldn't have been the case in the past. So I don't necessarily think people themselves are different. Their behaviors are different because of where the world is today.
So if you translate that into global mobility employees or members as we call them within CGI, it just means that they are more focused on having access to information. They want information available now. They don't necessarily want to go someone to get that information, they just expect the results available to them on a device when they need it. And they expect it to be correct, and they expect to be able to do something with it.
So that I think is the difference. Maybe people are less tied to wanting to work 9 o' clock in the morning to 5 o' clock, they're happier to work early in the morning if they can have leave earlier. Later in the evening, to be able to work when they are able to work. So there's the liberty of wanting-
Brian Friedman: And where they want as well maybe?
David Carmichael: Yeah, so there's a degree of wanting flexibility and to have the tools available to be flexible.
Brian Friedman: Okay. I've talked about nextgenners as being one of the sort of phrases we are hearing a lot of at the moment. The other phrase that I think we're hearing a lot of is employee experience, customer experience, and obviously increasingly now in our world, assignee experience. What does that mean to you and what does your company do, or plan to do to enhance employee experience?
David Carmichael: So employee and employer experience for CGI is really important. That's obviously very easy to say. But for many years CGI has routinely surveyed its members. Again, we don't call them employees. So it's surveyed members and it's surveyed clients. And it's not just a survey for the sake of surveying. It's surveying to understand exactly how our external customers and internal members feel. What are their specific concerns they've got?
And then to identify trends within the workforce. For example, are they happy with the HR function? If not, why not? Are they happy with their benefits? Are they happy with flexibility? Are they happy with their manager? Do they feel they get enough information to do their job? So it's not just a survey, it's a survey that's acted upon and responded to. And that's really important.
Brian Friedman: And I want to get into another subject, a very sort of political subject. And that's the subject of the conflict between populism and globalization. And I've got into this conversation with a few people in the past, I'll be interested on your take on it. I think, if we go back, fifteen years or more everybody felt that globalization was a good thing. It led to freer trade, freer movement of people and it made everybody wealthy, or it lifted up all economies.
But obviously there's a backlash against that now, there's a lot of populism coming through. The idea that, well globalization may make some people wealthy but actually there's a lot of left-behinds when their jobs get outsourced to some low-cost location. And we've seen the sort of the, make America great a again concept of Trump. And we've seen Brexit and we've seen populism in other countries. And we're seeing many more barriers being put up to cross border trade and cross border movement around the world.
So, in a way, we've gone from a world of webs to a world of making walls being but metaphorically and literally. How do you see all this? This sort of backlash against globalization impacting the international HR function and employee mobility?
David Carmichael: See I think it will impact on mobility. But the reality is that companies move people either because there's a key individual that they need in a particular location for a very specific reason, to do a particular job. And it can only be that person that does it. Or, like CGI, we move people because we might need people with particular skills in a particular location for a defined period of time.
And that challenge I think will always exist. So yeah, you can get domestic protectionism. You can get a demand to employee locally, et cetera. But if those key individuals just don't exist in the market place, or the skills that for example, a company might have in India or another location, they don't have that in the US or Canada and they need it there temporarily, the only way you're gonna achieve the outcome is to move the people there temporarily or to educate people within those markets in those skills that you need. Because that takes much longer right?
Because let's say, for example, CGI needs a particular type of programmer and that programmer is available in India but is not necessarily available in another market. It's gonna take much longer to go to universities and try to educate them to train in those skills. So there will always be a demand, I think for CGI, to go to India to move them to where they need to be.
But for CGI maybe it's quite unique, is we have what's called a proximity model. And we would always look to provide services locally first using resources we have available in the local market place, versus using an assignment. But I think the demand of mobility will always be there because you will always need to move skills to particular rolls.
Brian Friedman: Okay, it's quite an interesting debate really because you might need to move people but then you might find barriers are being put up to make it harder.
David Carmichael: Absolutely.
Brian Friedman: or what have you.
David Carmichael: And it's interesting you say that because that's where I think there's sometimes a disconnect between governments who are writing policy based on popular demand within their countries, versus the commercial reality. The need to do business and the ability to do business, the two might not always be completely connected.
Brian Friedman: I think this is the new fight of our time, is the fight between the corporation and the nation. I mean one point I make is that if you can't move the employees to the jobs, then the companies may just move the jobs to the employees. But I think this has been the watch of the next 10 or 20 years.
David Carmichael: Yup.
Brian Friedman: Talking about the future, and I'm a great futurist, I love talking about this sort of stuff, is how do you think artificial intelligence, robotics, even virtual reality is gonna start impacting the mobility function?
David Carmichael: I've thought a lot about this recently, and I think it will because there's gonna a constant demand or a desire to look at what can be improved? what can be automated? What can be standardized? What can be regimented? So I think global mobility is like we've said is, it's multifaceted, it's complex, and that complexity will always exist because governments will change rolls. Introduce new barriers, new walls, using the term wall. New ways to do things.
So there will always be a constant need for change or to adapt to change. But there will be certain areas of mobility that you can't standardize and you can't regiment, and I think companies will look at that and they will attempt to achieve that level of automation. So perhaps in the future, some of the roles that exist in GM today that are more administrative in nature will become automated subject to robotics et cetera.
But then it's really interesting because you think if the majority of roles within GM that are administrative are automated, where is your next generation of thought leaders, COE leads, mobility directors, et cetera? Because all of the people in those types of roles have grown from being in GM administrative roles. So if the GM administrative roles all disappear because they've been automated, that's the question for me, where does the next generation of mobility leaders come from? Maybe I'm thinking ahead too far there.
Brian Friedman: Well I'm just wondering if your model is actually the path of the future. I mean your model there, there's just one of you in the mobility function. And then the day to day work Is handled in a center of excellence. Whereas many other companies will have much larger mobility teams centralized. And one of the things about a center of excellence is obviously is it becomes easier to look at automation and other ways of using artificial intelligence there. So I'm wondering if the model you got might be a model that we see more of, rather than the more conventional mobility teams sitting within the HR function.
David Carmichael: Yeah, I honestly think we might. I'm not necessarily convinced that we got the right level of refinement in our model yet. But I think, as you kind of pointed out, what it does if you got a COE who is only focused on solutions, policy, strategy, vendor relationships, et cetera. And not involved in the operation which allows you just to focus on those key things. If you combine the two in one central GM function, the natural kind of default position for people to take is to respond to the here and now.
To make sure that work permits are followed on time, that compliance issues are responded to, that people are moving quickly and efficiently, et cetera. And then naturally people don't find the time to do the thinking to get the right policy in place to really think about, "Well, what should I insource? What should I outsource?" So I think we might see more of this for sure.
Brian Friedman: And one other question I wanted to ask you David is, you've worked both sides of the fence. As a vendor and as a corporate. So you've got a pretty interesting perspective. When you work with the vendors, what are you seeing out there? And in particular, do you think that we've gto too many vendors at the moment? Do you think there's gonna be further consolidation? Obviously, we've had a few consolidations in the last couple years. Do you think there's gonna be further consolidation? And if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
David Carmichael: From a client point of view, and thinking about CGI and the size that it is, I would say it's a good thing for us. Because we don't want to, for example, be managing numerous vendors. So we've taken the decision that we want one supplier for taxation, one supplier for immigration globally, and one supplier for logistical relocation services. And we've carefully looked at we want to insource and what we want to outsource.
And it's much easier for us to manage those three global vendors then it is multiple vendors. So I can see, consolidation for organizations like us would be good. If I was in a smaller organization, global vendors might not necessarily be something that would be good for me. And therefore I would want to be looking for local, smaller niche vendors. So the perspective might change on the type of organization that I was working in.
But for sure, I think consolidation will continue. And I think it will be tough on the smaller local niche vendors. And I think some of the vendors need to re-design the services that they're providing to respond to change in client demand.
Brian Friedman: Okay. We're pretty much out of time, so I just want to end up with one last question, if I may David. Which is this: if you had your time again, what would you do differently?
David Carmichael: So I thought about this question a lot because I expected it may be asked. And I can honestly say after thinking about it that I would change nothing. But that's too easy to say without stating why. And primarily I would say that I would change nothing because if I hadn't made mistakes I wouldn't of learned from those mistakes and I wouldn't then be in the position that I'm in now.
If I'd of just gone through my career and through my life never having made mistakes, well, first of all, I wouldn't know that I hadn't made mistakes. But I think it was important for me to have made the mistakes and learned from them. So I can truly say I wouldn't change anything.
Brian Friedman: Well said. Very nice answer to be able to give to be able to look back at your career and actually feel comfortable at the way things have panned out. And I'm actually delighted that that's the case, and I'm very excited that you've agreed. I know how busy you are looking after all your moves a year, but I'm very delighted that you've managed to be with us on the show. It's been a pleasure having you on The View from the Top David. So thank you very much for being with us.
David Carmichael:I really appreciate Brian it's been interesting, it was good to be invited. I was quite excited when we open the call. Again, yeah many thanks.
Brian Friedman: Well thank you, David. And to all our listeners, thank you very much for listening to the podcast. I hope you found it as interesting listening as I have interviewing David Carmichael and we'll be back again next week. So from The View from the Top, this is me, Brian Friedman from Benivo. Thank you, everybody.