This month we were fortunate to get the opportunity to interview Michelle Beal. Michelle is a Comm ‘17 Alum, and a QCIB Exec 2015-2017 Alum. She’s now based in Auckland, NZ: working in a job that allows her to both be in another country and work with international partners. In this interview, Michelle told us about what inspired her to work in a foreign country, how she networked her way there, and shared some insightful tips from her day to day.
Current company: Capability Group Ltd.
First, the story of how Michelle got herself to New Zealand.
A quick summary about me, how I got this job, and the relationship between the Canadian and New Zealand offices so what you read next makes sense. I’m currently based in Auckland, NZ, working for Capability Group Ltd (CGL). CGL is the authorized partner for Axonify, a Waterloo, Canada based tech company. CGL represents, sells, and supports the product in the Asia-Pacific region. We’re talking about two separate companies here. Partners yes. But this wasn’t as simple as an internal transfer.
It’d be easier to say it was dumb luck, but it wasn’t. It was really a combination of ‘right place right time’ and persistence.
Between 3rd and 4th year, I worked for a startup in Waterloo called Axonify. One week into my job, I met Nick. Nick was onboarding in Waterloo before heading down to work for CGL. My first question was, naturally, “tell me everything.”. The next was “How long’s your visa and who picks your replacement?”. I had my first conversation with CGL in October, 2016. Upfront, CGL said there was no guarantee they were going to replace Nick’s role. Fast forward the next two years: every few months I emailed or Skyped with CGL, and accepted a full time gig with Axonify after graduation. I was upfront with the leaders at Axonify that I was interested in moving to CGL. They were mentors about the skills and competencies I would need to be successful in a smaller company (when I left, Axonify has ~140 employees whereas the Axonify team at CGL is 7 people total). The open and constant communication with CGL also meant I had influence in my role’s requirements and expectations beforehand.
While at Axonify, I was working as an Opportunity Development Representative (the first part of the tech sales pipeline). My territory was throughout North America but I also had the international territory – anywhere without a rep assigned was somewhere I could pursue. This definitely got me warmed up for my job in NZ – I became used to navigating other cultures by spending a lot of time talking and listening, and became fascinated with the relationship building aspects of sales. For example, Japanese business is really hierarchy based, and decisions are top down. Even the differences between how business is conducted in NY and California are stark.
On top of all of that, I told my friends and family that the plan was 1 year in Waterloo, then 2 years in Auckland. I promised them and myself that it was going to happen, and I never quit until it was a reality.
New Zealand seems pretty Westernized, but what are some cultural similarities and differences that you’ve found working there?
One similar thing I’ve found is actually in a difference: New Zealand is not Australia, just like Canada is not America – kiwis can sound or seem similar to Australians, but don’t mistake one for the other.
A difference I enjoy is the relationship oriented approach to business. Everyone seems to have worked with or know someone who worked with the person I’m trying to reach. It’s great because there’s almost always a connection to move someone from a “cold” to “warm” outreach through an introduction.
Does your job involve you working with people in other countries? Dealing with international barriers?
My day to day involves working with both colleagues and prospective clients in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Japan, and Canada.
It sounds like you’re really enjoying working abroad. Where do you see yourself in the future?
Initially, it was really hard for me to find international work opportunities since I don’t have a second citizenship nor do I speak another language. New Zealand is a great location for my first placement abroad because they speak English (albeit with an accent and new slang), and I find the cultural barriers to be minimal.
In the future, I definitely see more international work terms. After my visa expires in 2020, I’d love to head up into Hong Kong for one year, then move into Western Europe around 2022. Right now, I’m thinking Germany, Holland, or heading back to where I did my exchange: Sweden.
You can check Michelle out on LinkedIn.