Mr. John Lackey - Director of Global Mobility at Jabil
We have had the chance to talk to Mr. John Lackey, Director of Global Mobility at Jabil, a supply chain management and electronic manufacturing company. Entering into the workforce after his graduation in 1996, he has since accumulated some 20 years of global mobility and human resource experience at well-known organisations such as Prudential, Goldman Sachs Asia, and Microsoft Singapore.
Mr. Lackey said, “Early on in my career, someone asked why I stayed in mobility, and I replied that working with others and being able to make an impact on their ability to successfully relocate gave me the ‘warm fuzzies’. I’ve never come up with a better way to describe it, but this is why I’ve always come back.”
Among other insights, he also highlighted how mobility is becoming an enabler of talent strategy and how a strong network has helped him build his career.
Read more about Mr. Lackey’s personal experience and valuable insights about the global mobility industry in the full interview below.
Q: Can you please describe your career path and how you ended up in the role you are currently in at Jabil?
A: I started in the industry when mobility was still in its “infancy” and the Big Six (now the Big Four) were just launching expat services and Cartus was still PHH. We used to joke there were really only 50 or so of us in the business, the rest was all smoke and mirrors.
I entered mobility right out of grad school as an expat specialist with Ernst & Young. I was fortunate to have a great boss who provided me with a strong foundation in expat fundamentals, which I was able to tap into throughout my career. I was on the consulting/services side of the business for the first eight years or so of my career; I was fortunate in that I had broader HR/mobility skills e.g. comp & ben, payroll etc so was typically placed on-site at major clients to manage their expat programs on a fully outsourced basis. The services side of the business was unique in that I was able to work with clients across various industries, which provided insight into different policies and practices. However, I became tired of the constant change and uncertainty that came with the business; I just never knew when a client would decide to bring a program back in-house or change service providers.
I had always wanted to get back to Asia, having spent time here in my college years, so when an opportunity came up in Singapore to move into an in-house role, I took it. From a career path standpoint, I worked my way from Expat Services Specialist to Assignment Manager. When I moved to the in-house role I took on regional responsibilities for APJC and held this role with a number of companies. I then had an opportunity to move into the global director role at Jabil, which was the next logical step for me having been in regional roles for six plus years.
I also dabbled in a few other HR related roles during my career; I managed incentive comp for a year with an IT firm, I took a short term assignment as HR Director for China at one point and I worked in China for three years as an International HR Manager overseeing the full spectrum of HR services. I also managed shared services for a financial firm in Singapore at one point.
I wouldn’t have traded these other opportunities for anything, as they provided valuable insight into HR and have made me a better, more rounded mobility manager. However, I always found myself pulled back into mobility. Early on in my career, someone asked why I stayed in mobility, and I replied that working with others and being able to make an impact on their ability to successfully relocate gave me the ‘warm fuzzies’. I’ve never come up with a better way to describe it, but this is why I’ve always come back.
One key aspect for me during my career has been having strong contacts and mentors in the industry. I was referred and or hired by the same individual early on in my career on three separate occasions and I was able to leverage my network when I applied for the role at Jabil, so I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to maintain relationships with individuals in the industry.
I also used to think, early in my career, that I couldn’t wait to become a manager or director so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the day to day administration of expats. Was I ever naïve! I learned later on that regardless of the level there is always a need to be involved in individual cases, there will always be admin work that needs to be done and that it’s part and parcel with mobility.
Q: As the Director of Global Mobility what does a typical day look like?
A: I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a typical day as I never know what might come up. Some days may start as early as 6 a.m or 7 a.m and go as late as 1 a.m, depending on my meeting schedule. The one difference is that as Global Director I can control most of the scheduling, so it’s easier to cut down on early or late meetings now, which is certainly an added bonus. I spend most of my morning clearing email and addressing any urgent issues which may have come up overnight. I try to keep my afternoons open to focus on project and strategy work. I’m currently undertaking a policy review/rewrite and am working with the VP of Talent Management on a Talent Mobility presentation for our CEO. A key focus for Jabil is looking at how we can enhance our employee mobility experience as well as a focus on talent mobility & development. I also try to make sure that I drop by and informally catch up with key business and HR leaders throughout the day.
I try to get out of the office early enough to hit the gym (which I am failing at) and help with the kids’ homework, before I get back online to check emails that start coming in from the US and take any meetings.
Q: What trends do you see coming for global mobility programmes?
A: I’ve never been good with looking at trends. I always hear expat numbers will be up, or down, or the same depending on who you ask and who publishes the survey. I’ve heard about the “death” of the traditional expat (they somehow seem to always stay alive… zombies?) or a need to look at ROI, though no one has quite yet figured out how to define it.
If I look at Jabil’s program, what we are focusing on, and external rumblings, I do believe that one trend will be closer collaboration between mobility and talent management. There has been talk of this for some time, but I am starting to see a gradual shift in the market as mobility starts to play a key role in talent development and an enabler of talent strategy. It’s not enough to simply view mobility as an administrative function that moves employees from point A to point B.
HBR did a paper on mobility strategy and unlocking the value of cross border assignments and the need for mobility to be seen as strategists and not reactionists. It’s a very good read, which I highly recommend for anyone in mobility.
Q: Based on your experience in Singapore and overseas, how do you view the Global Mobility Industry in Singapore as compared to the industry overseas?
A: Singapore itself is fairly mature and has a good pool of talent to recruit from. The relo companies won’t like me to say this, but as they have hubs in Singapore they do a great job of training future mobility managers that can be hired into in-house roles.
Asia has also produced strong relo companies such as Santa Fe, Crown, Asian Tigers etc that in some respects exceeded what was available in markets outside of Asia. It was not uncommon for expats moving back to the US or EMEA to ask why they weren’t receiving the same level of service they received in Asia, which ultimately ended up costing us more as we’d have to approve additional services. Not necessarily a bad thing, as it forced providers in other markets to step up their game.
Q: What advice would you give somebody new to a career in the Global Mobility Industry?
A: Be patient. Everyone wants to be a Regional Manager or Global Director it seems within 2-3 years. The reality is that there are only so many roles to go around and it takes time and effort to get there, so patience is key.
Broaden your horizons as well. If you don’t have the opportunities in mobility that you want now then look at other opportunities in HR, finance etc. If you do come back into mobility, it will only make you stronger and more valued.
Don’t be US (or wherever you may be based) -centric. Mobility is different in every country, and policies that work will in the US or a particular region may not work well somewhere else. Take the time to understand the culture, practices etc of the various regions you support.
Don’t hesitate to remind your US colleagues that the world does not revolve around them and that you do have a life on Friday evenings. If they insist on Friday evening calls, tell them you’re more than happy to take on a Saturday morning so that they can experience it first-hand. Essentially, keep a work-life balance as best you can.
Don’t get hung up on certifications, especially early in career, and think that because you have some initials after your title you deserve an immediate promotion. There are some very good programs in the market which provide valuable information, but they can never replace first-hand, practical experience.