Making a Whopper may be similar around the world, but staffing across borders is no routine task. Burger King, like most multinationals, grapples with relocating managers and their families, language issues, differing expectations on compensation and even questions about which car to assign to a top executive.
Lazaro Acosta, *Burger King’s* director of Human Resources for the Latin America and Caribbean region, shared his experience at WorldCity’s latest HR Connections event in a laughter-filled session that noted Americans’ propensity to focus more on salary and Latins’ tendency to look more at social status.
Acosta was surprised how much weight is placed on cars when recruiting top managers in Latin America, he said, with the kind of vehicle assigned potentially seen as a slight or deal-breaker. An executive from a rival firm might taunt a manager and say: “I can’t believe they give you a Chevy Astra. We give people at your level a better title and a BMW or Toyota Corolla,” Acosta said.
Some executives in Latin America also expect a driver and in some cases, an armored vehicle. It costs about $50,000 to get cars armored, said American Airlines’ regional HR chief Carlos Hernandez.
Others in the region expect a big private office to mark status. “The concept of open plans is not that well received in Latin America,” said Laura Quevedo, regional HR director for liquor giant *Diageo*.
Moving staff between countries also presents challenges. Americans offered packages tend to quickly calculate what the foreign currency salary means in dollars, downplaying other benefits, said Acosta.
Americans used to enjoy significant U.S. tax benefits when living overseas, but increasingly “Uncle Sam is looking for his piece,” reducing those tax perks, said Marylou Ponzi, director of compensation for Miami-based cell phone distribution giant *Brightstar*.
To move Latin American talent to the United States, a key concern is language. Most multinationals require fluent English, even though they may not require fluent Portuguese or Spanish for Americans moving south. More Latin managers are mastering English, easing the transfers, participants said.
Still, it’s tough to persuade talent from Brazil and Colombia to relocate to the United States, especially for an extended period, said Adriana Andretta, HR manager for Latin America for telecom company *Nokia*. Opportunities abound in fast-developing Brazil nowadays, and “Colombians are in a comfortable country,” with a high standard of living and a growing economy, Andretta said.
For any relocation to succeed, companies must involve the whole family, especially the wife or husband. *Hellman Worldwide Logistics* requires an executive’s spouse and children to visit the new country before a potential move, said Ken Finneran, Chief People Officer for the Americas. Diageo offers language courses for an executive’s spouse and may help them find a job in a new nation, said Quevedo.
Moves tend to work better when children are young. It’s tougher to relocate families with teenagers, because high school years are critical for college acceptance and colleges key to future job opportunities, said Brightstar’s Ponzi.
Marta Ramirez of freight forwarder *Geodis Wilson* said she’s learned from working at several multinationals that it pays to groom talent from within. Internal promotions reduce the need for relocations and also, build company loyalty that can help families adapt if they do move, Ramirez said.
A decade from now, compensation challenges may differ. Hellman’s Finneran said employees likely will choose from more of a “cafeteria checklist,” customizing benefits to say, work more from home.
Lisa Lopez of medical device maker *Medtronic* expects a larger pool of talent will be vying for top multinational jobs, resulting in less generous packages for executives. “The balance will be better” for employers, said Lopez, Medtronicâ€™s talent acquisition lead for the Americas.
Burger King’s Acosta predicts the terms of compensation packages will be more transparent, as social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter gain in importance. He expects “people will be tweeting about their benefits.”
HR connections is one of six event series hosted by WorldCity to bring together professionals to discuss international business topics. The HR series is sponsored by the *University of Miami School of Business Administration*. The next HR Connections is set for Thursday, May 6.