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Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com. It's guest time on the show, and our topic is expanding your business globally, and my guest today is Francesca Vollaro, the Vice President of Americas for the Santa Fe Group. Fran, welcome to the Businessmakers Show.
Francesca: Thank you, Russ. I'm so happy to be here.
Russ: You bet. Well, tell us about the Santa Fe Group.
Francesca: Well, the Santa Fe Group helps companies relocate their employees all over the world actually, and we're in about 52 countries around the world, with a global headquarters in London, England, and our Asia headquarters in Hong Kong. We offer a variety of services from immigration and visa services to moving services to home finding, helping people move their household goods, and even move their pets.
Russ: Wow. That's too cool. Well, it seems to me Fran, with the global economy just exploding over the last five to ten years and continuing to ramp up, that it's prime time for that business.
Francesca: It is. It's been expanding over the last 20, 30 years, and although economic downturns sometimes affect it, people still do relocate. There's a need for talent overseas, either for specific jobs or because they're - it's talent management for the company to give people experience overseas, very important for people to have that multicultural experience. So we're delighted to help our clients and our new customers, as they look for opportunities overseas to get their employees settled in.
Russ: Great. Well, sometimes it seems like even maybe if the economy is down here, it might be better in Europe, although that's hard to believe right now, but -
Francesca: Yeah, but sometimes yeah.
Russ: But - yeah, but other parts. So it's -
Russ: It's not necessarily in sync with the U.S. economy.
Francesca: No, there's always a reason for people to relocate, and we help our clients with all sorts of programs, whether it's soup to nuts, where they're helping people and they're giving them all the relocation benefits, or it could be younger folks who want to see the world and are eager to do it on less services. So they're looking to get over there quickly and maybe have the minimal services. So we design packages for companies that meet their needs.
Russ: Okay. Well, I did spend some time on your website, and I'm just always fascinated about the fact that you offer and the fact that it's needed, sort of a cultural education, and I would guess that it's pretty different from one country to the next.
Francesca: Country to another, sure. People are always very eager, or many people are very eager to take a relocation opportunity because they're learning new cultures, but it's very intimidating sometimes, and so we give pre-departure assistance with cultural orientation, making sure that the employee and more importantly the family, the partner or spouse, and the children, are ready to go, and then once you get there, just settling in correctly, making sure that you find things that make you feel comfortable, whether it's your sports or your gym, a favorite gym that's going to make you happy, or the right restaurants or the right women's group or men's group or international ex-pat group. There are so many of those things, and each of our offices work with the incoming family to make sure they're set and that they're going to be happy.
Russ: Now are those ever even actually classroom instructions or -
Francesca: It's a combination of classroom, web, and in person instructions. It's designed to whatever their - what their corporation wants.
Russ: Okay, and the cultural education doesn't start until they get there, or is some of it -
Russ: - before they depart?
Francesca: It definitely starts before they depart. So it's called pre-departure cultural assistance, and that could be - you start with a needs assessment for the family to listen and understand what they want, and then design a program that's right for them, whether that's online understanding of what the culture of the destination city would be like or actually in depth are you the right person to take this assignment -
Russ: Oh wow, okay.
Francesca: - and that would be helping the employee and helping the employer to decide whether they're make the right decision because it's a big investment.
Russ: Sure. Well, I guess do you sometimes have employees that are in the cultural education process and decide, "Wait, this is not for me"?
Francesca: Yes, yes -
Russ: Wow, okay.
Francesca: - and that's the best time to decide it because this way they - they're saving themselves a lot of heartache, their family, and nobody wants to part of a failed assignment.
Russ: Right, absolutely.
Francesca: So yeah, yeah.
Russ: Well, I guess actually these days still as always, there are some unsafe parts of the world that people are relocating into as well. I - does that come in under the cultural education or -
Francesca: Yeah, and most of our companies, our clients, they have very good programs about that, and a lot of times the family does not accompany the relocating employee, and maybe it's a shorter term assignment. They're going over there for a specific job, and then they're coming out quickly. So maybe they might have more home leave time to visit their family, or their family might be in a different part of the world waiting for them.
Russ: Okay. Give us an example about how the company, the Santa Fe Group, has helped somebody overcome like a cultural challenge.
Francesca: Oh, that's a great question. Here's an interesting one that we've actually reused a different way. In Japan, we - our Japan office noticed that a lot of our non-Japanese customers moving to Japan would be carrying around bags of packages of their favorite Japanese product because they couldn't read the kanji.
Russ: Like grocery products and stuff?
Francesca: Grocery products, drug store products, laundry detergent, hair - this shampoo.
Russ: So they had no - the only way they could find what they were looking for is if they pulled out their empty one.
Francesca: And they would compare it, exactly.
Russ: Okay, okay. So how - what was the solution?
Francesca: So our Japan office team there decided to take those packages, put them on - make them into an app that could be downloaded from our website, and all the favorite Japan products that the western ex-pats like are on this app and they can download them. They can see the picture of them, and they can see the western description or the word -
Francesca: - and we - we've gotten a great response from that -
Francesca: - and we're actually doing it in reverse now in the U.S. for some of our Japan customers coming to the United States.
Russ: Cool. Now you said up front this is a London based company, and so headquarters is in London but from what I've learned you're the first U.S. presence.
Russ: This is the first office, right?
Russ: In Houston, Texas, right?
Francesca: Mm-hmm, it is.
Russ: Okay. So that must be sort of interesting from your perspective. They expect you to lead the charge over here. They chose you to lead the charge over here, and they chose Houston, Texas. Is that all accurate?
Francesca: That is all accurate, yes. I was honored to be chosen. It's a great company. I've known the principals and the management team for many years through partnerships, and although we are based in London as far as our headquarters, we are pretty much a multicultural company. Here in the United States, we - we've always worked through great partnerships, but as we were expanding a lot of our global contracts, we realized - the company realized that they needed to have a presence in the United States to be able to respond more quickly to our corporations and to work very closely with our partners and -
Russ: Okay, and your office is a year old? Would that be right?
Francesca: It is.
Russ: All right.
Francesca: I was happy to move to Texas, a little surprised, but I've been here now for a year and I'm getting to love Texas and -
Russ: That's good, since you're here and you're working here. Yeah.
Francesca: Since I'm here. Yeah, yeah. We're definitely committed to be here for the long term. Texas, we've found, is very business friendly as you know, and it was very easy to incorporate. It was a very welcoming community. We - it's a gateway to Latin America for us. We do a lot of business in South America. We do a lot of business with oil and energy companies. So it's a great place to be, but also it's right in the middle of the country. So we can reach both east and west easily to all our customers and cover all the time zones.
Russ: Okay, and then the company, the Santa Fe Group, was doing business in the U.S. already before you opened, but it became obvious that a U.S. presence was necessary, right?
Francesca: Yeah, we've been doing business here for many, many years. We have lots of corporations and we have some great partners throughout the United States, but really this opening allows us to be more responsive to our corporate customers who are doing more and more business back and forth from Europe and Asia into the United States.
Russ: Okay, and I'm sure that your ideal customer or client is a large corporation, but I would also assume that there are a lot of smaller business nowadays, more so than ever, that are wanting a presence in other countries around the world. Is that right?
Francesca: Oh yes, definitely, not only a presence in other countries but also in the United States. So at - just this morning we were assisting a company from England who's bringing their first employee into the United States, and we assist many people, small companies who are just expanding overseas or working with partners overseas that want to bring an employee overseas. So we help them with everything from the visa and immigration process, which can take a long time, to then getting them set up overseas.
Russ: Well, Fran, I really appreciate you sharing your interesting business story with us.
Francesca: Well, thank you for asking me. It's been a delight to be here.
Russ: You bet, and that wraps up my discussion with Francesca Vollaro, Vice President, Americas, with the Santa Fe Group, and this is the Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at the businessmakers.com.