Education

The pros and cons of relocation

As a CIO, there's a high probability that at some point in your career, you'll be asked to relocate. Bob Weinstein talks to two IT pros who describe their experiences relocating and offer guidance to those on the move.

What would you say if your boss called you into his or her office and asked if you’d like to take a bigger job with more power, money, perks, and responsibility? The only rub is that the job is in Duluth, MN.

Such questions are being asked every day with careers riding on how they’re answered. When 50-year-old Bill Griffin got a call from a headhunter asking if he wanted to move his wife and three children to Dallas, to head Johnson & Johnson’s 6,000-person Medical Group with the impressive title of VP of Worldwide Operations, he agreed to take the job. At the time, he was head of logistics at Becton, Dickinson & Company in Franklin Lakes, NJ.

Why did he do it? It wasn’t because he was unhappy with his job. It was simply an opportunity to move up.

Janet Cardinell’s story is a little different. Still, she agreed to radically change her lifestyle when her boss asked her to relocate from Ann Arbor, MI, to Menlo Park, CA. Cardinell is now the director of campus relations of Versity.com , an academic Web site for college students. Deemed an important employee, she was one of the 30-odd workers asked to move to California.

As a CIO, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to move several times during the course of your career. Here are some suggestions on what to consider when faced with relocating and how to make the most of such an opportunity.

A major lifestyle change
Cardinell will never forget the quandary she faced when asked if she wanted to relocate. “It was not as if I was considering moving to a nearby state,” she said. “I was asked to move cross-country, which further complicated my decision.”

It meant leaving her friends and family and moving her two children, ages four and six, to a new location. The move required finding a new house and school, not to mention creating essential relationships with doctors and teachers. Essentially, it meant building a new life.

Adding to her dilemma was the fact that Cardinell was raising her two boys with help from her ex-husband, who took care of them while she worked. He was a contract Web developer who worked at home, which made it easy for him to care for the children during the day.

Evaluating the pros and cons
Initially, Cardinell viewed relocation as a sprawling adventure, a turning point in her life. It was a new beginning, a chance to live and work in another part of the country. But, the decision was also overshadowed by many doubts, including whether it was a good career move.

She lined the pros and cons side by side, evaluating each carefully. First, there were lifestyle issues. An outdoors enthusiast, she liked the idea of living near the ocean where the weather was warm and golf seasons were long. Another plus was that her ex-husband also decided to move to Menlo Park so he could be close to his boys. He saw it as a good career move, as well.

However, Cardinell had to reconcile herself to seeing her parents twice a year. From a career vantage point, relocation was a step up. The company was doing well, but like many dot coms, it was still in the red. Recent venture capitalist funding had brought in $11.2 million, which should have allowed the company the time it needed to break out of the red ink. But, the clincher, as far as Cardinell was concerned, was a strong management team. The company founder was 22 years old, but the CEO was a veteran entrepreneur in his 40s, engendering confidence in her decision to move.

The dangers of refusing relocation
While Cardinell was something of a rookie in the relocation game, Johnson & Johnson’s Griffin was a veteran. Early in his career, he and his wife, Brenda Griffin, decided he would build a career in the corporate world.

“That decision usually includes relocation,” he said.

That decision and his attitude towards relocation could be why Griffin has been so successful in his field.

Ten years ago, “if you turned down a move, it was the end of your career at that company,” says Laura Herring, president of the St. Louis-based human resources consulting company The IMPACT Group, which specializes in helping families make speedy transitions to their new surroundings. “Today, it translates into a missed opportunity.”

But Griffin and many other career-builders say relocation can be a double-edge sword. It’s a big decision when you’re single; it’s tougher still if you have a family. So far, the Griffins have been relocated eight times, spending no more than four years at a single location.

And since Griffin has proven that he’s willing to go where the action is, there’s a good chance he’ll move a few more times before he calls it quits. “We’re corporate gypsies,” said Brenda Griffin.

Relocation’s emotional toll
Having gone through so many moves, the Griffins have no illusions about relocation. Each move is a complex logistical maneuver involving severing ties in one location and creating new ones in another place. For non-working spouses like Brenda Griffin, the bulk of a move’s grunt work falls on her shoulders. Her husband usually goes to the new location immediately to start work, while she follows several months later after tying up all the business in the old location (for example, selling the house, closing accounts, supervising the move, etc.).

New to the relocation game, Cardinell quickly discovered it’s no piece of cake. Picking up the beat and resuming your career in another city is the easiest part of the deal. It’s managing the endless details that takes a physical and emotional toll.

Cardinell’s move lasted six weeks. First, she took a few scouting trips to line up schools and find a house to rent. But she also had to put her house on the market and her ex-husband had to sublet his apartment. Like the Griffins, Cardinell went on ahead to begin her job while her ex-husband wound things up in Ann Arbor so he could move with the two boys a month later.

But, even when Cardinell settled into her rental house and her husband leased a nearby apartment, it took a few months before she adjusted to her new lifestyle. Working 10-hour days, it seemed like she’d never unpack and rid herself of the clutter of unopened boxes and suitcases. “I never anticipated the amount of time it would take to set up a new household,” she said.

It’s not just about fatter paychecks
Despite the hassle, Cardinell and the Griffins endorse relocation—as does Herring. However, she cautions against moving solely for bigger paychecks. Relocation often involves a big cultural adjustment. Living in small towns like Broken Bow, NE, where the Griffins spent a few years, where you are 82 miles from the nearest McDonald’s, is far different than living in San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, or Boston.

The more research you do about a prospective location, the better, Herring said. “Leave no stone unturned,” she advises. “Investigate quality-of-life issues in the new location. Is it safe? How long is your daily commute?” Find out about the new location’s standard of living. “If it’s an expensive city, you might discover it’s not worth the move when evaluating your disposable income after deducting rent and living expenses.”

Before agreeing to a relocation assignment, the Griffins usually spend a week in the new location to see if they like it. Griffin checks it from stem to stern, even spending several hours in a local mall to get a sense of what the people are like.

If you’re part of a dual-career family, the relocation has to work for both partners, Herring stresses. One partner may have to put his or her career on hold for the sake of the spouse’s career. Brenda Griffin did it gladly for her husband. Many others wouldn’t be so obliging.

Herring also advises checking out the company’s relocation policy. Most large and midsize companies have them. The rule is the more you earn, the bigger your relocation allotment.

Finally, Bill Griffin says, the secret to a successful relocation is planning.

“Most people don’t allow themselves to adapt to new situations,” he says. “But, we’re more adaptable than we realize. Rather than being apprehensive about change, embrace it. Every move is an opportunity to experience life and make new connections.”

Get it in writing
Consider some other caveats as well. Whether you’re relocating to the next state or the other side of the world, get a written promise from your company that it will pay moving expenses back home if the relocation should not work out, advises Ed Ryan, managing director of IMCOR, a Stamford, CT-based interim staffing company for senior executives.

Ryan stresses the importance of having all your relocation costs covered, since they can be considerable—especially if you’re contemplating working abroad. Often, several trips must be made to finalize the arrangements, which can add up to a hefty sum.

In short, take nothing for granted. Finally, “try to be flexible and see nothing as permanent,” Cardinell advises. “If you’ve relocated once, chances are you’ll do it again when opportunity knocks.” The Griffins ditto that.
How many times have you moved for the benefit of your career? What did you gain? What were the drawbacks? In hindsight, would you move again? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.
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