Q&A: Nick Plummer: “The biggest organisations are under huge cost pressures"

Author: Mark Williams | Date: 16 Dec 2015

The global mobility expert on the future of HR in Singapore

Nick PlummerNick Plummer has recently returned to the UK after spending four years in Singapore, where he also led the opening of K2 offices in Australia and Hong Kong. But then, globe-trotting is all part of the job: K2 provides independent global mobility expertise to 120 corporate clients in 80 countries. People Management spoke to Plummer about how HR is changing in Singapore, as well as emerging trends in global mobility.
How is the HR world changing in Singapore?
I arrived in Singapore on the heels of the changes happening after the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008 and some of the big financial changes in the west. It was a catalyst for many organisations to either increase their footprint in Asia or even start out there for the first time.
 
With more western organisations opening up in Asia, more western HR employees have moved to Asia and that has broadened the knowledge base of HR around compliance, process, cost tracking etc.
 
The other big change has been policy. Asia has always been viewed as a bit of an emerging market and most assignments in the region would have been for two or three years with full allowances. In early 2013, big parts of Asia became very expensive and many organisations switched from these assignments, which would have included housing and school compensation, to permanent transfers. Workers are effectively hired as locals on an increased salary to cover things like housing costs.
 
What was the aim of your four years in Singapore?
I went out there to build K2’s brand in Asia Pacific (APAC), which we did by growing our organisation in Singapore and opening new offices in Australia and Hong Kong.
 
We have a diverse portfolio of customers – ranging from the legal profession, commodities, traders and electronics – so we really wanted to underpin and support our capabilities in those areas.
 
What trends are emerging in global mobility?
All organisations are facing huge cost pressures at the moment to manage with a smaller budget and still deliver global mobility. The focus now is on added value and what other services we can provide the customer, such as policy advisory services, cost saving on temporary homes and insurance costs. We’re providing free temporary storage and supporting our customers with technology whereas before they would have gone out and bought it themselves. There are lots of areas where we need to be more creative and innovate to solve the whole cost issue.
 
You’re going to be working with your US team a lot more now. What new challenges do you expect?
The US is a very mature market for global mobility and there are big differences in contractual arrangements and regulatory and compliance issues around data security in the USA. We have to pay a lot of attention to making sure that we comply with US and federal law around that. Those topics don’t feature so heavily when we are conducting business in Asia.
 
Was there any British food that it was hard for you to find in Singapore or any Singaporean items that you can't do without now?
Freshly made sandwiches and Scotch eggs. But there is a fantastic chain of fish and chip shops there called Smiths, and there was one about a mile from my home. I ended up making scotch eggs myself, but they didn’t turn out very well.
 
I’ll miss Singaporean chicken and rice – they are very adept at producing the most amazing flavours from very humble ingredients.