"I need to get out of London," I said to my boss Drayton Bird, the worldwide executive creative director at O&M Direct, back in 1991.
"There’s a job going in Singapore," he replied, without inquiring why I was so eager to get out of the Big Smoke.
"When do I start?" I asked without hesitation. With those words, I was scurried onto a plane to a country I’d never been to: the tropical island of Singapore.
Since then, I’ve learned that there are many benefits to living and working abroad, ranging from the superficial to the significant. There’s the weather, for example. In Singapore, it’s hot and sunny almost 365 days a year. I look back now, and don’t know how I survived all those miserable British winters. And there’s the food — my taste buds are constantly treated to delicious, spicy and addictive concoctions.
But the real value in working abroad is in the professional experience itself.
In Singapore, the pace is fast and hectic and, quite often, our work is produced on a shoestring budget. When I arrived, I felt like I had been dropped in at the deep end and forced to sink or swim.
Perseverance became my most valuable asset. You soon realize that most work that comes out of the headquarters in the US is not universally understood. You come to learn that understanding the nuances in each market is vitally important.
Working in this region also teaches you how to be nimble, resourceful and personable. You have to take on many planning and account-service roles alongside your creative day job. More often than not,
you have to develop a thick skin as the challenges of your day-to-day work are amplified by the idiosyncrasies of a foreign country.
Working in a new region gives you an international outlook. It makes you more rounded and appreciative of our differences as human beings, which ultimately makes you a better creative person because you have more knowledge and insight to fuel your ideas.
I’ve always loved the line from Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
I’m sure it’s true. But that lyric is equally applicable to Singapore. After all, it’s the heart of the fastest-growing region in the world. And it just so happens to have better weather.
Andy Greenaway is executive creative director, Asia-Pacific, with SapientNitro.