Spotlight on... the overseas professionals
David Drinkwater (BSc Chemical Engineering, 1987) moved to New York on a temporary two-year contract in 1991. He’s stayed to this day and talks about his lasting love of the Big Apple. Maria Santacoloma stepped off the plane a few months ago and gives her take on learning to adjust to life in the city that never sleeps.
‘New York wasn’t going to a long-term option for me, but I’d just gained my Chartered Accountant qualification while working at Arthur Andersen and I knew that it meant I had the flexibility to work anywhere. I went on holiday with some friends to Los Angeles in 1990 and everyone I met there told me how great New York was. So, when the opportunity to work there came up, I took it.
‘As soon as I arrived, I felt at home and, because the East Coast of America is only a six-hour flight away from the UK, I never felt too far away from my family. And living in the US, particularly New York, is very similar to living in the UK in many respects, given the language and the crossover of so much of the cultures.
‘New York is a fascinating place – one of those cities where you quickly learn that the people living there don’t originate from Manhattan, so everyone has a story to tell.
‘I’ve since changed jobs about four times and I’m now Chief Financial Officer at Manikay Partners – a hedge fund based in Manhattan. Working overseas has definitely given me a different perspective on the world, as I’ve had the opportunity to experience different cultures and develop an international network of friends and business associates, while keeping in touch with my friends back in the UK.
‘Connections are all-important. Ten years ago, I was temporarily out of work and, when I found myself with some extra time on my hands, I started to look for fellow Birmingham alumni. There wasn’t a chapter in New York at the time, so I was asked if I’d establish one.
‘We began with quarterly meetings and it went from strength to strength – in fact about five years ago, the British Consulate got in touch and I became involved in creating a US network for Russell Group alumni. I also now help to run the University’s USA Foundation, which develops the alumni network in the US and supports programmes for current and future students of the University. We now have a network of around 3,000 alumni and chapters in nine cities.
‘As part of my work, I’m in contact with a whole host of alumni, some of whom get in touch when they arrive in the US to start building their own networks of contacts. Maria is one of those newcomers…’
Maria Santacoloma (MSc International Business, 2006)
‘Since graduating, I’ve been living and working in my native Colombia, involved in business activities and short-term assignments in different countries.Six months ago, I got the chance to work in New York as a Business Consultant for an advisory firm helping businesses expand into new territories.
‘I found out about the job through contacts I already had in the US, so when I moved here it didn’t feel like I was starting completely afresh. Apart from the issues around establishing a credit history and so on, moving to another country has been really good; I’m experiencing a different corporate culture, as well as strengthening my professional network here.
‘I’m also finding out about various new business situations and skills, all of which is helping me to develop a real understanding of this new culture I find myself in.
‘At the moment, I could easily see myself staying in New York for the next five or six years. It’s a great place to live and work.’