MANAGERS ABROAD : Rick Helliwell

What prompted you to seek work out of New Zealand?
It seems only yesterday, when in 2000, I made the decision to take the business and HR knowledge gained from working in Sheffield Consulting Group and apply for HR managerial positions in the Auckland market. I was fortunate through my ‘old’ flying networks to have my resume passed to senior managers in Emirates Airline based in Dubai, and the mix of HR, commercial, leadership and aviation experience I had gained in Sheffield and the Air Force as pilot and manager attracted them to invite me to Dubai. The rest is history, and after seven years in Dubai there are no regrets and only excellent memories that are still being created on daily basis.
What is your current role?
Since I joined Emirates in December 2000 the company has grown from 13,000 to 35,000+ employees and we are expecting to be over 50,000 staff by mid-2010. I am responsible for Emirates’ global employment branding and talent-attraction strategies. Our multinational recruitment team has global focus and visits on average 25-30 countries per month. This year we will have hired over 9000+ external/internal staff from the 25,000 to 30,000 applications received online every month, including good number of New Zealanders. I oversee the hiring of the most senior executives and I negotiate contracts internationally and travel to open up new markets for talent acquisition. I am also member of the Group’s high-performer steering committee linked to executive development and leadership succession planning.
How does it fit into your career path?
Having obtained my private pilot licence in Napier when I was 16, I have always been passionate about the aviation sector. What is unique about Emirates, and gives me great interest in my role, is that the Group is very diverse. We run airport operations and services in Dubai and at other global airports, we have various tourism and travel-related businesses, we operate hotels and hospitality businesses, we run medical clinics, training schools and an accredited degree-standard college, we have cargo and freight businesses, and we have large IT division. In addition we corporately hire across all business and professional services areas – so cover almost all functional disciplines you can think of.
This diversity, combined with the challenges of explosive growth working alongside people from many nationalities and cultures, provides me with stimulating environment that excites me every day when I am driving to work. The very talented people working within the Group, the sense of pride in the brand, and the results we achieve together, continue to motivate me in the role.
What are the learnings you will take from it?
The main ‘learning’ I have gained so far, is that wherever people come from around the globe, if you can adapt and be flexible in your style, be open in your thinking and work as committed team with quality always top of mind, then you can achieve business success and gain lot personally as an individual.
What would induce/encourage you to return to New Zealand?
If considering my future career, I certainly don’t rule out returning to New Zealand but in the short term at least I am seeking to remain in Dubai and take on broader responsibilities with the Emirates Group within HR. There are many excellent companies within New Zealand but the growth and role challenges would need to be significant to attract me back and the business would certainly need an international focus.
How do you view New Zealand from where you stand now?
As Kiwi living in Dubai but travelling extensively, I always see myself as not only representative for Emirates but also an ‘ambassador’ for New Zealand. There is always sense of pride when meeting new business people, media or government officials and it is easy to be very positive and proud of being of Kiwi origin. Discussions often spread from the business at hand to New Zealand and the tourism strengths that our native country has to offer.
New Zealand and the UAE have recently signed agreements to further foster international relations in number of areas and this is something I believe is very positive. Dubai’s GDP growth is significant, with over 80 percent being through tourism and commerce, so New Zealand as country has lot to offer and gain from growing ties with the UAE.
New Zealand needs to keep supporting its exporters and promoting its strong tourism brand, and I believe also encourage investment from abroad to help develop and grow the national economy so that all can prosper.
What advice would you give young executives contemplating career stretch offshore?
If any executive is looking for an offshore experience my advice is go for it and discover your potential! New Zealanders have much to offer and are well respected overseas for their ability to work well with other nationalities and cultures, and for the strong Kiwi work ethic.
Don’t expect free ride though, if you seek the expatriate lifestyle, and be prepared to work hard. If you do this the career rewards and opportunities will follow.

Rick Helliwell is member of KEA, New Zealand’s global talent community,

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