Professionalism: The key to success
The concept of “relocation” was created in the United States in the beginning of the 1950s, following the return of the army from Korea. It was quickly implemented by American companies as a tool to improve the management of the transfer of employees.
In Switzerland, in the 1980s, what assistance did companies provide to employees transferring for professional reasons? Practically none.
The service was limited to the provision of a moving allowance which employees, whether moving to Belgium or China, used at their own discretion. It was only in the beginning of the ‘90s that relocation made its appearance in Geneva and its surrounding areas. Despite the presence of international organizations, it was the arrival of many multi-nationals, mainly American, which boosted the relocation sector.
A boost to business
Geneva Relocation is one of the relocation agencies that benefited from this boom. Created in 1996 by the wife of an expatriate, this small family office was comprised of two employees. Today, the company employs more than 26 team members and covers not only Geneva but also the entire Leman region.
In the past 15 years, approximately 20 relocation companies have settled in the region. Of more or less large size, some are affiliated with an international group; others are specialized in furniture removal and developed a relocation sector internally. This activity also inspired the creation of companies specialized in so-called “conciergerie”, or career assistance, for the partners of expats.
“American companies were the first to benefit from these services. Today, the bilateral agreements authorize European companies to establish themselves in our region. Many British and of course neighbouring French-speaking countries appreciate the quality of life found in Switzerland,” adds Florence Lehmann Crettenand, Associate Director at Geneva Relocation.
More than just finding a home
The services offered by a company such as Geneva Relocation take into account the business requirements for international mobility. Geneva Relocation, for example, offers companies, their expatriates or relocated managers a range of services to facilitate their installation and integration into their new host country: Switzerland. Its role is held primarily with the company itself: on the one hand, it must control the costs of installation and reduce or avoid risks and constraints. On the other hand, it must manage time and installation time. Indeed, the heart of a company’s business is employment and investment in the business. Housing is not their mission. That’s why they call upon relocation companies.
“Geneva Relocation accompanies the companies firstly to relieve some of their burden and to allow them to save time and money,” says Ms Lehmann Crettenand. “This last argument may seem surprising but it is indeed the pre-selection of homes to visit – based on the criteria given by the expatriate and the regrouping of the numerous visits which allow us to limit the employees’ movements – that often generate other expenses, such as aircraft and accommodation costs.”
This activity, in continual progression, comprises multiple services as much prior to the move as after the move. Some, mainly administrative, are inherent to a move, such as obtaining a residence permit, assistance in helping to settle in or the follow-up of technical problems. Others are much more light-hearted like the introduction to ways and traditions of Switzerland, discovering the region and, of course, understanding the complex housing market necessary to acquire a home corresponding to the needs of the expat. These services have one aim: quick adaptation of the expat and his or her family so that they can be operational as rapidly as possible.
“The relocation service goes above and beyond finding a home; a relocation consultant needs to listen, reassure and advise their client without influencing their decision. It is a role that requires empathy, flexibility and a great amount of patience. Relocation, as a profession, is passionate and above all a human adventure,” Ms Lehmann Crettenand adds.
Uprooting, whether it is for the first or 15th time, remains an upheaval for the expat. Each new move involves establishing a new social circle, finding their feet in a foreign world and sometimes choosing the ideal school for their children. As well, the difficulty in finding a place in private schools combined with a saturated property market does not necessarily reassure the new arrivals.
A challenging task
“When I began at Geneva Relocation more than five years ago,” says Ms Lehmann Crettenand, “the multinationals covered certain costs in order to facilitate the move of the expat. In 80% of the cases, the search criteria represented luxury properties. The current economic climate no longer allows for this and sees companies offering a more adapted service to their employees. Budgets have a tendency to be tightened resulting in the search for less expensive properties.”
Despite the construction of more than 1,500 homes in the past two years, the demand for housing continues to increase and exceeds the supply. Juggling with a market where the vacancy rate fluctuates between 0.16% and 0.2% these past years is a daily challenge. And knowing how to successfully set the expectations of clients in this market is a task that demands a high degree of professionalism.
The current economic vigour of the Lake Geneva region has increased the demands for housing. There is a larger – and longer – commuting population in the canton of Vaud. Indeed, this canton offers more space and new housing as well as at more reasonable prices.
“Despite the tense situation, as a relocation agency we can boast of being able to still find housing for our clients. It is mainly thanks to our good relationships with local estate agents and private owners that we succeed in obtaining rental properties,” comments Ms Lehmann Crettenand.
Success built on high ethical standards
To provide quality work, the relocation agency must have the highest ethical standards. Some attribute the rise in rents to the current economic dynamism and to the companies that open offices in this region. A small portion of the population tends to tarnish the image of relocation, accusing multinational corporations of increasing the housing shortage.
In Ms Lehmann Crettenand’s opinion, however, “Taking this view is a bit hasty and unjustified. Geneva is in dire need of housing and it is the public authorities that need to ensure they are being built. One must not forget that for each job created by a company that establishes itself in Switzerland, new jobs are created for people from the region.”
Unfortunately, the negative press and these unfounded allegations do not stop there. “Some do not hesitate to accuse the expatriates and the relocation agencies of mounting bids to access housing. This criticism is totally unfounded, because neither real estate agencies nor relocation companies work on these terms, which go against their ethics. Moreover, we must not confuse property transactions with relocation services.”
Impact of current economic crisis
The economic euphoria has given way to the current economic crisis, which, in some instances, has had a negative impact on companies. Some have abandoned their projects to open offices in Geneva and others have postponed their arrival. However, the relocation market seems to be spared by this economic tsunami. According to Ms Lehmann Crettenand, “The flow has remained constant, whether in terms of arrivals or of departures, the large companies are in perpetual motion. An expatriate that arrived in Geneva two or three years ago, may leave for London, but another person will arrive to take over the position.”
Other important players in this development are the economic development offices that are actively involved in the perpetuation of foreign companies. “The economic promotions and development offices work extremely efficiently and our collaboration with them is essential. It is up to all of us to ensure that multinationals settled in Switzerland are happy to be here and want to remain,” she adds.
A success built on quality
“The success of Geneva Relocation is due primarily to the quality of our team: these people are extremely skilful in their relationships with each one of their customers,” says Ms Lehmann Crettenand. “They themselves have experienced expatriation or have travelled extensively. With this experience and openness of mind, they know how to anticipate problems and reassure employees that have recently landed in Switzerland. Relocation is primarily a profession of passion that has to do not only with procedures but also with human input.”
For further information about Geneva Relocation’s services, contact them at +41-(0)22 849 10 20 or visit their website at www.genevarelocation.net.
Article by Mary Pagg