When you hear that someone has dropped everything to take a multi-year position thousands of miles from home, you might imagine an ambitious, adventurous 22-year-old. But for Johnny H. Nesbitt ’72, an overseas post holds equal appeal now that he’s well-settled in his career.
Nesbitt was enjoying a spring day in Miami last year when a Dubai-based headhunter called with a question: Would he consider moving to Saudi Arabia to work? The idea had never crossed his mind.
Nesbitt earned an M.B.A. after Amherst and has spent his career in executive recruiting and employer branding (that is, helping companies develop their reputations as employers). He’s done this work at Unext.com, Lockheed Martin, Monsanto and, at the time of the phone call, Randstad. Flattered by the headhunter’s call, he did a Skype interview with a team from the Saudi Electricity Co.
In March, work visa in hand, Nesbitt arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to oversee employer branding at the state-run electric company on a multi-year contract. He says he chose the job in part because of his lifelong interest in other cultures, and also because he’d enjoyed an earlier experience working and living in another country (England). Riyadh brings him closer to his girlfriend in England, too. And the job is a natural extension of work he’s done throughout his career.
As important, he says, is that the Saudis were looking for someone with a deep and rich résumé. “Many of the expats I work with here are Canadians or Brits with 30 years-plus of professional experience,” he says. “I see a lot of gray hair. This approach is the exact opposite of the hiring practices of Silicon Valley.”
Here are a few other things he’s learned about Saudi business culture during his time in the country:
On the 10th floor of a large tower, his office has an international feel, with colleagues from places ranging from Canada to Sudan to the Philippines. Most are fluent in English.
The work day starts promptly at 7 a.m. and finishes abruptly at 3 p.m. At noon work stops for midday prayer time.
No one talks about politics at work, he says, and no one keeps family pictures on their desks.
Enter any cubicle and the person who works there will immediately offer coffee or tea, served by an attendant.
Riyadh is an energetic but dusty city. Work colleagues are friendly and open. American fast food restaurants sprinkle the street. His own office window looks down on a Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk.