Michelle Green, MILR '99
Living and Working in Angola
Michelle Green, MILR ’99, is an HR Advisor and Staffing and Workforce Development Manager working with Chevron in Angola. Michelle shares an inside look at her international career.
I am confident that if you asked any former expatriate what impact their international assignment had on their life, both personally and professionally, they would respond that it significantly changed their perspective. My response would be no different. Living in another country has changed me, for the better, and is something I highly recommend for professionals working for global companies or those who aspire to manage a global workforce.
Regardless of your level of cultural sensitivity, you cannot truly understand all the dynamics involved until you have walked in those proverbial shoes. It would be a mistake to believe that an international assignment would provide all the tools necessary to claim cultural competence; however living and working outside of one’s home country is invaluable in today’s global workplace. An expatriate assignment is a necessity for any future leader in a global company as it quickly provides the realization that not all decisions can be neatly framed in the western business model. It is also critical in establishing credibility with a multi-national workforce. Every international location presents its own unique challenges, whether it’s Paris, London, Singapore, or in my case, Angola.
Angola is located in the Southwestern portion of Africa, along the Atlantic Coast, stretching from the mouth of the Congo River southward to Namibia. The Portuguese colonized Angola in 1575, and quickly began trading in slaves the majority of which were destined for another Portuguese possession, Brazil. Although the export of slaves was banned in 1836 the Portuguese maintained a tight grip on Angola, which included forced labor on plantations well into the mid 1900’s. In the 1950’s and 60’s several guerrilla groups were formed to fight for Angolan independence. In 1975, following a successful coup in Portugal, Angola was granted its independence. The Portuguese rapidly withdrew from the country without formally transferring power to a new government. The guerrilla groups, which had fought for an independent Angola, in an attempt to seize power, began a bloody civil war that lasted until 2002.
The consequences of this tumultuous past have left their mark and only now is the country beginning the process of rebuilding. The lack of infrastructure presents its fair share of problems and this carries over into the workplace. Although our employees are among the best educated in the country the hardships faced by their extended families and friends are hard to comprehend by a non-resident.
After graduation from the Cornell MILR program in January of 1999, I immediately joined Chevron Corporation, one of the largest energy companies in the world, on the Human Resource Development Program. For the past 2 ½ years I have been working in Angola as the HR Advisor for Chevron’s International Exploration & Production Company’s South African Business Unit, working closely with the HR Manager as his advisor, and mentor for his direct reports. Additionally, Total Remuneration, Employee and Labor Relations, and HR Business Partner organizations reported through my position. Recently I was named the Staffing and Workforce Development Manager for the business unit and will face many new and challenging opportunities.
The South African Business Unit currently has 3000 employees; most are located in Angola (a few hundred technical professionals work in our Houston center) and 88% are Angolan. This business unit, if operated as a stand-alone company, would be considered a very large energy company, and we continue to invest and grow our business in Angola. As a result, we are continuously and aggressively recruiting and developing more individuals to meet these demands. The HR function plays an integral role in our business as competition in recruiting and retaining talent in the Angolan labor market is fierce.
My experiences with Chevron have been interesting and varied, throughout my career, and obviously this latest assignment in Angola is no different. I often get asked why I would want to live in another country, and more specifically, why would I want to move to the other side of the world and work in a developing country? My response is always the same, “why wouldn’t you want to do something like this!” Working and living in Angola has its challenges but the rewards always outweigh those challenges. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t learn something new about myself or my job.
How lucky can one person be!
Michelle Green, MILR ‘99
- Michelle Green