Going International – North America

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As a Portfolio Executive, North America can be a very attractive market. The exchange rate is very favourable (June 2024) and the fee rates that people are commanding for Portfolio Executive work in North America are generally higher than we can easily achieve in the UK.

But how can I access the North American market?

It’s very much like the European market, except, obviously, you don’t have the language barriers. One of the simplest strategies is to work with US companies with a presence in Europe and then work back to some of their subsidiaries in North America. However, that can often be quite a challenging strategy because they are more likely to have an established set of relationships in North America. An alternative appraoch is to follow individuals that you have relationships with, perhaps from your past, who are now working for your target organisations in North America.

You can also be intentional about extending your LinkedIn network into North America.

What time zones in North America?

To what extent do you want to cover all of the different time zones.

Generally, working for clients in the Eastern time zone (five hours behind) is relatively painless. When you start considering the Pacific states, then it can be more challenging. Alaska is even further west. Being careful about how many time zones you’re happy to cover does become important.

What geography in North America?

What is your appetite for travel? I think it’s quite demanding to see the whole of North America as a single market. My suggestion to people is to start with at a particular sector cluster. If, for example, you’re going to be really into biotech, then there are particular centres of smaller biotech companies that you might want to work with in particular parts of the US. If it’s all about software, then again, you might choose a different location. If you’re particularly wanting to work with the VC community, then that could well be Silicon Valley. On the other hand, if you want to work with the financial services community, it may be that New York is a better centre. Consider the sector clusters that you want to work with and then think about where you want to work. It could be that the primary motivation for working in North America is so that you can enjoy sunnier climates during winter months. Maybe you want to go to a place where you can really enjoy the sailing or the skiing. Perhaps you’re a keen mountaineer or ultimately your greatest joy is rodeo and you want to be out in a place like Wisconsin or Maine. There’s a whole range of different reasons that you might want to be traveling in North America.

The final consideration is the cultural challenge. North America is not a homogeneous country. We’re perhaps very conscious of the differences in culture and attitude between people in Central London and Birmingham and Manchester and Scotland and Wales. Similar kinds differences apply in North America, but probably with an order of magnitude more complication. So not only is there a huge racial sensitivity in most of North America. Canada is dual language and French is also a national language. In Quebec, French will be the primary language. Similarly, Spanish is becoming an increasingly important language in the USA and there are more and more contexts in which competence in Spanish will be important to fully engage with your clients in the USA.

There are also different cultural norms about the way you interact with different people. I would suggest that there are distinct local styles. So perhaps the business style in New York, the experience you might have in Chicago, the way that people approach working life in the deep South and on the West Coast are all different. This matters, both in terms of deal-making, building relationships and expectations about the pace at which people expect things to be done.

As an individual born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who regularly visits America, I would have to say it can be a fantastic place to work. However, my perspective has been prejudiced by working with a very large international professional services firm and through them, working primarily with large corporates. I have. had much less exposure to the smaller business sector.

Why not just go for it!

North America is a vibrant market, typically more resilient in the face of downturns and growth and certainly very attractive for many people compared to Europe. A business culture of possibility, opportunity and pace can be very energising. Many people I know who regularly visit the USA for work come back refreshed and renewed.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.