Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Thankyou Heidi


  • pg 1
									         SEPTEMBER 25, 2007
Thank you Heidi. To Jacquelynne Willcox at Hill Knowlton who first
thought of me for this engagement and all of you at Russell Reynolds and
Advance heartfelt thanks.

I‟m going to get to Air Force One in a minute and, since I‟ve been asked,
some thoughts on the life of the returning Aussie expat but let just me say
it‟s a great honour to be asked to speak to expatriate Aussies in one of the
most exciting cities on earth.

I was first here in New York in 1993, thanks in large part actually to David
Faber the gun journalist at CBNBC and who I‟m sure most of you have seen
on TV during your daily business news stocktake.

And how did that happen? In 1991 in my mid-20s, I had left Perth, and with
a few years of journalism experience headed to London on the traditional
Aussie backpack tour of duty. Having survived another tradition there _ an
extended pub crawl through the great grey city _ and running out of money,
I blearily spotted a small ad in the Guardian‟s media section asking for a
journalist on a financial newsletter. I got an interview. One of the guys
interviewing me was Dave Faber. He was the managing editor of a new
newsletter the Institutional Investor magazine group was launching called
Emerging Markets Week. I was to cover Eastern European and they
demanded I travel at least every three months to a new country in the
reforming Eastern bloc. (Oh, that‟s tough, I felt like saying, but I think I can
manage it!). Anyway, I got the job _ my main competition was a fabulously
eccentric English bloke who spoke Polish who Dave said subsequently I just

pipped at the post because he turned-up to the interview wearing a purple

Institutional Investor also used to fly us to New York every Christmas for an
awards ceremony so that‟s how I first came here. I‟ve been coming back
when I can ever since. So that was more than a decade ago and I guess Dave
and I have moved on somewhat.

I emailed him telling him I was coming up to New York and hoping we
could meet, since I haven‟t seen him in over ten years.

“Dave”, I wrote: “Any chance we can reminisce over old times and talk
about why _ despite what some would say are relatively successful career
paths for two former newsletter hacks _ we are, in fact, dills. We should
have quit Institutional Investor back in „93, started a Czech privatization
fund and now, rather than slogging it out for media giants, we‟d be sitting
astride about 30 per cent of the Czech Republics‟ GDP and running a few
hedge funds from Barbados!”

Dave agreed. “As usual your insights are correct,‟‟ he wrote. “We are
morons. And of course should have begun a privatisation fund back in '93. I
have tried to make peace with the fact that many of the people I have known
on Wall Street have become billionaires!”

But money isn‟t everything … a stupid thing to say in New York I suppose!
… Anyway I spent a few years with II with an amazing job, extending my

brief to north Africa, and doing things like tacking on two weeks holiday
after a reporting assignment in Morocco and going surfing.

But I gave it all away. I left, backpacked my way around the rest of Africa
and in late 1996 landed back in Australia because, frankly, after nearly five
years away the pull of Australia was still there. Despite the kaleidoscope of
travel and professional experiences over nearly five years, it felt about right
to return home _ emphasis there on about right, it will never feel certain,
excuse the cliché but what in life is? From 1997 through to 2005 I had set-up
again in Australia, working in Sydney; got married too _ to an English rose,
Nikki, who I met in Botswana and who sadly, thanks to our productivity in
the last five years, couldn‟t be here tonight and stayed in DC as she tends to
our three young ones.

And by the way there‟s another expat experience, which I would say is far
more challenging than anything I‟ve faced: my wife moves to Sydney, gave-
up a stellar career and her own business as a freelance film editor, Emmy
and Bafta nominations under her belt, to come live with me. I, at the time,
was grafting out a modest living as a reporter with Australian Associated
Press _ it‟s worth noting too I could not land my preferred job at a
newspaper despite what I thought was valuable international experience.
From the research I‟ve read this is a common expat experience when
returning home _ tales of your experiences and you undoubted extraordinary
value tends to get lost a little back home _ talking about it all ends up having
a similar effect on colleagues as a slide show from an Aunty and Uncle and
their great drive across the Nullabor.

Anyway, Nikki, fortunately, loves Australia. But then, having subsequently
landed a job at The Australian and after five years reporting there, I get the
call in late 2004. Would I like the Washington correspondent gig? We
arrived in late March 2005 and by the time we leave the US, Nikki would
have spent longer in the US, more particularly in beach deprived DC, than in
Sydney, where we had a very nice life with five different beaches within five
minutes of our house.

But personally, the professional ride for me in DC over the last two years
has been amazing. And nothing, at this stage, beats the professional
excitement in the last few weeks when six months of planning a long shot
came off.

I approached the White House earlier this year, specifically National
Security Counsel spokesman Gordon Johndroe, with an idea: you guys
should have an Australian journalist on board Air Force One when you
travel to Sydney. The idea really was that Australians are fascinated by the
whole AF1 thing, the institution of the president and the White House (West
Wing has been a big hit in Australia). To my amazement the bait I threw out
got a bite and then even more astonishing to me _ since something like this
hadn‟t really been done before _ I landed the fish.

About six weeks ago it was official and I would be traveling with President
Bush on AF1, though clearly I kept the whole plan as quiet as possible, told
few people at the office in Sydney, for obvious competitive reasons.

But what made this whole tale more like a Hollywood blockbuster was that
48 hours before we were due to leave the story line changed dramatically.

On Saturday, September 2, I got a call, 48 hours before we were due to
leave. It was Johndroe. We had to met in Georgetown, in DC. “Tell no one
you have spoken with me, tell no-one we are to meet. It will become clearer

We arranged to meet at 4.30pm in Georgetown. I made it to the pre-arranged
meeting point at the Marvelous Market, a gourmet café, there 4.26pm.

Now Johndroe is a calm, and usually an easy-to-smile kind of guy. He was
already there, dressed in shorts and tee-shirt and looking nothing like the
usual crisp-suited clean cut character he is. He also looked deadly serious.

“Let‟s take a walk down here,” he said, motioning down P Street off
Wisconsin Avenue, the main thoroughfare that cuts through Georgetown.

We started down the street.

“What I‟m about to tell you can be mentioned to no-one. You can make no
phone calls about it, no emails, nothing. Can you agree to this?”


He then told me the itinerary for the trip on Air Force One had changed. We
were going to fly into an undisclosed location in Iraq, and as he disclosed

this he paced his walk, or stopping occasionally to ensure there no-one was
within earshot.

“Are you still in?” “Yes, certainly,” I replied.

Johndroe again stressed the classified nature of the information. “This is for
security of all of us,” he said, including of course, the President of the
United States. He paused, looking at me, “don‟t worry, there‟s no-one safer
to fly with than the President of the United States”.

What transpired next I wrote about at length for my newspaper. Some of you
may have seen the coverage, if not plenty of it you can find simply by
searching my name and Iraq via Google, if you‟re interested.

But yes, AF1 is kind of like the movies and it was a hell of a way to return to
Sydney, after our lightening stop in Iraq – just six hours _ we had to make a
refueling stop in Diego Garcia, a small British base in the Indian Ocean. It
was amazing for me to land there since _ and this is a gratuitous plug for my
first book which came out in 2005 _ I wrote a chapter about Diego Garcia
which played its part in the tale of “The Other Brother”, a book on the
disappearance of Simon Holmes a Court, the late Robert Holmes a Court‟s
little known brother.

As I had predicted to Johndroe months before, my arrival on AF1 prompted
plenty of media interest. I did two live national breakfast shows and about a
dozen radio shows in the four days I was there.

But most importantly what the trip allowed was me to be part of the White
House press corps while in Sydney, getting a read out from the White House
on the day‟s events during the APEC summit.

It was fascinating because from where I was sitting a lot of the media‟s
coverage of the event domestically was really lame. APEC appeared to be
treated more as a traffic report and a over-the-top security story rather than
addressing the substantive issues for an economic gathering that Australia
itself actually started under prime minister Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. It
should have been a triumph, about APEC returning home but I sense some
ideological roadblocks got in the way of that kind of coverage.

As I wrote in The Australian in an APEC post mortem what went on in our
media (and you‟d expect to say that I exclude The Australian from this
charge!): “It was whining nimbyism at its worst and intellectual laziness to
find the easiest local angles to grab a headline during APEC: like how
inconvenienced Sydney‟s citizens were while a bunch of windbags discussed
not much. No news, nothing to report. What tosh.”

It‟s an issue that goes directly to the heart of the expat experience. Sitting in
DC, Washington or London, one does get to see the big picture presented
more regularly and in more immediate ways than in Australia at a polar
opposite time zone. I mean look what happens today here _ Bush and
Ahmadinejad going toe to toe rhetorically in speeches at the UN. We‟ll write
that story up but it won‟t be being read by our readers over the breakfast
table in Australia for at least another 22 hours (although they would had
have already had a chance to catch it on online … )

I know I will find it tough back in Australia. I have done it once already. I
was in South Africa in 1995, a year after Mandela had been released and
watched the place take it‟s first steps to representative democracy. When I
returned home the splash headline in the newspaper where I started my
career, The West Australian, was ROAD HORROR, about how a truck had
run out of control coming down a hill. I was bemused given all the other
important things happening in the world. But you know, as they say if it
bleeds it leads … but more pointedly if it bleeds _ and it‟s local _ it will
definitely lead. But looking on the headline I reflected it was not my town
that had changed, it was me. I came to accept that and deal with how I fitted
back in. It will be the same when I return again . But you know, I‟m looking
forward to it. We have an amazing country still relatively unburdened by the
crowds we see in places like New York. My career is important to me, but so
is how I live my life: the five beaches in five minutes is pretty compelling
and in beach deprived DC, my wife and I talk about it all the time.

And things have changed a lot since I first “went back” in 1997. This is a
new millennium and what some are calling the Pacific Century. The
economic weight is heading our way thanks to China and India‟s emergence
and Australia is uniquely placed to take advantage of that. It‟s happening
now. Look at the $A‟s rise and rise, for example. During APEC, China
loomed large, prompting President Bush to tell me, unprompted, that APEC
was not going to be a “China summit”. Does he protest too much I
wondered? A couple of days later China inked the largest ever export
contract $45 billion worth of LNG. The US offered Canberra a ground
breaking defence co-operation pact. Australia is not in a zero sum dance at

the moment between either Washington or Beijing _ everyone is lining up to
mark our card.

And one other to leave you with: what we go through as expats is not really
a returning to Australia thing – talk to any expat from anywhere thinking
about returning home and you‟ll find we are all going through the same
questions .. the Australian embassy notes a good book from Craig Storti
called The Art of Coming Home (Intercultural Press - It‟s a bit old now (1997) but in it he cites the
following statistics:

      64% American and 55% Japanese returnees report “significant culture

      25% returnees leave their parent company within one year of coming
       home and another 26% were actively looking for another job

      45% companies report “problems with attrition” among returnees

      74% returnees did not expect to be working for the same company one
       year later

Settling back in is difficult. Going back is a huge decision, a very personal
one, clearly. What is home? Most of my family are in Perth my wife‟s in
England. There are really few templates. It‟s your life. In my opinion, the
best thing to do is reflect with others on the decisions you make, and the
paths they have taken that might help you sort out the noise in your head.
And my hope is I might have helped on that score in some way tonight.

Thank you


     (Courtesy Chelsey Martin, press attaché at the Australian Embassy, Washington DC).

     * There is no firm figure on the number of Australians in the US, but in his speech to the AAA last
     May ambassador Dennis Richardson used an estimate of between 100,000 and 130,000 (see

     * The number of Aussies visiting the US continues to go up. The latest report on temporary entry
     to the US shows that more than 750,000 Australians entered the United States in 2006. This has
     been growing steadily for the last few years and is much higher than the figure of around 400,000
     which Ambassador Richardson referred to in his speech (above) but drawing on more historical
     data available then.

     * Australians in general are widely travelled: 21 million Australians have 12 million passports;
     whereas 300 million Americans have 50 million passports

     * About a million Australians or 5 per cent of our population are overseas at any one time.

     * References for Australia‟s place in the Pacific Century: also
     While both of these speeches point to the US remaining the most important global political player
     for forseeable future, they also highlight the changing global dynamic and rise of China, India and
     Japan both in economic and strategic sense.

     The Art of Coming Home (from Intercultural Press 1997
     Craig Storti.

     Homeward Bound: A spouses guide to repatriation (Expatriate Press, 2000 Robin Pascoe

     So You're Coming Home (Global Business Publishers, 1999), Hal Gregerson.

     Links to some of Geoff Elliott’s AF1 coverage.,,22369853-7582,00.html?from=public_rss,25197,22363892-15084,00.html,25197,22408001-13480,00.html,25197,22408299-2703,00.html

     and his Today show appearance:



To top