Big read: Postcards from sun-soaked ex-pats

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 22 Jun 2018

We’re about to hit peak holiday season, and in the leaner working environments of today’s business world a one-way ticket could be a serious temptation. So what of those who do? David Laister spoke to two who have made dream destinations their new homes.

NICKI Wilson is heading towards a first year at the helm of her own recruitment business... in Dubai.

The former Grimsby student went to university in Lincoln after Toll Bar and Franklin College, and started her own business importing bags from her mother’s native Thailand to her Scartho home.

It was where she thought she could end up, from an early age, with a penchant for travel and an outgoing personality the key traits she believes have made it possible.

​Nicki credits these to her mother Nitaya’s overseas roots and her entrepreneurial father, Stewart, who worked in the entertainment and leisure industry at Mablethorpe.

“I have always travelled a lot,” she said. “I think I’ve clocked up 43 different countries now but even when I was younger I travelled a lot. 

“I knew I wanted to do something internationally but didn’t know where or what. I thought it may be Asia, with my Mum being from there, but I ended up working in Leeds, in recruitment, and I kept getting head-hunted, but I was never interested. 

“I had read about Dubai, I’d read about always needing to be covered up, and it being restrictive, not being able to drink – I thought that’s not a place for me. Reality is very different. I went out on holiday and really loved it. I saw the potential.” 

Six weeks later she was looking up in awe at the likes of the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa.

“I have always been quite out there, I look for new experiences, something a little bit different,” she said. “Some people wouldn’t be like that, they can’t go out and about on their own, or may not want to. I loved to get involved and that’s part of the reason I got involved in recruitment.”

Her persona is clear from a quick trawl in the Telegraph archives too. Eight years ago she had made the headlines when – outgoing personality at the fore – she starred in reality television show The Coach Trip, a Channel Four programme which saw her take in a tour by road of the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, seeing the programme out. She’d applied after spotting an advert for it while working at home in Grimsby.

An ex-boyfriend is credited with getting her into recruitment. He saw how social she was, how she could sell and network and liked running her own business.

“I started in 2011 as a consultant, in Leeds, and I have been doing it ever since,” she said.

Agency Seven was her first port of call, looking after L’Oreal, Mars and PepsiCo. “It was the perfect job, fast moving consumer goods, representing some great brands. I never intended to leave them,” said Nicki.

But the contacts came from Australia, Dubai and Hong Kong. “I had to acknowledge there was interest in my skills,” she said. “Once I went for it, I got a job quite quickly.” 

She was on the FMCG desk at her first, then joined a second firm. “In my mind I always wanted to start my own business, I just didn’t know when. I just waited for the skills, the management experience and real life experience. It is life-changing Dubai, it is very different, with no competition in recruitment and consumer industries."

Nicki launched Genie in October last year, with investment from “two quite high profile people” from retail and fast-moving consumer goods backgrounds in Dubai and Monaco.

“I am the majority shareholder, I know what I want, but these two investors have a great network and are great mentors,” she said. “I have always sought out a mentor, someone to stretch you.” 

She found clients are happy to follow the recruiter too. “We are still a baby business but we are already working with PesiCo, Emirates, Hershey’s and Carrefour. A team of five, she has two fellow Brits as consultants, a British accountant and a Filipino resourcer.

You imagine piles of paperwork to get going. “No, it was just a trade licence, that’s all as a British ex-pat,” she said. “The visa is attached to the company, it is just the trade licence, you apply, and they make sure everything is legitimate.”

So what are the drawbacks? Family, and – surprisingly, perhaps – Sainsbury’s! 

“People do bring me flapjack and meatballs, various items, so I’m coping,” she said, “...and my mum comes out often!”

She has a partner, though they are not living together, instead she is shacked up with two Emirates flight crew on the 39th floor of a building overlooking the marina.

Nicki Wilson at home on the balcony.

“It is very luxury living, I’m not going to lie. I live in the marina, bang in the middle of everything that’s happening. The best way to describe it is that every weekend is a holiday, you can go to theme parks, can sit in the sun every day – well perhaps September to May. It is very much a community, all ex-pats, all looking after each others. You’ve heard of six degrees of separation, it is two degrees over here. 

“A lot of people come over here, make their money – tax free – and they can earn a serious amount of money if they are not going to spend it. They can go home with a substantial amount, a good pot, and if sensible can buy houses back in Britain, outright. If you are willing to work hard everything is possible. 

“My aim is to make sure everyone is happy, we are always able to pay people and have got everything everyone needs to do a great job.

“I am definitely a career woman. A lot of people say to me ‘what about marriage?’ – I’m married to my business! It is my everything. Most of my friends have children, and have been married a number of years, I’m still out here having parties all the time!”

One major adjustment is the working week being Sunday to Thursday, with Friday the holy day. “Even though I’ve been here for five years I feel it makes the week go quicker,” she said. “In terms of culture, it is hard work. If you are ambitious and willing to put in the graft, you can do really well. It is a relatively new country if you think about it. The economy is still growing, people still want to live here, and essentially it is very consumer driven. We are constantly seeing new restaurants and shops opening, and they always need staff.”

Genie it appears, is well and truly out of the bottle, but it is one thing being a single woman and setting off with a suitcase or two, but what about a married father of three, with the third having just arrived? That was the situation for retail manager David Wilkinson after he left Cleethorpes for Perth, Western Australia.

Another former Toll Bar student, he flirted with a career in football – Southampton as a junior then a YT with Grimsby Town – before finding it was shops and goods not stadiums and goals for him.

He spent 18 years with high street homeware and hardware store Wilko – no relation but no doubt colleagues wondered as he quickly worked his way up the ladder in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Hull – before joining Marks and Spencer. There he briefly headed up Grimsby’s store between stints in Meadowhall and Sheffield city centre.

Just like Nicki, he too was approached through LinkedIn, and with a love of the outdoors, and a wife, Sara, who had enjoyed a holiday in Oz in her teens, the appeal was certainly there.

David Wilkinson pictured with wife Sara and children Bonnie, Kitty and Hector enjoying the sights, and weather!

He is store manager for Woolworths – the food element of Australia’s largest retail group – and is now at the helm of his second store, the largest in Western Australia.

“I’m pretty well travelled but I’d never been to Australia before, it was always somewhere on ‘the list’ that I wanted to go. I never imagined I would have the opportunity to live there, so when I was approached it certainly got my attention.”

He was contacted by a recruitment consultant in September 2015. “A 5am FaceTime interview from Sydney quickly followed and then a day trip to London to meet my potential new employers sealed the deal,” he said. 

“It was an exciting time, contemplating the move and what new beginnings it could bring, but also who we would be leaving behind. 

“Sara was very supportive of the move and because our children were so young it was the perfect time to give it a go. How often do you get the chance to do it? Woolworths provided the sponsorship for our visas as well as full relocation support, so it became a reality really quickly.”

It was something of a wrench though. Eldest daughter Kitty was just completing her first year at Signhills Infants School, making those first tentative friendships, and son Hector was finding his feet, and anything else he could get his hands on. New-born Bonnie presented a further challenge to embrace, with an acute awareness of the needs for a baby, and familiarity with how health and wellbeing was handled in North East Lincolnshire.

But the challenge wet the appetite too. Britain is known globally for having the most complex and advanced retail sector, and experience in it is highly sought after as firms look to stay ahead. 

Could it be Cleethorpes? Bonnie, Hector and Kitty Wilkinson on the beach by the Indian Ocean in Perth, Western Australia, as dad David embarks on a career in retail in Perth.

He is now closing in on permanent residency, again this will be sponsored by Woolworths.

“Moving to Perth was a massive leap of faith and we do miss all of our family and friends, but the life we have created so far for ourselves and the children has made it worthwhile. I am really proud of them all, how they have adapted to a new country, new school, friends and a different culture. 

Sara has done an amazing job, right from the start, organising the house move in England, to how she has helped settle us all in to life in Perth. She has made sure the children joined clubs and has done a great job of making a strong network of friends here. With no family to call on, you realise how important it is to have that network.

“Kitty goes to a great tennis club, girl guides and has just started her first netball season. Hector is part of a Cricket Australia Club and a soccer club, so it is quite a busy life and that’s before Bonnie gets started! Western Australia is a brilliant place to live and bring up a young family. 

“Work is going great. I’ve settled well and my career is progressing quickly. Then when I’m day off and on holiday there’s so much we can do as a family. The weather and the crystal clear Indian Ocean isn’t bad either which helps.

“We can’t wait to get our permanent residency through and then we will look to settle further and buy our own house and put down firmer roots for our future. 

“The retail sector in WA is in a good place, with strong competition for gaining customer loyalty and the interest in ‘going shopping’ is really high. There are many shopping malls and centres across a higher density in Perth than there are in an equivalent UK metropolitan area. I do keep an eye on what’s happening in the UK retail world – via the Grimsby Telegraph. 

“The digital online sector seems to be enhancing the overall offer in Perth for customers. It is an additional layer, but there is still that appetite to go to the shop too. Whereas in the UK, digital and dot coms are becoming a preferred choice of convenience – the alternative to the high street. It is sad to read about big retail names struggling in the town but I hope they turn it around, evolve and are successful in the future.

Will I return? You can never say never, but you never know. We will be back at some point to visit!”

Now about that sand paper on offer back in December...

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