Derek Youdale: It's still very hard for Australians to return home professionally


Beginning his career in Sydney at PwC as a Chartered Accountant, Derek Youdale has been on a serious global journey. Working in Asset Management, Investment Banking, Treasury, Retail and Corporate sector roles, he spent seven years in London and eight years in New York altogether.

Advance interviewed Derek 12 months ago, shortly after his return to Australia, where he reflected on his time living in the UK and US and how it influenced the subsequent opportunities that were available to him on his return to Australia. 

One year on, Advance checked back in with Derek to see what had changed for him – a new role at HSBC, new challenges maintaining a work/life balance, and if he's back in Australia to stay. 

How long have you been back in Australia for now since living and working overseas? 

It’s been six years now since I moved back to Australia after being abroad. However, for the last 16 months, I’ve been commuting to London as the COO for data in the Retail Business for HSBC, so I’m still very much involved in global markets. I work roughly two weeks at home in Melbourne on London hours (generally 7pm - 4am) and two weeks on the road, either flying London direct or other places around the world. I have done 92 flights in this time, and have covered in distance a trip to the moon and halfway back to earth! 

What’s changed in the 12 months since we last spoke? Does it get harder or easier? 

This last year has been very different from the year before. It was tough, but I worked hard at balancing work and family time. I am really enjoying my role and had great quality time with my kids and family when I was at home – not especially easy given I work nights!

I am also co-founder of a neuroscience startup The Think Group, and partook in the trial of a new 24/7 monitoring device throughout the year; where we teamed with neuro training experts and were very pleased with the results; they worked extremely well. I never got sick and I didn’t even get jet lag! But does it get harder reacclimatizing to Australia? Definitely not during this last year, because my focus was very much back overseas, very much in a place I feel very comfortable. 

Have you encountered any professional roadblocks since being back in Australia? 

I think it’s still very hard for Australians to return home professionally. It’s changing, but not particularly fast. I think having a local network is still key. 

Did you work experience overseas impact your job opportunities positively? 

Yes and no. Yes, in that the experience is seen as valuable, and no, in terms of some people feeling the need to match the size and scale of an overseas experience. In some instances, it may be hard to accept that global Australians return home for a multitude of reasons and are prepared to apply their broad global experiences to help an organisation on a broader scale.

How have your family adapted to the change? 

My family have adapted extremely well. I have young kids at school who have taken to living in Australia like fish to water. My wife has built up a good group of friends and is heavily involved in school (none of us are native Melbournians, so our move to Melbourne has been another international rotation for us!) Given all my travel, we have worked hard to make the most of our time together when I’m in town, and I spend time trying to do fun things for the kids while I’m away like treasure hunts. (Also, to try and give my wife a break when I’m not there.) Having a functional family unit with lots of contact has been a big challenge for us, but a big focus. 

What’s great about being back? 

What I love about Australia is the weather, family, the lifelong friend network and familiarity. There is something nice about going to the same restaurants you know and love and knowing your way around. It’s great to explore and see new places, but sometimes a bit of normality is really relaxing.  

What do you miss about being overseas? 

Friends. I made a really great network of friends during my time overseas. I’ve seen a lot of them this year, but it’s always just a quick catchup. But, moving forward, that’s going to be the case no matter where we base ourselves! I also like the working-culture overseas, particularly working at HSBC; it’s really going through some interesting change. I also just really enjoy London and New York cultures. They’re very different, but you get to be a slightly different “you” in each town. I feel very comfortable, at home, in both those places as well as back in Sydney and Melbourne. 

Do you still operate in a “global” mindset? 

Absolutely. It’s so hardwired now! 

Are you back “for good”?  

Who knows. Even if I spend the rest of my working career in Australia (very excited to be starting a new Melbourne-based role in early ‘18) I’ll still travel. The Think Group also has a global customer base, so the more I think about the answer here, I think it’s a “no”.

Do you think Australia becoming more progressive? 

I think Australia has improved, but it still has a long way to go. I think there is a willingness to tap into the global talent to return to Australia but it’s still a very hard path.