Special feature

On top of the world

Ignacio Alcalde has retired from the position of Senior Project Manager at World Bank Group, after 23 years overseeing staff moves for placements around the globe. FIDI Focus Editor Dominic Weaver speaks to him about his time at this significant moving services user and why he introduced FAIM accreditation as a requirement for partners, and meets his successor, Peter Bowsher

Ignacio Alcalde

After almost 23 years overseeing the day-to-day management of household goods (HHG) shipping and storage for employees travelling to and from ‘anywhere you can think of’, Ignacio Alcalde has retired as Senior Project Manager at World Bank Group (WBG). 

Recruiting and employing staff from all over the globe, WBG works in more than 170 countries, with overseas offices mainly in developing countries. International assignments for its employees last between two and five years, depending on location. 

Alcalde’s role included managing the often-emotional side of staff relocation, helping them overcome the difficulties associated with a move to give them and their families the best experience possible. 

‘Once an employee secures a position overseas, they are under pressure to close projects in their current job and report to their new position as soon as possible,’ he explains. ‘This can create stress and anxiety, not only for staff members, but also for their families. 

‘Given the location of most country offices, relocating staff are challenged to find proper and secure housing, and schooling for their children, and face long transit times with their shipments, even without delays.’

In collaboration with its transport providers, WBG identified two non-negotiables to making a move successful: ‘setting the right expectations and communication’. 

‘Given the challenging origins and destinations of our moves, we provide staff with an estimated transit time for their shipments, while making them aware of possible delays,’ Alcalde says. ‘We ask our vendors to provide frequent updates and to send a weekly or bi-weekly status report to each transferee.

‘I’ve learned that transferees hate having their belongings picked up and then not hearing from anyone until they ask, or are contacted with a problem.’

Recognising that a high-quality move supports the quality of an assignee’s performance, Alcalde became a driving force that made WBG one of the first international customers to insist on using FIDI-accredited businesses for its moves.

‘Once I understood what FIDI represents and what it takes to become a member, I was convinced that using FIDI-affiliated companies was the correct approach,’ he says. ‘As the person responsible for the HHG shipping programme, I was always looking for companies that were financially strong, with good facilities and equipment, and coordination teams with international experience, plus a great network of agents – which are some of the requirements to become a FIDI member.’ 

Holding FIDI membership is now essential for WBG’s mobility partners. ‘Setting quality standards, as FIDI does, has changed the industry for the better,’ says Alcalde. ‘Dealing with reputable companies is a must, and even better for them to be FAIM-certified.’

As he leaves the industry, Alcalde expects global mobility to continue to thrive, pointing to the development of WBG’s own programme as an example. 

‘Until a couple of years ago, 60 per cent of the bank’s staff were based in DC and 40 per cent in country offices,’ he says. ‘It wants to reverse these numbers and have staff working closer to projects, which will translate into additional moves. We were already seeing the number of moves increasing before my retirement.’

There has also been a significant increase in moves to third countries, where assignees move immediately to a fresh placement, rather than returning to head office on completion of an assignment.  

Alcalde credits the three major industry associations – FIDI, IAM and LACMA – as having played a key role in his career development at WBG. ‘I have a lot of gratitude to them for the yearly invitations to their conferences, which allowed me to understand the industry better and to discuss with agents the challenges we will face in specific countries,’ he says. ‘Thank you, Jesse at FIDI, Terry, Chuck, and Brian at IAM, and Evelyn, at LACMA.’

He says he will miss the great relationships built with the suppliers who have supported WBG over the years, including JK Moving, Paxton International and Hilldrup, and their ‘vast network of agents’. 

‘I can truly say we always worked as a team and found solutions whenever we had a challenging situation,’ Alcalde says. ‘I will also remember the uniqueness of the industry in the sense that, even though agents are all competing with each other to secure business, they can network, have fun, and explore opportunities for collaboration. I am very grateful for all the friendships I’ve made over the years – and which I intend to maintain.’ 

Peter Bowsher

‘I could not be more thrilled or privileged to be in this position at the Bank,’ says Peter Bowsher, who has replaced Alcalde as Project Manager – International Household Goods Shipping at WBG. ‘Using my industry knowledge to help very talented and driven World Bank staff members relocate to countries that truly need the organisation’s expertise to help end poverty, protect the climate and develop their economies is humbling and cool.’

Bowsher has more than 30 years of HHG industry experience in London, New York, and Washington, DC. He has previously held roles in sales, account management, operations, forwarding and general management, with firms including North American Van Lines, PTS, and Suddath. 

Born in the UK, Bowsher became a US citizen in 2006 and has relocated with his family several times – most recently from Jacksonville, Florida, to Fredericksburg, Virginia. As a result, he has ‘a healthy understanding of the moving process and its impact on work and family life’.

Of the WBG he says: ‘The culture, mission and organisation itself are fairly unique, and it has a very well-developed and mature HHG moving programme, with three solid DC-based vendors. My initial goal has been to familiarise myself with the programme as quickly as possible, to become one of the team and bring my decades of experience from the “other side of the desk” to good and valuable use.’

Geopolitical shifts in the regions in which WBG staff operate mean ‘it has never been so difficult to move household goods internationally’, Bowsher says, citing challenges from the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Suez Canal, and supply chain headaches, including rate increases, extended transit times, congestion, and booking and sailing cancellations. 

Despite the headwinds, Bowsher is upbeat about the future of corporate mobility. ‘These issues are challenging, but people on the ground will still have a long-term positive impact, developing relationships and markets, understanding culture, developing their knowledge of markets, and developing international management skills,’ he says. 

‘Global mobility is key to any organisation or corporation’s success in the long term.’

Bowsher admits taking over from Alcalde is a tough act to follow, but he’s looking forward to the challenge. ‘Ignacio always talked about institutional knowledge, and the importance of understanding the culture of WBG and its mission,’ says Bowsher. ‘I truly believe in the importance of the mission – something that was reinforced when I attended a two-day induction course at the Bank. We learned its history, culture, goals, and mission to work to end poverty and protect the climate for generations to come, against an environment of a steadily increasing global population.

‘It will take me a while to gain that institutional knowledge referenced by Ignacio, but I believe my industry knowledge will bring a different perspective and add value, to bring the best possible experience to relocating staff members.’

Bowsher adds that FIDI will continue to have a key role in helping WBG select its mobility partners. ‘We are strong believers in FIDI as an organisation and FAIM accreditation,’ he says. ‘It is still a requirement for the three Bank-contracted moving vendors to use FIDI members when available.’

‘We have come a very long way from meeting a nice, reasonably competent-seeming potential partner at a HHGFAA conference and deciding to entrust national accounts and families’ shipments to their care, to today’s world of compliant, auditable supply chains that the international forwarders manage globally to ensure consistency of service and a great customer experience.’

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