Brynne Kennedy, the founder and CEO of Topia, a global mobility management suite. She has previously worked for Lehman Brothers and Standard Chartered. Kennedy is an MBA graduate from London Business School and has a BA from Yale University. Brynne is also the Founder of #Mobility4All, a nonprofit that empowers those moving poverty and conflict, and to which Topia contributes one percent of its revenue.
Here is an excerpt from the interview.
Could you tell us about your background? What led you to start Topia?
I started my career as an investment banker, and I worked in Hong Kong, Singapore and India, before doing my MBA in London. It was challenging for me to move each time and I saw my companies struggle to effectively administer mobility. At the same time, I realized that the changing nature of work—driven by globalization, changing demographics of employees, AI and automation—is rooted in global mobility. Global mobility allows companies to operate globally, source and retain today’s worker and match skills to business needs in the face of technology disruption. So in summary, my personal experiences and a huge business opportunity inspired me to found Topia.
With integrated communication technologies making collaboration ever more efficient, what is the impact on global mobility? Will there be a need for as many people to travel?
Yes. But the way that global mobility operates will change. Historically, companies thought of global mobility as facilitating corporate relocation, an activity that a small percentage of the workforce did. Today, global mobility means all types of movement—from extended business travel to rotations to commuting assignments to expatriate assignments and relocations. The theme is that permanently moving somewhere may not be required as much as in the past, but the need for frequent face to face interaction will always exist for humans to operate most effectively. Remote collaboration means we can have more distributed teams, but companies will still need to bring people together. This is a part of the human condition.
What according to you are some of the biggest challenges that HR professionals face on global mobility?
A typical global mobility team needs to interact with many parties and systems to do their jobs --from the shipping company to immigration firm to many global payroll systems. Many of these have email or phone-based interactions or use unfriendly legacy systems. Processes and data are spread between all of these. Today, mobility administration is manual and time consuming. This fragmentation also creates significant risks in managing compliance for mobile employees. Finally, HR professionals are responsible for delivering great employee experiences—something that is more important than ever for today’s employees. Many employees do not have good experiences with mobility today given the challenges of coordinating and discovering information!
According to a PwC report, HR professionals will need to be better prepared for employees from India and China returning home. This East- How should companies prepare for the West-East trend which is expected to grow by 2020?
Repatriation and reverse cultural shock is always a challenge for HR professionals. HR professionals can help prepare employees for returning “home” by providing benefits in cultural training and buddy-ing. Often this is overlooked when someone is returning to a “home” country! It is also important to ensure that employees can continue their networks abroad, so continued travel, collaboration and participation in global teams can help with attractiveness.
Although research suggests that immigration barriers will reduce, the narrative in global media highlight closing borders and increasing trade restrictions. Would you agree?
We see three major macro trends sweeping the workforce: Increasing global business, changing demographics of employees --specifically a growth in mobile employees, and AI and automation changing the nature of roles. Global mobility helps companies navigate each of these trends and align their workforces for the future. Regarding globalization, we are undoubtedly seeing increase rhetoric, and in certain scenarios, increasingly restrictive immigration policies. The reality however is that companies are global and continue to generate increasing revenue around the world. To make these things balance, we see companies using different types of mobility—less permanent and long term mobility and more dynamic short term mobility.
What role is technology solving for global mobility challenges? What is the one upcoming technology solution that you’re most excited about?
Topia is the software suite that connects the global mobility ecosystem. We connect the parties who deliver parts of mobility—from relocation to payroll to immigration—and run automated administrative processes, centralize data and deliver a modern, consumer-grade employee experience. So, we solve significant problems in fragmentation, inefficiency and archaic employee experiences. As I look to the future, I am really excited about how blockchain can contribute to helping making mobility even easier.