Workforce Vendor Looking Behind the Persian Curtain

The Albany Group calls itself the “largest provider of global workforce management solutions in the world.” Some vendors would debate that, but one thing’s for sure:?Albany likes to do business in places where few others?will bother.

It’s now aiming for a place that certainly fits that bill: Iran.

The London company operates in 55 to 75 countries at various times, and recently opened up offices in Dubai and in South Africa. Albany handles employee visa, work permit, tax, and other issues for companies who are hiring in new markets or bringing employees from one country to another to work.?

The firm got a request about a year ago from one of its clients, which told Albany, “We’re thinking of sending some temps to Iran.”

Albany looked into setting up a branch office there. This proved difficult; among other issues, it was tough to tell whether Iranian attorneys were being helpful to Albany or were trying to take advantage of Albany’s lack of experience inside the country. On top of that, English was the second language of the Iranians Albany spoke with, and it was difficult to interpret the nuances of what they were saying. They’d charge an arm and a leg for services such as using a local address, for example, and Albany would have a tough time figuring out if that was a good deal or a rip-off.

Albany has abandoned the effort to set up its own physical office in Iran, and for now is partnering with Iranian firms who can help.

Last week, Albany reps met in Turkey with an Iranian company who may be able to help with such services as setting up local bank accounts for employees as well as understanding tax issues.

Martin Glick, president and group CEO, isn’t too worried about the political issue of a potential ban on doing business with Iran. “That tends to be an American more than a European thing,” he says. “It is very unlikely that Europe would bring any sort of sanctions against Iran, whereas America clearly would. Clearly it is a moral issue as to whether we want to do business in Iran, with Iran, because obviously they’re building a nuclear capability. At this point in time we are happy to do so. We’re not politicians. We’re more concerned with individual security.”

These concerns about employee safety mean Glick is more nervous about Iraq than Iran.

Plenty of Hotspots

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Several other nations are proving challenging.

Formerly part of the Soviet Union but not part of the European Union, Ukraine is “a maze,” Glick says. “It’s like trying to find your way through a wave of legislation that is either non-existent or is changing on a daily basis.”

Some countries, like Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, increasingly want more local employees on projects, as opposed to foreign workers.

Other countries have business practices that by American and British standards would be considered unethical. Albany’s ethical policies state that ” the payment of bribes” is prohibited and that it “expects employees to exercise care in giving or accepting gifts ? to ensure that they do not allow themselves to reach a position whereby they might be deemed by others to have been influenced in making a business decision as a consequence.”

Such a code can be tough to live by in some areas, like Pakistan, particularly when Albany partners with local companies. “You try to be ethical,” Glick says. “[Marginal business practices]?are what is done there. If our partners choose to go down that route then we have to abide by that.”

“The whole developing world is difficult,” Glick says. “They’re not used to importing foreign labor.”

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