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Making moving work in Brunei

Aug 13, 2018
Steve Jordan talks to Patrice Faivre of Intermovers in Brunei to learn more about this tiny country and why, exactly, he’s there.

Patrice FaivreLet’s try a little game shall we?  Open a map of the world and, without checking on Google, stick a pin in Brunei.  Anyone getting within 1,000 miles gets a round of applause. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the half a million people who live in this beautiful spot, but it’s not everyone’s first destination for migration or a corporate relocation.  Despite that, this tiny nation, nestled in a discreet corner of Borneo, has a lot to offer the moving industry.

I bumped into Patrice Faivre while attending the IMA convention in Bangkok in February.  He’s French and, amongst other things, he has a passion for baking French pastry.  

As one whose pastry has the consistency of cardboard I was keen to strike up a conversation to try to get a few tips.  Inevitably the conversation switched to business and I was intrigued as to why a French pastry lover might end up at the other side of the world running a moving company.  Well wouldn’t anyone?

It turns out that the tale is much too complicated for these pages.  Save to say, Patrice lived his life to the full on his way.  This included leaving France before his twenties to discover the world. Thailand 38 years ago was his first trip abroad and from that moment he knew the world was his home.  From crossing the Sahara desert from North to South hitch-hiking, to Calcutta working at Mother Theresa’s shelter, he went to Afghanistan during the war in the 1980s to provide humanitarian help, seeking less the final destination, rather just enjoying the journey itself. Then whilst at a meditation retreat in the jungle with monks in the north of Thailand he got a feeling that Borneo was his next stage, but in between he met his Japanese wife and the journey stopped in Malaysia for 24 years where they settled down.  They had three children, he learned Malay, taught fine arts in a French school where he was also in charge of discipline, taught pastry classes in a hotel and management school and opened a restaurant.  “Which was a catastrophe,” not the food … just the wrong location he said.

This was his link into the moving world.  Having struggled to make the restaurant work he was on the lookout for a job:  Santa Fe in Kuala Lumpur came to the rescue.  He joined the company as a relocation consultant.  It was during his debut in the industry that he met James Andrew, CEO of Intermovers.

He hired him as a move manager for the expatriate market in Kuala Lumpur.  After a couple of years James, who wanted to open a branch in Borneo, offered him the challenge that he definitely was willing to take up.

The country owes much of its economy to the extensive oil and gas fields and is ranked by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) as having the 26th highest gross domestic product per capita, that’s ahead of Spain and only just behind Italy. There is a British Garrison there as the country was governed by the UK until its independence in 1984.  There are also a lot of English teachers. Clearly there are opportunities there.

“Intermovers already had some oil and gas clients that it was servicing through an agent in Borneo,” explained Patrice. “There was an obvious opportunity for us in Brunei but the new place would have to be started from scratch.”

Patrice had to recruit staff locally and internationally. This was a challenge as the country has a quota for foreign workers and they can only be employed on renewable two-year contracts.  “We also had to follow FIDI standards because, although the new organisation was not a FIDI member yet, Intermovers Malaysia was and we felt it was important that standards were maintained throughout the organisation.”

There is competition for Intermovers in Brunei but it is essentially local companies and freight forwarders. “We do have an edge thanks to our international network so we can provide door-to-door services,” said Patrice. After four years in Brunei the company now employs seven people plus some casual workers during busy times. Full-time staff are provided with accommodation in the same location. The company is a customs broker, which Patrice says allows him to have better control over the consignments and helps him get goods cleared and to the customer faster. “When we started we were the underdogs,” said Patrice. “But we got a small contract with one of the Asean armed forces and that helped us to get established.”    

Intermovers Brunei is unusual purely because of its location.  But I asked Patrice what made the company special.  He said that being proactive and communicating well were very important. First, he had to lead his team by example. He laughed as he explained how, in the beginning, he was general manager, driver, packer, cleaner - there was not a single chore he had not done. His previous experience in school had taught him the value of education.  “We never let people assume things,” he said.  “We say what we do, and do what we say.”

Meanwhile, I still struggle with my pastry.  I look forward to ‘leçon deux’ in the near future.

Intermovers Brunei  

Photos: (Top) Patrice Faivre attending the IMA conference and (right) with his staff in Brunai.

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