Saragossa Director, Rory Gaston, reflects on opening a US office in Chicago and how the last 6 months have been for him personally.

Expanding to the US

Last year we decided it was the perfect time to expand with a physical presence in the US, and being an eternal optimist, I set off thinking it would be a walk in the park… Fast-forward 6 months, and I can safely admit that relocating is much harder than I thought.

Despite generating approximately 45% of our revenues in the US in 2022, opening a physical office felt like we were starting from scratch. Having to adjust to the level of bureaucracy and paperwork in the US has been time-consuming and hard. Luckily, I have a strong core team in the UK who helped me as I realised that I am hopeless at many of these tasks, a big thank you to Jo, Jimmy, Amy, Jason, Becky (the list goes on) for carrying me through!

Adjusting to living in two time zones

Something people don’t often talk about when opening their first international office is adjusting to running a business across two time zones. It is something that I have found quite challenging, especially in our line of work; if you’re not quick to react to an email or respond to a call, then you’re behind the curve. I currently wake up 6 hours behind the action (in the UK), and certainly, for the first 3 or 4 months, I felt like I was starting a race late; it’s very unsettling and definitely impacted my sleep.

Rather than some magical fix for this, I’ve found that over time you naturally adjust and sleeping through the night becomes easier – I’m not a member of the 4 am club either out of choice or otherwise anymore.

The social side

I am a very social person, but at the age of 36, it is not easy to form new social groups as it was perhaps 10 years ago. You must be willing to jump into the deep end; if not, you will quickly feel homesick.

I have met some amazing people since moving here; they are super friendly, very giving with their time, and accommodating in a bid to make you feel welcome. They are interested in what you do, and most people I’ve met are natural conversationalists – asking questions and really listening to the answers; this is really refreshing, to say the least. From that perspective, the mid-west is the perfect first base for us to launch from, and I am happy we made the jump.

The practicalities

There are some big adjustments from a practical perspective…

  1. There is a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork in the US; things like getting State ID, setting up bank accounts, obtaining a driving license, social security numbers, getting a phone contract and leasing an apartment are all hard. There is a particular order of events in terms of acquiring on the pieces of paper listed above, and like a game, you can’t progress to the next level unless you’ve completed the current one.
  2. Date reversal – Flitting between the UK and the US has meant that on many occasions, it takes me a while to work out what date it actually is; I’ve grown to love corresponding days/months (7/7 and similar), making my life simple for that one day.
  3. There are four time zones that we work across in the US, throw into the mix UK and mainland Europe and the mental arithmetic can get slightly tricky. I’ve made a few appointment mistakes, as recent as today – turning up an hour early for a meeting in NYC.
  4. I’ve never written a cheque in my whole life in the UK; I don’t know where to start – but it seems that chequebooks are still alive and kicking in the US. Being stubborn, I’ve found alternatives, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going anywhere anytime soon!
  5. Driving is a unique experience; it’s like playing Mario Kart on the Bowser Express, except that it’s real life, and you might just get squished.
  6. Navigating the Health Insurance intricacies requires a laser-like focus that I’m just not built for; whilst the care really is second to none, it’s complex to the point of frustration to use the system.

I’ll pen an idiot’s guide to the relocation side of things at some point, as there are some real particulars which would be great for any aspiring relocator.

Building our team in Chicago

Everyone we’ve interviewed to work internally at Saragossa has taken the interview process seriously – they’re well presented, well prepared, and interested in the role, and I’ve been asked more zingers by graduates wanting to work at the firm than from any client pitch I’ve ever done.

We’ve managed to build (thanks solely to Lily) an amazing team of hard-working, smart and committed recruiters. They’re a joy to be around daily, and I can see really bright futures for all of them in the industry. Watching it all start to fall in place, considering some of the initial challenges we faced in the early days, makes me super optimistic about the future and our growth plans in the US.

Has it been hard, yes? Is it worth it – absolutely.

Here’s to the next six months.