Cultured Approach

COVER FEATURE - Simon Kent explores how recruiters should get to know a new country in order to do business.

Becoming a successful recruiter in Singapore or Hong Kong may seem straightforward but many recruiters can come unstuck if they fail to appreciate the nuances and qualities required from the function in this part of the world. Moreover, while highly urbanised cities may seem welcoming for recruitment businesses, there may be a wealth of untapped potential for those who stay within the city limits and do not stretch themselves beyond. It could be a safe and secure policy not to stray too far from the well-beaten path, but having made the step into the Asia Pacific region to begin with, it would seem a shame to go all that way and not explore a little.

“There is no doubt that recruiting in Asia is very different from recruiting in the US, UK and Australia,” says Rob Green, CEO and owner of GRM Search. “The culture is vastly different, the working environment is no longer predominantly western and over the past eight years, we have seen much more influence in the business environment from China – due in a large part to the client base of our clients, being more and more driven from the mainland.”

Whilst classifying a start-up in Hong Kong or Singapore as being relatively easy, other regions, says Green are ‘tricky’. He states: “The challenges you will face will be when you are actually on the ground.”

When asked how recruiters should get to know a country, there is clearly no short cut in Green’s book: “By living and breathing it and pounding the streets,” he says. “Get to know what makes the people tick by meeting them and talking to them and integrating yourself and your family into your new life. Once you start to understand a place, you will be better positioned to capitalise professionally.”

Indeed, Green’s preference for a new business would be to bring in known talent – even an internal appointment – so firstly you have the assurance of that worker’s capability and secondly, if things do go awry, it is easier to backtrack and re-employ that person into your organisation.

“It would make sense to have been making placements and have existing clients and candidates on the ground before you commit to an office,” Green concludes, “but if you are in a market space that isn’t over-saturated then perhaps you can take a risk.”

Taufik Arief, founder of People Search Indonesia, and ASIA member director for NPA Worldwide admits hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong are attractive for recruiters, but he does emphasise the need to study what he terms as the ‘industrial competition map’ before making any commitment. “Emerging markets might provide more opportunities with less competition,” he remarks, adding however: “Certainly they come with another challenges, such as company establishment, regulation and culture.”

“Knowing the local culture and people is always important,” says Arief. “Having a local partner will ease you on this, or at least hiring locals as part of your organisation’s senior management team. Doing business in the Eastern world really requires strong relationship beside service performance.”

Indeed, for some countries local involvement in your business is essential. Nerissa S. Reyes, President of Avanti People Partnership International and chair of NPA Worldwide describes the recruitment industry in the Philippines as “highly regulated with high licensing costs, direct hiring limitations and local ownership restrictions”. Currently for a multi-national firm to set up, they require over 50 per cent local ownership. Such restrictions indicate any recruitment business set up needs to think about more local involvement than simply employment. As Taufik Arief notes, “The ability to identify and persuade potential local partners is crucial.”

Reyes also highlights the fact that in the Philippines, permanent recruitment requires a license from the Department of Labor whilst service-contracting or outsourced staff policies have recently been revised. The new implementing policy increases financial requirements on businesses and introduces further restrictions on “labour-only contracting”. She also adds that the deployment of Foreign workers requires a license from POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency) and these are difficult to obtain.

Who you know where

By contrast, Joshua Ro, managing director of People Consulting Group in South Korea says it is fairly easy to set up a new recruitment company in this country. “There aren't any restrictions but you need to go to City Hall and file a business application for opening up a new recruitment firm,” he says. However, to grow business is another thing.”

Crucial to business success, says Ro is a strong network across clients or connections with HR personnel and so on. “It is more of who do you know rather than what do you know,” he says. “There are very strong ties and a tight network already established in the society, from where you were born (city or state) to which elementary school, middle school, high school or college you went to. Even whom you know from where also matters to get lined up with persons you want to do business with or get to know.

Naturally foreigners, even those with good recruitment industry experience, are often faced with difficulties to establish fairly stable business. Ro says they tend to remain as boutique firm with only a couple of staff. “Many times foreign consultants in recruitment industries are in sales and/or business development, but to be successful, they should also get involved in talent searching not only for foreign talents but also for local talents as well.”

Huynh Van Thoi, general director at Employment Vietnam is adamant that to get to grips with business in any of these countries, and especially in Vietnam, local knowledge pop the culture and business world is paramount. “You want to experience being in the area to completely know for yourself how to engage with them in real life situation,” he says. “Fully understanding the culture is not an overnight thing so you need to give it time until you know and are embraced by the system.”

Building bridges

As with South Korea, business deals in Vietnam tend to happen through close connections. “People love goofing around, grabbing a coffee in their favourite hang outs and enjoying multiple series of conversations,” notes Mr Thoi. “Well in most cases, that’s where the business engagement starts. ‘Café sua da’ or milk coffee with ice being the favourite of the crowd and even foreigners are being fond of it too.”

While business regulation and compliance can be arduous, they can at least be understood concisely and dealt with in a professional manner. Understanding the culture of a country and how that impacts on business and oil employment itself, is more of a learning process, and something which recruiters should realise will never be complete. This kind of knowledge and understanding can grow and accumulate, but there will never be a time to stop being open to learning more.

“Different cultures have different approaches to business and there is a process of education that needs to take place,” says Antal’s Tony Goodwin. “Local consultants need to be trained in how to become better influencers, negotiators and more consultative – traits that are bread and butter for many of us in the UK but can be alien concepts elsewhere.”

Goodwin ultimately advises aspiring recruiters to take their courage in both hands and aim high. Trying to build a business in these regions cannot and should not be done in a half-hearted manner. “You need to really want to build your business in each region you operate – simply dipping your toe into international waters will not deliver the return on investment that you are looking for,” he says. “So think with a strategic mindset, have the gumption to take the risks that will need to be taken.”