Forging Links to success
When he realised he got the most satisfaction out of working in a people-focused industry, John Eyres, an energetic and fast-talking Irishman, left his job as a consultant for a Hong Kong telecoms company and joined Links Recruitment in 2010.
Eyres, who has a degree in engineering and a graduate diploma in business administration, has led a varied career. He worked in IT, business operations and human resources at Credit Suisse and Accenture in the UK, with stints in Africa and the US, before moving to Hong Kong in 2009.
Now managing director of Links, he oversees the group’s business in Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and mainland China.
What brought you here to Hong Kong?
The reason I came here was because my wife was born here. She’s half-Indian, half-American but Hong Kong-born. I came out for the Rugby Sevens and fell in love with the place.
Actually, I fell in love with the airport – at the time I was comparing most cities by their airports because I was travelling so much. I thought, if this airport’s easy to use, I can move here. An airport is usually a good indicator of whether a city is going to be an easy place to live in. And the mountains and greenery really made me think of Ireland.
How does an engineering degree help you in your present role?
It gives you that ability to troubleshoot and problem-solve, because it’s very logical. I realised I definitely wanted to go down the business route, though, so I also did a graduate diploma in business.
How did your career start and develop?
I started out in London working for an investment bank, in technology. The natural thing back in 1999 was to jump into technology, because the dot-com thing was going on. I realised at that time that while I was interested in the IT side, I was more interested in people.
I resigned and joined Accenture, a consulting firm. I was based in London, on projects all over the world – US, Singapore, all across Europe. I was at one point averaging up to five countries a week. I was in technology consulting but I ended up working with HR a lot, building an organisation that would support technology – not just its systems but also whether you have the right people to drive the system forwards.
What strategy are you following to build Links’ business?
The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to re-brand in October – new name, new image and bringing the brand to life. We don’t want to change the core DNA, we want to basically explain it, articulate it.
We used to be a purely functional-orientated recruitment firm, but now we’re starting to look at being functionally focused internally, but externally being aligned to industries. For example, in Hong Kong the two biggest industries we work with are financial services and retail. So we’re trying to work with certain functions in certain industries rather than doing everything. We’re trying to focus. A lot of our clients are asking, do you understand our industry, rather than just that role? You can’t just send an accountant from retail to banking – the skill sets are different.
We’re expanding our business-support services including payroll, visa, accounting services and employee outsourcing. That’s growing, and we now need to promote that business.
We are recruiting talented individuals who are aligned to our corporate values of teamwork, integrity, flexibility, transparency and respect for the individual.
Finally, we’re looking at trying to be a regional business, as before we were very much Hong Kong-focused.
How is Links different from other recruitment companies in Hong Kong?
We’re Hong Kong-based, Hong Kong-born, and we’ve been here for 13 years. Given that this is a very aggressive city and it’s very easy to set up a business, to have a company established for 13 years is pretty impressive. We employ great people, but we’re not churn-and-burn. Our average tenure in Hong Kong is over four years, and we have no manager who has spent less than six years here. And our attrition in Hong Kong is at most 15 per cent. We don’t use metrics to fire people, we use them to affirm people.
What are the greatest challenges in your job?
One of the hardest challenges at the moment is keeping people focused and motivated when the market’s slow. To counteract that, we’ve been looking at doing a lot more cross-team building.
Anticipating the market is another challenge – we’re facing headwinds. How do we work out what’s coming in and going out, or what our potential is in the next few months or next quarter, or even next year? So we use a data analysis system to predict market changes at the macro level.
The biggest challenge is finding the right people – finding people with the right DNA for us.
What do you see as your biggest achievement to date at Links?
The biggest achievement for us – given the difficulty in finding the right people – is in the last two years, we’ve had a 50 per cent increase in our headcount across the region. That’s not me, that’s us. We’ve got a rigorous recruitment process – even the team will interview their potential manager just to ensure there’s good chemistry.
The other achievement is that in 2011-12 we achieved the highest revenue in the company’s history. Again, that’s a team effort.
What puts a smile on your face when you’re at work?
Our amazing people. The staff are fantastic.