Though still in its infancy, China’s recruitment sector continues to grow steadily, as does its need for consultants. Michael Page International, one of the early multinational entrants into the market, is a clear example of that growth. By the end of this year, it will have doubled to six the number of its offices on the mainland – two of them in Shanghai alone – with the company eyeing outposts in Chengdu and Tianjin. Dan Chavasse, the firm’s managing director for North Asia, chats with Rick Gangwani.
Where are you focusing your expansion efforts?
We've doubled our spaces in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. We opened a Guangzhou office in the first quarter, a second Shanghai office in July, and we are due to unveil our Suzhou branch later this year. We're also exploring Chengdu and Tianjin.
What are the implications of these new offices vis-a-vis hiring and transfers?
I've transferred nine managers from overseas. But note that we've got a management team of over 30, the vast majority of whom we've hired, trained and developed in-country. In all, we've got about 200 people there, the bulk of whom we hired locally.
What positions will you need to fill?
We'll likely need more recruitment consultants and managers - people who have the interest, flair and ability to oversee a P&L before they're 28.
What are the requirements in terms of skills and experience for these roles?
From a professional point of view, they need to come from one of the disciplines in which we recruit.
From an attitude and attribute point of view, it's all about persistence, teamwork, professionalism and passion to succeed. A strong commitment to ethical work practices is also an important factor, as is ambition and a proven track-record of success, be it through work, sports or college.
Is knowledge of the local market important?
It's important, but it's not essential. The skills that we need are pretty transferrable. Of late, we've been hiring a lot of people from Britain and Australia. Many were educated there, but can't find jobs there.
How have your efforts to find suitable candidates fared so far?
It's been a challenge finding people of the right talent and calibre. But it's a challenge in Australia, it's a challenge in the [United] States, it's a challenge everywhere. China is no different.
How does working at Michael Page differ from working at other agencies?
The way we operate is very different, in that we tend to hire from the sector we're consulting. So our consultants will come from the industry from which they recruit. As such, the people on our payroll tend to be quite specialised. This is pretty unique, not only in China, but in the rest of the world as well. Also, we tend to promote from within. So all the senior managers at Michael Page joined as consultants and moved up through the company ranks. That's exactly what we're doing in China.
Which sectors will staff be focusing on initially?
Our largest business specialises in finance and accounting appointments, closely followed by procurement and supply-chain, engineering and manufacturing, marketing, human resources, and property and legal. We also have teams in Shanghai and Beijing focusing on investment, corporate banking, asset management and insurance.
Will your new offices be run similarly to others in the region?
Yes, exactly the same. This has been our strategy for more than 35 years, and has allowed us to flourish as the largest organically grown professional recruitment company in the world. It's worth pointing out that in the same way our Brazilian office is largely staffed by Brazilians, our China business is managed mainly by Chinese.
This has proved the greatest challenge - hiring, developing and mentoring managers who embrace the Michael Page philosophy in a country where professional recruitment is in its relative infancy compared with the rest of the world.