Lead from the front
PageGroup HK and Southern China senior MD Andy Bentote says vision is vital
After 20 years in the recruitment industry – through which he worked his way up from graduate trainee with Michael Page in London to taking the helm as senior managing director for PageGroup in Hong Kong and Southern China – Andy Bentote knows a thing or two about how to grow a business and inspire people.
With his firm also celebrating its 20th year of doing business in Hong Kong, Bentote explains that the key to good leadership is creating a compelling vision that is relevant at all levels, and giving staff the autonomy and support to set their own version of that vision.
“The most important thing a great leader has to do is set out a very clear and very compelling vision for your business,” the Briton says. “Once that vision is clear and people are excited by it, then the leader needs to do coaching and support around that. Then it becomes a platform – people know why they’re here and where the business is going.”
Bentote got his first taste of growing a team through his first job working in Michael Page’s finance team in London. After six years, he moved on to developing the legal team. “That was a time when our legal team grew very rapidly and we expanded across London and Britain,” he says. “It was the first time that I had got into a real growth business within PageGroup, something that I have continued since.”
After working his way up to director and taking on a broader role moving around Britain, the next growth area was in engineering and supply chain, which Bentote helped to double in size within a couple of years.
“That was around 2008, and that’s when the China opportunity came up,” Bentote recalls. “There were only about 20 people in China at the time, and it was one of the key countries to grow. With the experience I had of growing the business before, it seemed like a really good opportunity.”
The next few years saw Bentote, from his base in Shanghai, expand the China business from a team of 20 to 130 in just two years. When his boss retired, the chance opened up for him to move south to take the reins of the Hong Kong business, which, though established, still had the potential to grow.
“Rather than growing my own businesses, which is what I had done, this was taking over a relatively larger and already established business, putting my stamp on it and trying to make improvements. It was a very different leadership management challenge,” he says.
In his time with PageGroup, Bentote has seen the business go through the boom and bust of the 2008 financial crisis and the effects of Sars. He has also experienced first-hand how the internet has presented the recruitment industry with fresh challenges, as more clients discover new ways to find their own people. But while on the surface these may seem like direct challenges to the business, Bentote says they have had a positive effect.
“Social media and LinkedIn have enhanced our business because we use those tools as well, and it’s all about finding great candidates,” he explains. “Anything that makes this process easier is going to have an impact on our business.”
But what has made PageGroup so successful in the last two decades has been its ability to fulfil three criteria: source candidates, interview them to discover the best and most relevant to their clients’ needs, and matching the right candidates to clients.
“I can say I know this candidate, I know their background and what they’re all about, and I think they would be a good fit for this company,” he says. “The [recruiters] that prove themselves the best in those three areas are the ones who are going to thrive.”
As the company sets its sights on expanding in five other key markets around the world – North America, South America, Germany, Southeast Asia and Greater China – Bentote sees two key shifts happening in the Hong Kong business.
First, while Hong Kong remains a strong banking and financial services hub, demand for recruitment services will be seen in other sectors. “I think we will see more of a diversification in Hong Kong,” he says, explaining, for example, how Michael Page has launched a digital recruitment team in response to growing demand in the city for e-commerce professionals. “Banking and finance is always pretty strong, but with sales, marketing, digital and technology skills – I think that is the key evolution and that other industries will come through.”
Second, there will be more demand for recruitment specialists, with firms that deliver on quality, specialism and expertise wining out. “The clients demand it, candidates demand it and it will be harder to be a generalist,” Bentote says. “The people who will be most successful will be genuine experts in their market and deliver genuine quality specialist service.”
He explains that part of the reason PageGroup has grown into one of the largest recruitment firms in Hong Kong is its ability to specialise, with its three specialist divisions – Page Executive, Michael Page and Page Personnel – all catering to unique client and candidate demands.
“We’ve become more specialised in everything we do,” Bentote says. “Over the past 20 years, we have become more quality-driven and more specialised in what we do, specialised, and that leads to expertise in the market. We have continually evolved and promoted many people.”
TAKING A PAGE FROM HIS BOOK
Andy Bentote offers some key lessons from his career.
Be committed “A decision that’s 70 per cent right, but with 100 per cent effort and commitment behind it, is better than the other way round. You’ve really got to back your own decisions and put real commitment and effort into them ... if you put everything into making it work, you’ll get it right nine times out of ten.”
Mix perspectives “It’s much better to surround yourself with people who have different ways of looking at things, but the same ambitions and goals.”
Aim for exceptional “I tend not to focus too much on people’s weaknesses, but to look more at their strengths. Rather than being just really good at their strengths, how can they be brilliant at them instead? This will have a positive impact on how they are perceived as leaders.”
Keep growing “People have to be open to learning. Whether you have just joined the company, or whether you’re a manager, director or even a CEO, if you stop learning your career is finished.”