What's it like making the move to Asia?

What's it like making the move to Asia?

Contributed by Jessica Wilson on 26 March 2015
Whilst major Western economies are still in a period of recovery after the Great Recession, their Asian counterparts are experiencing much stronger all round growth.

Despite positive forward indicators in the West, businesses remain tentative and hiring plans cautious. In Asia, by contrast, forecasts point to a growth pattern set to continue well into the medium term.  
Companies and firms based in Asia need experienced recruiters to ensure that they meet their ambitious growth plans and, thus, the recruitment market in Asia is developing at an unprecedented rate.
With that in mind, Pure Search’s Barrie Sanderson discusses working as a recruitment consultant in Asia, drawing on his market knowledge and 15 years’ experience based successively in London, Hong Kong, Singapore and New York.
‘Working in Asia was one of the most enriching experiences I have had, both personally and professionally’ says Barrie, who moved to Hong Kong to build the Asia business of Pure in 2009, having worked in the London office for almost 7 years.

Why did you decide to move to Asia?

‘At the time there were not a lot of recruitment companies investing in APAC as a result of the financial crisis. The office, which opened in 2008, initially spent months mapping the legal and tax market, building unrivalled foundations on which to build the practice. This meant that we were in a position to deliver for client and candidates when we started.‘

‘The Asian recruitment market was, and still is, comparatively immature and less saturated than London. This offers a great platform from which to evolve your career at what can be quite a tricky time, as it is easier to access senior level decision makers and leverage up your market position.’
 ‘The fact that APAC is evolving more rapidly than mature markets with respect to recruitment services creates greater opportunities to consult and genuinely partner with clients who have exciting growth plans regionally.  I’d confidently say that London produces some of the best recruiters in the world, largely due to the intense competition and high expectations of clients and candidates. Recruiters must quickly develop their skills to succeed and, if they do, the opportunities to apply their skillset in less evolved markets are obvious.’

Why did you move to Asia with Pure?

‘Having worked in the London office for a number of years, I knew that I identified with the company ethos and felt positive about the direction the business was going. It was a bold move to open in Asia at the time, and I was at a point in my career where I was looking for the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. Personally it was a good time to make an international move, and professionally – I wanted to be part of realising the strategic direction the business was taking.’

‘Furthermore, the potential financial rewards were fantastic. The APAC region boasts higher margins than anywhere in the world, some 50% higher than London, and 60% less tax.’

What was it like once you got there? Were there any surprises?

‘Asia is an open market where there is less focus on retained work, but it’s incredibly fast-paced. It’s different to London and I needed to adapt quickly. You can’t just walk in and start billing, you have to be commercial and learn the dynamics of the region.’

‘It’s notable that clients in APAC were hiring for growth, rather than for replacement. Hiring plans were and still are positive and there’s less direct sourcing. The market is smaller but you still have to network aggressively to build your name.’

‘The Financial Crisis that took hold in Europe changed how I had foreseen my time in Asia panning out. The contracting European markets had a knock-on effect globally.’

What was your highlight?

‘Hiring in consultants to the offices, training them and watching them build incredibly successful careers. Two of our first hires, Liam Richardson and Andrew Wallace, now run the Hong Kong and Singapore businesses respectively, having started off as consultants. In my time, eight consultants were promoted to Director and above.’

What was your experience outside of work?

‘The experience of living in Hong Kong is fantastic. There is an active expat community. Everyone lives and works in the same vicinity, and the community spirit is strong. There is a vibrant social scene and the bars and restaurants are world renowned. The opportunity to travel is great; South East Asia is on your doorstep for a weekend break, or Australia for a longer one.’
‘I was part of a phase in Asian history and was able to partake in the evolution of the region; it was the making of my career.’
Pure Search has now been operating in APAC for 8 years and has gone from strength to strength. The Singapore office, opened in 2012, has grown year on year to revenue of SGD 4.5m in 2014, whilst Hong Kong posted revenue of HKD 37.6m. The two offices leverage off each other’s networks and expertise, working very closely with one another to cover the entire APAC region.

Barrie is now a Managing Director at Pure, with international responsibility across Europe and the Americas.

Do you see yourself moving to Asia with Pure? If so get in touch with Chris Nelson on directly on 0207 429 4474 or chrisnelson@purerecruitment.com.