Australia, India and Singapore help fuel Asia-Pacific executive search gains as Covid impact wanes

Growing demand for business and engineering talent in economies such as Australia, India and Singapore is boosting executive search activity in the Asia-Pacific region as the impact of Covid in the region is largely declining, longtime regional industry executive and Boyden board member William Farrell said in an interview Tuesday.

“There was a lot of strength in the first half,” said Farrell, managing partner for Taiwan and South Korea, who represents the APAC region on the company’s board. “It’s been a very good year,” especially in Southeast Asian markets, he said. Boyden has 75 offices in more than 45 countries; Farrell, an American expat, has lived in Asia since 1987 and joined Boyden in 1993.

Research companies are benefiting from a shift in multinational strategies, moving from establishing one large regional hub for their regional operations to creating more smaller hubs that reduce the risk of disruption by one place – like what happened to some businesses in China this year during the Covid shutdowns.

Covid has brought a “plateau” in executive search in this country, Farrell said. “There is a push to identify other sources of goods and materials,” he said. “It’s not about cutting ties with China, but about not being so dependent on the market. In the industrial space, this has cut across sectors. Research activity in China is no longer what it used to be.

Edited excerpts from our Zoom interview follow.

Flannery: What are some of the trends in executive recruitment as the impact of the pandemic in Asia fades this year?

Farrell: Southeast Asia is considered a friendlier market for multinationals than China. It is also considered a growing market. There is hope for Indonesia to continue to grow. Vietnam is doing well and it is quite business-friendly. Malaysia is also doing well. These are generally less political environments – they are certainly not as complicated and onerous as the environment in mainland China. India is having a record year.

China has come to a stage where it’s a much more developed economy and such a big place. Getting a foothold in the Southeast Asian market is less complicated.

Flannery: What are the needs at the executive level of these countries?

Farrell: It would be a country leader who can lead business development and has the ability to work across cultures.

In India, multinationals and some large Indian companies want to invest more in R&D in the country and do not want to depend so much on R&D and technology development from outside India, in order to have better control over that -this. Companies are looking to have stronger teams in the field.

Previously, there had been a trend towards regionalization, where companies would have a regional center and reduce costs. This change was an impact of Covid, when travel was restricted.

And yet now travel is also returning. The thought that there will be no travel after Covid has been overblown. He will still play a role. I have just returned from a worldwide meeting in the United States and we felt great enthusiasm. We haven’t seen each other for three years.

Flannery: What is the preferred path for new country leaders in Southeast Asia?

Farrell: Nine times out of 10, clients want to hire someone from the area. They are looking for people who have language skills, including dialects. If they don’t have the language skills, they are not a priority.

Flannery: You worked in the financial sector in Asia. What future for executive recruitment in Hong Kong?

Farrell: The recruitment market has been depressed since 2019. There was a “big quit”. There were a lot of expats running for the exit door.

With the arrival of new management in Hong Kong, there is less uncertainty. The relationship with China is going to be closer, for better or for worse. China remains a big market and Hong Kong still has some advantages.

Flannery: And Singapore?

Farrell: Singapore is more stable than ever. He benefited from everything that happened in Hong Kong. Singapore is just eating.

Flannery: And what about Taiwan?

Farrell: To some extent, there has been some renewed interest from multinational corporations in Taiwan. The biggest proof of this is that the high-tech players – Google, Apple and Microsoft – are all developing their data centers in Taiwan. And that led to a mini-boom in the construction industry. In addition to this, in Taiwan, the development of offshore wind farms has also contributed a bit of momentum to the construction industry.

Flannery: Where are these hires coming from?

Farrell: There are definitely local hires. Much of it is at the engineering level. And then there are few regional expatriates.

Flannery: Has there been a return of talent from the mainland to Taiwan?

Farrell: For years there has been interest in this. The problem has been whether the available job can pay what they want to be paid and is good enough – big enough. There has certainly been a comeback. The political environment in China added to this. They know that it is very difficult for them to obtain a similar role in Taiwan.

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