Asia's Hungry for Management Talent

Economic expansion is increasing the demand for experienced executives, and Pacific Rim businesses are learning the ways of the headhunter

There's growing reason to believe, since the Asia-Pacific region is home to the fastest-growing markets in the global economy, that its growing appetite for management talent has also made it the most exciting front in the global headhunting trade.

The continuing expansion of national economies across Asia is spawning new companies and ratcheting up demand for experienced executive talent. It's also creating the kind of headlines that signal to the region's executive recruiters that their best days are still very much ahead of them.

If anyone needs further convincing that the Asia-Pacific region indeed represents the new battleground in the global war for management talent, just consider these facts:

• Hong Kong recently revealed the largest Internet IPO since Google (GOOG)

• PetroChina (PTR) became the world's largest company by market capitalization

• The Bombay Stock Market recently hit 20,000, equal to 40% annual growth

• The Chinese economy is slated to grow by a staggering 11% this year

Aging into a Management Vacuum

With Asia building the kind of financial resources to reshape the world economy in a way very different from what we've known since the years following World War II, it's easy to see how these companies and national economies will only become more reliant on world-class management talent to fend off the competition and extend this impressive growth story.

That's especially clear when one considers the population demographics of the Asia-Pacific region. The expatriate population of Singapore, for example, represents nearly one-quarter of its total population. And by 2016, the number of people age 60 to 64 in Australia will double, creating what will surely become a vacuum for experienced management talent.

Then consider that most of the 10 largest companies by market capitalization worldwide are Chinese, and that the vast majority of the world's largest companies are already doing business on the Chinese mainland. Many of the world's corporate executive staffing leaders are spending much of their time these days in Hong Kong and deep in the rich headhunting grounds of other booming Asian economies.

Systematic Approach to Recruiting

One of these is Peter Wright, who until recently was vice-president of human resources for the 73,000 people who make up the refining and marketing division at energy and natural resources giant BP (BP). Wright says corporate talent management leaders across the Asia-Pacific region would be wise to step back from their day-to-day priorities to assess how they're feeding their companies' growing demand for talent.

Rather than getting caught up in a process that merely fills management-level jobs, he contends, corporate staffing executives from Hong Kong to Shanghai should adopt a more systematic approach to their recruiting process because it can have "a profound effect on both the performance and profitability of your business."

Key to such a systematic approach, Wright contends, is changing the mindset within the company from one that views executive hiring as a way to fill gaps in the organization's structure, to one in which the company's strategy is the genesis for its decisions about who to hire, what management skills they must possess, and how they should lead an increasingly global workforce.

Be Aware of Overall Strategy

"Success in executive hiring," Wright says, "is about being adaptive, and your recruitment profile has to reflect that. If you look at recruitment strategy, you should be able to see the link to corporate strategy. You should, by looking at the recruitment strategy, know instantly what the [overall corporate] strategy is," he says.

Wright acknowledges too few hiring organizations around the world can actually put their finger on the cost of their overall recruitment initiatives, let alone the exact return on investment those activities are driving to elevate corporate financial performance.

"Where are you starting from?" is an important first question to ask, Wright says, before your organization—and especially those in Asia that are pouring money into recruitment—can begin to start recruiting campaigns, link recruiting to strategy, and effectively track the results. The former head of human resources for the BP refining and marketing units also points to the importance of market intelligence to link corporate recruiters to the information and external networks that can lead them to global pools of talent.

Looking Ahead

The Asia-Pacific region's executive headhunters will play a major role in connecting those dots, in part because of existing demand for management talent, and also because more of the world's largest multinational companies are investing more heavily in workforce contingency planning.

That is, they're not only paying headhunters to fill existing gaps in the corporate hierarchy. Increasingly, these companies are paying headhunters for what they know, who they know, and how they might extend the company's brand and growth story to individuals it may someday wish to recruit, depending on how its strategy changes against the backdrop of such rapid growth in Asia.

If executive management talent is the new oil that is fueling the growth of companies around the world, the Asia-Pacific region is certainly the world's fastest-growing oil field, and one that will undoubtedly draw new front lines in the global competition for top talent.

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