Mainland and Southeast Asia covet Hong Kong Talent

November 1, 2013 | Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly

By: Salina Wong (Editor)

As Hong Kong people are brooding over emigration, will companies take this opportunity to grab talent? In this issue, we interviewed Caroline Edwards, Managing Director of DHR’s Hong Kong office. She said that many enterprises in mainland China and emerging countries in Southeast Asia were coveting Hong Kong talent.

Headhunters specialize in recruiting talent for their clients from around the world. DHR International is one of the top 5 executive search firms in the US. Caroline Edwards spent the majority of her professional career in human resources. Before joining DHR, she served as HR business partner with HSBC in Hong Kong, where her key responsibilities included the retention and development of top performers at HSBC.

Mainland (companies) Grab Hong Kong Talent

“Up to now, I haven’t seen a clear emigration trend among Hong Kong’s senior talents, but it is true that many talents in the retail and consumer industry have recently been hired by mainland companies,” Caroline Edwards said.

“We hear every day how vibrant the retail and consumer market is in the mainland. Recently, a brand new Shanghai Tang flagship store opened at Shanghai Cathay Theatre, and many brand names have appeared at Shanghai Centre in Jingan District in Shanghai. A lot of brands that you do not even see in Hong Kong, can now be found in Shanghai. As a result, talent in the retail and consumer industry experience high demand in the mainland. The demand in Hong Kong is not as high as that in the mainland. We expect demand from tier-2 and tier-3 cities to catch up soon.”

She said that enterprises in the retail and consumer industry recognized that Hong Kong people fully understood their customers, and their experiences and advantages in areas such as brand building, positioning and promotion would help these enterprises enhance their brand value.

“We have noted that China’s demand for talent has remained very strong over the years. Realizing that their domestic market or the market of their headquarters is already saturated, many foreign enterprises have cast their eyes on the China market and set up regional headquarters in Shanghai. Some enterprises, which have not started operating in China or have been operating through dealers or agents, feel that now is the time to set up their own offices.”

Emerging Markets Are Attractive

Not only China, other emerging markets also covet Hong Kong’s talents. “There are currently huge investments in Vietnam’s infrastructure, while the political situation in Indonesia is stabilizing. So investments are flowing into Indonesia; and Thailand has also been attracting investments from multinational companies after the floods. Hong Kong is a good place to source talent, and emerging markets like Vietnam are keen to recruit Hong Kong talent, especially those who possess specialized skills in running new enterprises.”

She thought that these emerging markets were stages for high-end talents to shine. In emerging markets where enterprises have never had any foothold before, pioneers usually have a lot of freedom and can leverage their talent to prove their entrepreneurial skills as well as their capabilities in managing investments and creating business revenue.

As for Hong Kong itself, besides the retail industry, the demand for talent in the hotel, consulting, and professional service industries, has also remained strong. She added, “The local financial services industry has started to recover. In the past one and a half years, with the increase in personal wealth, many private banks have moved into Hong Kong. The asset management and insurance industries are also developing new businesses. As such, we expect to see a lot of opportunities in the asset management, banking and insurance industries.”

The war for talent has always been intense but the surprising thing is that it is even more so when an economy is in recession. Caroline Edwards explained that when the market is poor, enterprises would have a big need for talent that possess different skill sets, to help upgrade or counter risks. Headhunters usually benefited as a result.

“DHR has been setting up new offices and expanding our business during recession years. Even though economies were performing poorly, our (Asia Pacific) revenue grew by around 25% last year. The growth was mainly contributed by emerging markets; business in mature places such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore also grew.”