KED Interview with Steve Stine, Asia Pacific Managing Partner

Jun 22, 2016 | The Korea Economic Daily

1.Welcome to Korea. Being a Chairman of DHR APAC, where are you based? How often do you visit Korea? What is the purpose of this visit and how long will you stay in Korea?

Based in Singapore. Unfortunately, only get to Korea 1-2 times a year, but would like to come more. Purpose of last visit was primarily to meet with our Korea team, explore client opportunities, and discuss our strategy for 2016.

2.Could you share with me about how much the DHR Korea office has grown since the office opening in late 2012? The economy is reviving in Japan, and many multinational companies are coming to Shanghai even though China’s economy remains relatively stagnant, which could be threatening to Korea's economy.

Under the leadership of our Korea country Managing Director, Philippe Tirault, we have steadily built up our presence in Korea and now have four outstanding consultants with expertise in the Industrial, Consumer/Luxury, Technology and Healthcare sectors. We have, in my honest opinion, one of the best all-around retained executive search teams in the market and I’m very proud of the work that we do in Korea.

3.It seems that companies in the areas of Big-Data, IT and E-Commerce are hiring many people these days. Could you share with me the current trends of the IT industry, and what type of key talents these leading IT companies want to hire?

Technology has never been more important as an area of strategic investment for companies. Traditional “bricks & mortar” companies are looking for ways to extend their market reach by developing e-commerce and digital capabilities. Analytics are increasingly understood as a strategic asset and companies are actively looking for ways to understand the data they collect on their customers in order to more effectively target their products and services. At the same time, the barriers to entry are lower than they’ve ever been. Young, technology-driven companies like Uber, Airbnb and others are entering markets and now posing some serious and fascinating challenges to traditional businesses. This can feel very threatening at first, but it is good news for consumers who deserve to have access to the best possible products and services at the lowest possible prices.

4.Uncertainty of global economy has increased. Therefore, it is likely that companies will be more demanding than before when they recruit people from outside. What other things are additionally required from DHR's clients?

I’ve never known a client that wasn’t demanding, and we have no complaint with that. When a company hires a high-end executive search firm like ours and says they are very serious about employing and developing people best suited to take their business forward. Some companies put a premium on people and leadership. Others are more cavalier in hiring and simply want to fill slots in the business and hope to get by. Global economic uncertainty is the best reason ever to work with retained search firms like ours. You can’t afford to make a hiring mistake at the executive level and we are trained to identify and recruit the very best people for our clients.

5.I’m sure that there is no perfect person. However, what type of leaders do companies want the most? (Leadership, insight, expertise…)

This is a very difficult question to answer. There are as many kinds of leaders in the market as there are unique business circumstances. We match executives to a company’s unique set of current and anticipated circumstances. Some are in growth mode, others going through retrenchment, and still others, are changing through M&A. For each set of circumstances there are executives unique suited to see a company through to the next level.

6.What capabilities will be needed for Korean CEOs to become a global company's CEO?

Nothing is better for Korean executives (or any executive for that matter) than international experiences. Whether you are Korean, or Singaporean, or Chinese or American, it’s a very different thing to lead a company with a purely domestic agenda, vs. a regional or global agenda. The ability to work with people of many different backgrounds and to adapt to circumstances in multiple markets is a real skill and this isn’t something that can be taught. Actual operating experience overseas is essential.

7.There are too many search firms in Korea. What is the right direction for search firms to move if some of them are to be removed?

There are two key things that any search firm needs to succeed. The first is “trust.” This is essential. We work very closely with CEOs who can’t afford to make mistakes. There has to be trust in order to ensure a successful search for new talent. Second is expertise. Increasingly, search firms are building out specialization in order to differentiate themselves and to bring tangible market insights to clients who are trying to make the best possible decisions. We’ve invested heavily in the Life Sciences space, for instance. We work among the very top clients in the pharmaceutical and medical device areas and these areas require specialist knowledge. We have this in Korea, throughout the region and around the world. In Korea, we also have exceptionally strong positioning in the automotive, retail/luxury and technology areas.

8.This is a personal question. You were a journalist before. It is certain that you became a great leader now because you have been deeply interested in knowing people and Human Capitals. I’m also interested in the same topics. What competencies should I have in order to become someone like you?

Great question. I’d say that the one thing that journalism taught me was ‘the art of the interview.’ It’s a great skill to be able to hone in on the real questions. As a journalist you need to gather the facts and insights in order to write a compelling article. In executive search, its essential that you get to the bottom of a candidate’s background and his or her motivations. Learning how to peel back the layers in order to find out what someone is really about and how much they really know, takes time and interviewing skill. I’m actually surprised there aren’t more former journalists who’ve joined the Executive Search industry.

9.Many Korean companies went through restructurings in the end of last year. Therefore, many senior executives lost their jobs. Could you give us some advice for those who are looking for a new opportunity in their late 40s and mid-50s?

This isn’t just the case in Korea, its true globally. Many senior-level executives have either been laid off, or opted out of corporate in their 40s and 50s and many have opted to go into consulting or advisory roles. There are scores of opportunities for independent senior-level executives these days, compared to a decade ago. Private equity firms are hungry for executives who have the operating experience that they can bring to their fast-growth portfolio companies. Also, a lot of companies now outsource parts of their business to independent consultants and advisors. It’s important to know and to learn how to be an independent operator in this day and age. Nothing is certain or guaranteed in the corporate world these days and the era of “a job for life” is coming to an end. It may be slower to occur in Korea than elsewhere, but it is changing.

10.What are some tips for young Korean people who are interested in working for search firms?

Develop an area of functional or industry expertise and continue to hone interviewing skills wherever possible.

For Steve Stine's full DHR bio please click here.