Insights

Attracting Executive Talent ‘Off the Map’

We live in an increasingly globalized world and one where good talent is of huge value to business success. Long gone are the days when talented individuals were exclusively gobbled up by universities and businesses in London and New York. Now Shanghai, Seoul, Dubai and Sao Paulo, among many others, are well known business locations and truly on the map for candidates seeking relocation. But what about those cities that are less well-known, yet still need to attract talent to grow and prosper? How do they attract executive talent ‘off the map?’

I recently spoke at a forum on talent in Dongguan. It’s a city in China of nearly ten million people wedged between Shenzhen and Hong Kong in the South and Guangzhou in the North. Despite being a huge city and a significant contributor to the Chinese growth story, it is still relatively unknown outside of China. The city made its fortune through manufacturing, but global demand for consumer products shrank in the wake of the GFC and the city suffered. Factories closed; people left; and apartment blocks emptied. Chinese wage increases over the intervening years meant that a return to long-term growth through an upsurge in basic manufacturing was unlikely, so the city has needed to find a new growth story. Dongguan is now reinventing itself as a high-tech, global city focusing on clean industries and industrial research. This includes numerous diverse activities, such as robotics, smart homes and big data processing centers. Yet the city is acutely aware that it needs to attract industrial researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs to make the plan fly.

The city has an aggressive approach to attracting talent. It offers sizable subsidies and incentives to businesses and individuals to attract the best. It maintains a comprehensive set of services to welcome highly educated migrants and ensure they are supported during their integration into the city. Seeing these policies and services in action first-hand was impressive, but the challenge is still to find these people, attract them and retain them for long enough to have meaningful impact. This is undeniably easier for cities with a high global profile to achieve as the candidate knows basic information about the city or may have friends living there, but what should a city with a comparatively low profile do?

I think the first thing to do is to ensure that the basic needs of candidates are met. That is that the position is well constructed, the remuneration is sufficiently attractive and that housing is of a suitable quality. If the candidate has a family, then they need to know that they will be safe and well taken care of. If these matters are not taken care of, then it will be difficult to attract anyone, and certainly not the best. They are not factors that attract talent; rather they are factors that will deter talent by their absence.

The next thing is to look at the factors that do attract talent. I see two main factors (although there are obviously others). The first is opportunity and the second is location.

Everyone wants to achieve something in life. Achievement is what makes people happy. The role must present opportunities for the candidate to be successful. The business they work for must also be able to ensure the candidate is well-supported to achieve and take advantage of these opportunities for success. Cities like Dongguan (or Xian, Ahmedabad, Chengdu, Santiago or many others like them) will only succeed in attracting top talent if they can project the sense of opportunity and economic vitality that the city offers. China has a head start. Our recent AESC China Perceptions report indicated that more than 80% of senior executives already perceive the country as providing a good level of opportunity for success.

The second factor is location. Having a nice home is one thing, but that’s of little value if it’s in the middle of nowhere or surrounded by smog. Just because a city is relatively unknown, doesn’t mean that it is poorly located. Indeed often the opposite is true. Dongguan is situated near some of the world’s key financial centers, trading cities and logistical hubs. There are four sizable international airports nearby. Generally speaking, its environment is more spacious and cleaner than larger cities further north. Other up-and-coming cities have similar attributes; some like Santiago or Chengdu are situated within driving distance of breathtaking natural scenery. These are attributes that need to be publicized in order to attract talent.

Attracting the right people is only part of the equation. Businesses and governments also need to provide reasons and opportunities for them to stay. This is where retained executive search firms can help. Proactive research means that retained search firms find the best, not just anyone. They can also ensure that they find talented individuals who are cultural appropriate and fit well within the culture of the organization. While this is of obvious value to the employer, it also gives the executive confidence that they are the best possible fit for the role and they are valued by their new employer. This convergence of employer and candidates expectations ultimately has a huge impact on the ability of the candidate to succeed in their role and ensure they stick around to continue that success.

About the author

Patrick is based in Hong Kong and leads the membership team for the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. He also holds responsibility for AESC education programs for researchers and associates. Before joining the AESC in 2013, Patrick was an executive search consultant with a boutique firm in the higher education sector. He worked on a number of senior academic appointments in: Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Macau, China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the UAE, Kuwait and Pakistan. Patrick was also responsible for overseeing a team of search consultants and researchers.