Armstrong Craven’s CEO Matthew Mellor and Heather Travis, Director Asia Pacific, were interviewed by Global Recruiter magazine about the company’s decision to establish an office in Singapore. You can read the interview below, or click the link at the bottom of this article to view the piece in The Global Recruiter.
When and how did Armstrong Craven start?
Armstrong Craven was founded in 1990 by former CEO Sue Craven. The company was subsequently acquired by the Work Group in 2005 before colleagues Matthew Mellor and Rachel Davis led a private equity-backed management buyout in 2013. A key driver behind the successful buyout was the desire to build Armstrong Craven as a truly international business with expansion into APAC one of the first priorities.
When did you identify the APAC region as promising for your business?
Armstrong Craven has always been an international business, partnering with the talent acquisition teams of global organisations on talent mapping, pipelining and insight projects, helping them to move away from the traditional reactive approach to executive hiring to one that is far more strategic.
By the time we opened our office in Singapore in 2015, more than 80 per cent of our work was outside of the UK, predominantly in APAC, Europe and, increasingly, the United States.
The decision to set up an office in Singapore was a natural one. Clients in the region were encouraging us to take the step and we were confident that we would be able to provide an even greater level of service by having people on the ground. It was about combining our global approach with local knowledge.
Once we’d decided to create a hub in APAC, we had to decide where best to locate ourselves. Hong Kong, the historical choice for many companies, was definitely a strong contender but, ultimately, it was hard to look beyond Singapore.
What was it about the region that inspired you?
In our opinion having a strong presence in this dynamic and growing region was not an option —it was a necessity.
There was a real sense that Singapore was open for business and was becoming the destination of choice for multinational corporations for their regional APAC headquarters. In the case of Armstrong Craven, we also had a number of established global client relationships in Singapore.
Singapore is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia. A three or four hour flight can get you to any major cities in the region. Six to seven hours flying will get you to all the other big cities of Asia.
The predominance of the English language and a strong legal system that has contributed to a largely corruption-free environment also made Singapore a good choice – many refer to it as “Asia for beginners.”
The economic indicators for APAC from the likes of the World Bank were also strong and continue to be so.
According to the World Bank, the outlook for developing East Asia is expected to remain broadly positive in the next three years, with growth driven by robust domestic demand and a gradual recovery in the global economy and commodity prices.
China’s economy will grow 6.5 per cent in 2017 and 6.3 percent in 2018, compared with 6.7 per cent in 2016, as the government rebalances toward consumption and services.
In the rest of the region, including the large economies in Southeast Asia, growth is expected to pick up slightly to 5 per cent in 2017 and 5.1 per cent in 2018, up from 4.9 per cent in 2016.
As a whole, the economies of developing East Asia and Pacific are projected to expand at 6.2 per cent in 2017 and 6.1 per cent in 2018.
How easy was it to set up in the region? What challenges did you need to overcome?
The starting point is understanding that APAC is not a homogeneous region. The cultural, language, business and political differences are significant. Understanding the history of the different cultures is important.
You cannot parachute into APAC and expect to replicate a business model that has worked in Western Europe or the US. You have to commit, do your homework and create a business plan that is specific to the market you are planning to enter.
It was important to have the right person to establish the APAC business on the ground and allow the time in the business plan for the company to become established. It was also vital to have a strong support network in our UK head office who also understood the nuances of setting up in Asia and who can be contacted “out of hours” when decisions are required.
Finding and ensuring you partner closely with a company in Singapore is a must – for example, navigating Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is difficult without the assistance of a third party.
We also recognised the importance of building a team consisting of experienced Armstrong Craven colleagues and local talent.
A lot of these challenges are mirrored in the work we carry out for our clients. Organisations need to be culturally extremely agile, something that is enormously important when building teams and harnessing different leadership styles. Increasingly, there is also a strong focus on gender diversity and talent with digital economy experience and knowledge of areas such as data analytics, cloud and mobile technology and information security.
People sometimes cite higher costs as a factor against setting up in Singapore, but even with the higher initial cost, Singapore is still a prime location with a concentration of resources within its borders. It is also a fantastically dynamic and exciting environment for talent.
What does the future hold for the business, both in APAC and more generally?
We have seen substantial year-on-year growth in APAC since we took the decision to open in Singapore. This has been a combination of generating more work from existing clients alongside new clients in the region.
We are more convinced than ever that the services we offer and the way we deliver them offers a real point of difference.
Continuing to build our presence in APAC forms a critical part of Armstrong Craven’s long-term business plan. We will continue to invest in the region and recruit our own talent offering expertise, local knowledge and language capabilities.
We believe passionately in the importance of listening to our clients. It was as a result of listening that we took the step to open a hub in Singapore and further strategic business decisions will also be informed by listening to the local market.
We would not rule out opening a second office in the region to complement our base in Singapore. The region is vast and each area has its own cultural nuances that need to be considered and accounted for.
Armstrong Craven is currently seeing a growing amount of business in Japan and China, but to really capitalise in these markets we would need to be on the ground there.
About Armstrong Craven
Armstrong Craven is a global talent mapping and pipelining business working with some of the world’s biggest and fastest growing companies and brands.
The company focuses on a number of key sectors including Technology, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Professional and Financial Services, Consumer and Industrial.
Clients are able to benefit from AC’s deep knowledge of markets, organisations and individual motivations and aspirations.
View this interview in The Global Recruiter here.