The past year has seen some turbulent times for Hong Kong. And as such, many friends, family and colleagues have asked whether it’s difficult to be a business leader during turbulent times. Perhaps it’s just me, but my answer typically is a little counter-intuitive. Because I tend to say, yes and it’s clearly different – but not always in the ways that people expect.

Attitude of gratitude  

The first thing that I always tend to do during times of upheaval is to remind my team and myself of just how lucky we are. With large swathes of my home country of Australia suffering from severe bushfires in recent months, and the COVID-19 coronavirus hampering life and business here in my adopted home of Hong Kong, a natural temptation might be to feel a heightened sense of fear or inertia. 

Initially, we all adopt to shocking news by taking a pause for reflection. But then I tend to think of those people who at times like these actually run towards the problem in order to be of help. People like the fire fighters in Australia, or the hospital workers prioritising their patients over themselves. And I feel grateful for these many individuals who risk far more than most of us, in order to help put things right.

In the case of Hong Kong, you think too of those traders and business people who just a few decades ago, toiled for much longer hours and sometimes more trying working conditions, to help build the economic miracle that is today’s Hong Kong. We often forget in Hong Kong just how convenient and perfect our working lives are today, compared to what many of the previous generations endured in helping to build today’s megacities. For me, just as for my family, this attitude of gratitude does help me keep things in perspective.

Not the hardest hit

We also have to take into consideration that today, specialist recruitment does have at its advantage a wonderfully agile business model. The mere fact that in February 2020, when we’ve had to, we were able to mobilise hundreds of team members in our Greater China locations, to effectively set up services from home – without missing out on a single available client call – is truly a blessing of modern technology and a strong support team. Unlike those in the F&B, travel, retail or entertainment sectors for instance, we have virtual meeting technology at our disposal. And as such, the numerous clients who wanted to continue their hiring discussions after Chinese New Year (CNY), as they’ve always done each year, have been able to meet prospective candidates on a free and crystal-clear video feed. It is remarkable, when you think of it. This situation has really accelerated the adoption of great technology by the business community as a whole. There was a time that I never thought it was possible for a client and candidate to strike an employment relationship without ever meeting face to face – now it is becoming a new normal.

Many of my team remain too busy to be worried. Recruiters by nature find business opportunity. Many of my teams have kept busy through client calls, training and market mapping. Others have switched their travel plans to at-home meetings – which some even tell me has the enormous advantage of significant time saved on travel. And there are indeed still a number of sectors that are ready to move forward – bright spots such as ecommerce, Healthcare and Life Sciences (HLS), Fintech, Legal private practice, Education (online) and Insurance being clear examples of sectors where some of our clients are particularly busy right now. The millennial workforce in Hong Kong has been screaming out for increased ‘flexibility’ for their working life – and unusual circumstances have created this opportunity. It has been so refreshing to see many in my team really step up and take full ownership over their business through embracing a new way of working.

The other issue we address with those who are on the fence is, why wait? Faced with questions from clients asking us whether they should delay their team’s hiring, my team’s answers are typically pragmatic. You have the budget available, the talent available, and the chance of a first-mover advantage? If the answer to each question is yes, then it’s important not to forget that many of these sectors typically have a natural candidate shortage during most times. So if the talent is there, now may actually be the best conditions for hiring that you’ll find in the near future. 

People like doing business

The other aspect that as a guest in Hong Kong I always appreciate, is the appetite and aptitude that people have for doing business. We live in a financial capital of the world: the speed at which this city became a powerhouse is the stuff of legend.  Given there is always a great deal of capital moving around Hong Kong every day, I have no doubt that those who’ve accumulated much of it, have done so by being willing to move at times when others sit still.

My advice to my team is, find those people. And as recruiters, enjoy the fact that this is one time when people will likely take your calls. Many clients will be looking for someone with a positive mindset, ready to help them do business.

The key for specialist recruiters, as with all businesses is to simply stay positive, stay creative and trust the model. And when you find pockets of opportunity, be ready to help change some lives for the better.

Clearly now is a worrying time for many. Yet as long as the right precautions are being taken, it’s important that we continue to do what we do best. Focus on a brighter tomorrow, and the chance to help make these incredible cities even more successful. In every situation – there is always a silver lining - find yours. With patience and perseverance, the rest will in time take care of itself and Hong Kong will continue its brilliance. 

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