As we progress early into our 10th year, someone in the team suggested that, in keeping with the times, a virtual interview of our boss might be a great idea! The one-time only opportunity to quiz Richard about literally anything proved to be an interesting Q&A session comprising both the frivolous and the serious. Here is how it went….
Giana – Question: Given the current situation, if you could fly anywhere in the world for a vacation, where would you go?
Richard: Kota Kinabalu (East Malaysia). Close family members are located there and I haven’t seen them for 15 months and counting. That aside, for a purely relaxing vacation, I think I’d pick a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. All about animals rather than a high-density, infectious population!
Giana: - Question: What was the path you took to get to where you are today?
Richard:It started with a Business Degree at one of the very best colleges (psychology/human factors especially piqued my interest). An opportunity presented itself to join a major insurance giant – but interviews with grey men in even greyer suits sent me fleeing for the hills. Quite literally, as I promptly relocated to the Highlands of Scotland. There, I entered the retail sector and where I initially jointly managed a flagship $50m operation at the grand age of 22. But by 25, retail no longer offered any real attraction and it was a family friend who suggested that it was surely time I paid a visit to a recruitment agency. Ironically, and maybe naively, I had never heard of, or encountered, such a firm.
Filled with high expectations, I visited three firms in Aberdeen. Two of these offered horrendous experiences. But, after several weeks had passed, the third invited me to join them directly (attracted by my commercial astuteness and strong customer service experience) and that was the start of my subsequent career-to-date. Whilst my first recruitment experience laid down a super and highly successful foundation (two completed placements in my first month was a record), a move to the fastest-growing independent recruitment firm in Scotland propelled me into absolute over-drive. As a top-performer (IT, Systems Engineering and some Finance appointments on the side), this comfortably allowed for an international transfer to Singapore and where, after overcoming the double-economic threat of the Gulf War and SARS, I replicated my success. In late 2005, an opportunity to help with the start-up in Singapore of a new market entrant from Australia was an exciting prospect and proved to be the case for the next 5.5 years – consistently the top performer across the region, team management, regional sector responsibility and support for the induction of an acquisition in the UAE – until it was time to set up my own firm in 2011.
Lyn – Question: Pick a country you see yourself retire in and why?
Richard: This is a million-dollar question that I have asked myself for a few years. Cambodia was the most likely contender 3-4 years ago but now I’m unsure. A Tuscan villa in Italy, with a vineyard as a neighbour, does offer significant appeal!
Lyn – Question: Was there anything you have regretted doing/not doing – life in general/within your career?
Richard: I’ve lived life with a mantra of ‘no regrets’. That doesn’t make me a fatalist. Instead, I believe that decisions are made on the facts available at the time and it is better to continuously look ahead. For the same reason, I very rarely dwell on past events, whether positive or negative, and focus on tackling whatever conundrum next presents itself. I potentially had an opportunity to pursue cricket professionally. Whilst I sometimes wonder what might have been, I have no regret as my subsequent career has been incredibly rewarding.
Wai Yin – Question: What was one of the most difficult-to-achieve, but gratifying milestones in your career?
Richard: Wow. Tough question. I’ve encountered and tackled many different challenges over the last 25+ years – from major economic-impact events, such as an oil crisis in the late ‘90s to SARS, Global Financial Crisis and Covid through to micro-level scenarios relating to client and role-specific sagas too. But aside from overcoming all of those, the stand-out is probably the successful building of an entire real estate asset management team for the Private Equity arm of a major top-tier bank. The challenge was to build the entire team within 5 months whilst overcoming many hurdles – crafting all the JDs, defining the organisation structure and determining the preferred cultural fit whilst commencing the exercise in September 2007 (three months before year-end bonuses) and in a high-demand, pre-GFC environment. The mission was successfully accomplished – around 10 hires, all on board on time, and to budget. Moreover, the team was widely felt by the Principals to be one of the very best – technically as well as from a collaborative perspective - and which remained intact until the office was disbanded in late 2012 following global restructuring. Additional milestones were also achieved – concurrently, two additional similar campaigns were similarly completed whilst delivering personal company revenue for the year of S$1.3m.
This was the most challenging and gratifying assignment challenge. However, starting up my own venture was a brave and sometimes scary journey too but, ultimately, even more rewarding and gratifying.
WY – Question: In 2010/2011, when no recruiters were entering the Myanmar market, what made you see the potential in Myanmar?
Richard: To be honest, before our first opportunity arose as the market was about to re-open, my knowledge of Myanmar was incomplete. However, following discussions with the first company we supported, the completion of its initial hiring programme, a first visit to Yangon and additional research, the potential became very apparent. This was a country of 50-60m people (precise numbers were unknown at the time), a number of impending tender processes were being prepared to invite foreign firms into the country replete with international-led suppliers and not to overlook the ambitious growth plans of powerful local conglomerates often lacking the know-how or internal management expertise. Importantly, there were very few reliable Search firms on the ground whilst the mid- and senior-level hiring requirements and consultative solution-driven approach that was required, played to the strengths of our team. I felt the growth prospect for the country would be strong but that it would require a long-term commitment – to build trust and knowledge. However, I felt we could become an acknowledged market-leader whilst creating positive impact within a country that truly needed the support.
There was also one additional factor. I immediately fell in love with the charm of the country and its people. This is a beautiful country that needed to be returned to a former glory. A decade later and whenever I return to Yangon, evidence of progress is very visible. Having assembled many of the key hires responsible for the modernisation and growth story, this is hugely gratifying.
That work is not finished. Indeed, the country needs us even more now!