Don’t they know who we are?

Posted by in Asia, Commercial, Helen Soulsby

Sports businesses in Asia have a problem. Unlike in the western world, companies operating in sports and entertainment aren’t the sexy brands that every Gen X and Millennial necessarily wants to work for. Sure there are exceptions, but often in Asia, sports focused businesses are just not the ‘employer of choice’.

I’ll often ask a client, “Why should someone work for you? What does your brand/company have to offer?” I am then met with an incredulous look as they reply, “Why wouldn’t they want to work for us?” To this, I can respond fairly easily.

Let’s take Singapore as an initial example, the undisputed regional hub for sports businesses wanting to penetrate the South East Asian market. Employers of choice are plenty in Singapore and sport is not ingrained in the Singaporean culture, it’s not ‘blue chip’, at least not yet. Leading companies such as Google, Singapore Airlines, The Walt Disney Company, DBS, P&G, Marina Bay Sands, Apple and Facebook, pick off the brightest, best and most experienced talent to work in their regional headquarters. Add to this the ‘institutional employers’, whom employees are attracted to in terms of stability and kudos, such as the Singapore Tourism Board, the Economic Development Board and other various government agencies, and sports organizations are left well down the list in terms of being top of mind when considering suitable employment.

This is further exacerbated by traditional family views from older generations that sport is not ‘proper business’, so it mustn’t be a ‘proper job’. Family pressure to take a coveted role with a stable employer that is known to them is significant and with family at the center of Asian culture this is not an insignificant hurdle to overcome.

Similar issues exist in China where leading talent is attracted to the lucrative digital media and online environment. While many sports organizations still operate on a provincial or central government basis, the number of more commercially focused and independent sports businesses and brands setting up and developing is growing. Working for an instantly recognized brand may be attractive, however the candidate still needs to bring with them a significant amount of passion for sports or entertainment, as there is an abundance of alternative and attractive employment options.

In emerging markets such as Indonesia or Thailand, the challenges take on another face. Job security and stability is important in these markets and often sports related businesses are just starting out and have small offices or no office or entity, thereby having to employ staff as contractors. The big foreign rights holder suddenly looks very small and not as appealing as it does in its home country, when offering a high risk employment structure.

Many candidates in Asia also simply don’t know what opportunities in the industry are out there. There are limited sports management and marketing degrees and qualifications that focus on the business side of sport, therefore the possibilities for future employment are just not known.

Of course you will get some ‘diamonds’ who realize immediately what a dynamic industry we are in and want to launch into it at any cost and understand the risk, but this is a small percentage. It’s our challenge to find them!

So what can we do as an industry? I believe it takes a two pronged approach.

Firstly employers need to work on their ‘employer brand’. I use this term tentatively as it is becoming rather overused in the HR environment. But a realization that the perception of their brand as an employer of choice will vary from market to market, is a positive step.

Companies may have to work hard to court the best candidates. This can be done through actions as effectively as it can be done through a large organized initiative. Simply ensuring the recruitment process is slick, efficient and professional; having well-structured job descriptions and well-constructed interviews; being timely and responsive; being open to feedback from the market and being willing to learn more about their positioning and perception. Basically, what employers want from candidates. The minute the professionalism slips, candidates will perceive that as a direct reflection of how the company operates, and guess what, they have a choice! In Singapore the unemployment rate is 1.8%, candidates simply don’t NEED the job.

All interactions with candidates will reflect directly on how they will view a potential employer. This is particularly hard when the office in Asia may be a subsidiary of a global US or European based business, where they have people queuing up for unpaid internships, just to smell the experience of working in the industry.

Companies that show a healthy respect for the region, acknowledge the challenges and opportunities and have a structured and empathetic strategic plan in place to build their team will win out.

The best candidates really may not know who you are. So make sure that the top layer of talent is left in no doubt that you know who they are and what they need from you to succeed in Asia.

About the Author: Helen Soulsby – Managing Partner, Asia

Managing teams in Singapore and Beijing, Helen’s role is to drive performance and growth in the APAC business through partnering with clients to deliver executive search assignments, as well as advising on executive board structures to best lead overall business strategy. The APAC team has built a reputation as the leading business in the region in delivering multi-hire projects that enable sports businesses to launch in the APAC region with maximum impact.