This is a copy of an article that appeared in Global Recruiter magazine recently:
Founded in Sydney in 1998 by an entrepreneurial businessman, executive recruitment specialists Monroe Consulting Group’s successful brand and business model was exported to Asia. Today, the Group is a multiple international-award winning executive recruitment company that employs more than 150 consultants in the health, professional, consumer goods, industrial and technology sectors to meet the needs of leading multinational and local companies in the world’s fastest-growing economies.
Andrew Hairs, group managing director of Monroe Consulting Group, says key components of this transition from an Australian-based company to a recognised recruitment leader in the emerging markets was a combination of an “old-school entrepreneurial attitude,” the formulation of a successful business model that could be replicated, the belief of investors, patience and hard work. “And not necessarily in that order,” he adds.
With three new offices already established in Asia, Monroe had reached the stage where it needed an investor to support further international growth. That is when Empresaria stepped in and took a majority shareholding in the business. Additional offices were quickly added.
The global economic crisis of 2008, however, exposed some weaknesses within the company, resulting in Monroe finishing the 2009 financial year below expectations. It was at this crucial stage that Empresaria tasked Hairs with re-building the company.
“I joined Monroe in 2004, and could see the major issue confronting the company was the lack of identity,” says Mr Hairs. “Having the support of somebody with the experience of [Empresaria Group CEO] Joost Kreulen gave me the confidence to implement the necessary reforms.”
According to Hairs, the first step was to create a simple vision statement that informed employees, candidates and clients that the company sought to be ‘the executive search company of choice within the worlds’ emerging markets.’ The philosophy behind achieving the company’s vision was simple: Be better.
With this in mind Monroe started to design and implement a recruitment process that was tailored to meet the unique needs of recruiting in emerging economies. “Having already operated in a variety of emerging countries, we understood cultural factors and other issues at play in these countries and were able to build a process that was easily understood by consultants and delivered results to our customers,” says Hairs. “This gave us a competitive advantage over other international recruitment companies that were using recruitment methodologies designed for a developed, Western market.”
Hairs said that because of the difference in developed and developing markets and the shortage of well trained recruitment professionals in emerging markets, the company made a conscious decision to focus on hiring people from non-recruitment backgrounds and investing heavily in training and development. “The development of our in-house training programme has been a long process but well worth the time,” Hairs said. “Monroe now has a dedicated in-house trainer, with employees having access to classroom, webinar and online training programs that cover basic, advanced and leadership levels. In addition to the in-house training, Monroe also offers a professional improvement scholarship that contributes 50 per cent of the cost of any external training that employees are interested in taking.”
Hairs said having the right people to lead each office had been a critical element in ensuring that Group level initiatives had been implemented at a country level. “Getting the right leaders in the business has been essential for success,” he says. “The company’s current management team, two of which have been home grown, come from a variety of recruitment backgrounds and all invested in the success of the business through shareholdings.”
The Best People
John Tolmie, managing director of Monroe Consulting Group Thailand had been managing a large recruitment business in London for almost 10 years when the 2008 economic crisis had struck. “It was a tough time and at the end of the experience I felt like I needed a change and decided to explore Asia,” he says. “From the very first meeting with Monroe and it was clear the company had a good business model, which I could help refine and implement. It has been very rewarding over the last six years to see all the improvements come online. It’s a great environment for entrepreneurs like myself as I am encouraged to grow my business, have the freedom to make decisions and my input is valued and often implemented.”
Bagus Hendrayono, who heads up Monroe’s recruitment operations in Indonesia, said becoming involved with Monroe has been ‘an incredible journey.’
“To start as a trainee and work my way through the business to become the managing director and shareholder in Indonesia was something I never thought would be possible when I first joined,” Bagus says. “But Monroe have been true to their promise of giving opportunities to local talent, which is something that keeps us very loyal.”
Monica Viladot Medina, managing director on Monroe Consulting Group Malaysia, says the recruitment company has proven itself to be one which rewards effort, trusts its employees and provides good opportunities to grow professionally. “’Monroers,’ as we usually call ourselves, are devoted to the company because of the trust it shows in its people,” Monica says. “In a relatively short period of time I have progressed from being a trainee to opening a new office for the group in Chile and now becoming the managing director and shareholder in the Malaysian office.”
Investing in Technology
With the results of the group improving, Monroe knew that it now had a business model that worked and could be replicated in new international markets. Hairs said that in order to make it easier to establish new offices, Monroe invested heavily in technology, adding that recent changes included new cloud-based recruitment software, intranet and website. “These changes not only bought improvements to existing operations but also made starting an office in a new country as simple as opening a laptop,” he says.
The group established three new offices in Chile, Mexico and Malaysia within a period of 18 months, all of which achieved the targets set for them. According to Hairs the opening in Mexico was the most nerve-racking as it was a franchise agreement with two very experienced people who were well known to Empresaria management. “For the first time since the re-building process started, an outsider was able to take a look at everything we had developed,” he said. “As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried as they were blown away by everything we had done and couldn’t wait to start working with us.”
Juan Manuel Garcia de Leon, the operations director of Monroe Consulting Group Mexico, says all the essential factors needed to launch a successful start-up operation were delivered and implemented very quickly. “We feel confident that we have a very competent, knowledgeable and professional organisation behind us, who will not hesitate to support our endeavours,” Juan Manuel says. “In short, we are more than pleased with our decision to become a part of the Monroe Consulting Group and believe we have been equipped with all of the tools needed to take on the competition in Mexico.”
Hairs says that in 2015, Monroe entered the market in China through the re-branding of an Empresaria-owned business. “Empresaria Group’s strategy is to have leading brands per sector so it made sense to bring our model to a market where it would improve the performance of an existing business,” he says. “Although things are never easy, we are confident that we have the manager and team in place that can deliver results in one of the world’s most challenging markets for foreign recruitment companies.”
Overall, for Hairs and his team, the last six years has involved at times back-breaking work but the results had been rewarding. “Monroe currently operates offices in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, China, Chile and Mexico and is one of the best performing brands for Empresaria and is globally recognised as one of the world leaders in emerging market executive recruitment,” concludes Hairs. “In 2013, we won Best Small Recruitment Business and Best Overseas Operation at Global Recruiter Asia Pacific Industry Awards in Singapore, followed by Best Small Recruitment Business in 2014 and 2015, and Best Overseas operation, also in 2015."