Transcribed from a Skype conversation with Robert Wong and Managing Director, Global Strategy and the Americas, Brian J. Glade, May 2013.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us at the Association of Executive Search Consultants and BlueSteps about executive search in Brazil. Could you tell us about the executive search firm that you come from and what you do there?
Robert Wong: First of all, my warm greetings to everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. After over twenty years in the search industry, and having managed the Latin American region for Korn/Ferry, I decided it’s time to make a dream come true and that is how Robert Wong Executive Consulting came about. With a highly qualified team of consultants, we specialize in finding outstanding professionals for the C-level, board and strategic positions. In fact, our motto is “We match the best talents with the best companies.”
That’s a great way to look at the work that you do.
Robert Wong: Our executive search activity is called the R4U division, which means that we look for the right person, at the right place, at the right time, and most importantly, who works in the right region. That fourth R makes all the difference in the world.
Last year, in 2012, you contributed generously to our white paper on the executive job market in Brazil. What’s the prognosis in Brazil for 2013?
Robert Wong: For a while, Brazil was the darling of emerging markets and there was an optimistic outlook, which attracted a lot of investments from abroad. With economic growth there is only 0.9% compared to 2.7% the previous year. The outlook is much less bullish. The trend is less euphoric, but in a positive sense, it’s more realistic and balanced. I would say the mood is much more sensible and authentic, which is a good thing. The investments coming in are for far more productive reasons rather than merely speculative ones. Brazil is the sixth largest economy in the world and still the preferred market in Latin America, which is very good.
Robert, picking up on what you said about the growth rate in Brazil, our own statistics, which we released on the first quarter of 2013, show that the number of searches conducted in Latin America has declined in the first quarter of this year compared to last year. I assume you’ve seen the same thing with the slowdown of the GDP. Are there any industries specifically that you’ve see this decline or a cooling effect?
Robert Wong: Definitely, the cooling effect in Brazil follows the global trend of decline, especially in the Financial Services sector, Insurance, Real Estate, Telecom and some other industries, as a result of the competition, mostly from Asia and the retraction global consumerism.
On the other hand, are you seeing any industries that are more robust?
Robert Wong: Yes we do. The industries that remain robust in Brazil are Consumer Retail, Life Sciences, Technology, which includes Ecommerce, Infrastructure, Brazil needs a lot of that, Education and Board Members. With the global economic slowdown, what’s happening in Brazil is that the internal market is now the main motor of the economy. This is fueled by the rise of a new middle class and recent public service concessions, for example ports, airports, oil, healthcare, etc. Also, there’s a high global financial liquidity, which represents easy credit and loans for this country.
I think you mentioned the Telecom sector. You know our own report, that I just referenced, says Technology is growing twelve percent this year over the same quarter last year. I think you said the same thing is happening in Technology in Brazil?
Robert Wong: Actually, it’s a little more heated. If we look at the statistics, Ecommerce has grown by almost twenty percent, according to Brazilian Consulting Firm, but the Technology sector as a whole unfortunately shows a decline from 30.9% to less than half, according to the Commercial Association of San Paulo. This may be due to a pause in the shopping spree. What happens is the new middle class consumers are now actually paying for the goods and services they acquired recently. I think this will pick up again after the break. In the mobile phone sector, for example, the total population is only about 195 million people. Brazil has over 270 million cell phones. Brazilians really love to communicate for sure.
They do, they have one in each hand.
Robert Wong: That’s right.
Thank you for that overview about the environment in Brazil. Let’s talk about executive search itself. How have you seen technology and digital transformation impacting the types of searches you’re conducting?
Robert Wong: It’s impacting in a significant way. For example, because of technology, the research for names and candidates is much broader and much faster. I always like to stress that the search process has two distinct phases. The first phase is the selection phase, which is highly objective and straight forward. I want to see if the candidate is within the scope of the job description, do they have the language capability, the right experience, etc. These factors are easily measurable and comparable. Then finally, the second, or decision phase, where the hirer chooses the finalist and makes the proposal. This process is highly subjective and intuitive. Was the chemistry right? Was there a click? What was my gut feeling? In this day and age, one cannot use technology to make the call. It’s personal and that’s where a search consultant can add real value.
So the technology, of course, facilitates, but it will never replace what the consultant herself can do.
When you talk about the candidates, what does an executive look like? What’s the profile of the typical Brazilian executive? Is it a younger person or more seasoned? Is there any kind of gender differentiation? Are Brazilian firms hiring expatriates or are they finding the local talent sufficient? Tell me about the demographic trends.
Robert Wong: That’s a great question. Brazil has been lucky. It probably has one of the best demographic platforms in the world. That means the economically active workforce is relatively larger than the dependence on the non-producing population, which is very positive. When one looks at the other factors, such as the quality of education and also talent ability, then the country is at a clear disadvantage compared to other players. This means that there is a great opportunity for qualified expatriates. We should see a trend towards the younger candidates over the season because of the faster pace due to the internet. We also see that the female workforce has grown sevenfold over the last decade, mainly in the Consumer Services and even in the Construction industries. Good news for foreign workers, or expatriates, that this sector has grown over fifty percent in the last three years, with thirty-six percent more work permits and visas being issued. These workers are highly educated and coming mostly from the US, Europe and Japan.
Here at the AESC, I’ve had a number of candidates, BlueSteps especially, asking if there are great opportunities for them in Brazil, so it sounds like there is a demand for those kinds of expatriates. Are there any sectors in particular? Is language an issue? Does one need to speak Portuguese to succeed?
Robert Wong: Brazil differs from the United States. If you don’t speak English fluently, like a native, you’re a second class citizen. In Brazil, if you don’t speak Portuguese fluently and speak with a foreign accent, you’re considered first world. I don’t know why that is, but Brazilians admire the foreigner and they think they live in a better world. Yes, we have seen a greater influx of resumes from abroad. Off the top of my head, I would say there has been an increase of about thirty percent. The sectors that are attracting people are Technology, Hospitality, Education and Healthcare. The expatriates know-how carries more weight than the know-who. In fact, I looked at a survey by IMD, which shows that Brazil now ranks number twelve, up from twenty-seven in 2010, as a very attractive market for international talents. If you can really contribute towards knowledge sharing, exceptional expertise, or bring higher productivity, then you’re certainly welcome. Send in your curriculum.
That gets to my next question. As we think of our BlueSteps audience, those who are in Brazil as well as those who are outside, do you have any advice on how they can stand out so that Robert Wong can find them?
Robert Wong: That’s a great question. I’d say to stand out, you need what I call the three C's. The first C is Competence. If you’re a real talent, you don’t have to go after a job; the job will go after you. The second C is to have the Right Conditions, which means you are the right person, at the right place, at the right time and you’re working for the right region the R4U. The third C is Courage; courage to make the move. People say Brazil is so far away, but it’s worth it. I recommend people do some self-marketing in an intelligent way, participate in social media, write articles and create exposure, by the way BlueSteps is a great, fantastic tool for that, and know the right people in the right places. Above all, get exceptional results. In other words, make that slam dunk and you will be noticed.
That slam dunk doesn’t always come across in one’s LinkedIn profile?
Robert Wong: That’s right, but if you get some awards, if you did something outstanding, or opened a new market, then you’ll be noticed. People usually do more of the same, so differentiate yourself and that makes a difference; people will notice you, at least I would.
I saw something recently that talked about telling a story and not relying just on the chronology or the titles of your career, but tell a story and try to portray yourself as more of a human being.
Robert Wong: I love that, Brian. I look for real human beings. The perfect guy is a boring guy. I would usually eliminate him. I like a real person with strengths and flaws. That’s what I cater to.
I think you’ve probably answered this, but if there is one other key piece of advice as we close for our audience. Anything rise to the height of your wisdom that you could share as we close?
Robert Wong: The single most important factor for success is called self-confidence. Self-confidence must be derived from self-knowledge, otherwise, if it’s not based on self-knowledge, then I call it arrogance and that’s foolish. The wonderful thing about this is the more I know myself, the greater my self-confidence grows, that in turn, makes me want to know myself even more, which then increases my self-confidence even further. That is a virtuous cycle of self-knowledge and self-confidence. That is the most winning combination, that sparkle in your eyes, that posture, that huge energy, self-confidence. That’s the person I want.
Thank you, Robert. As always you’ve contributed a great deal to our knowledge base. I’m sure our audience is especially appreciative, just as we are. Thank you for providing us a closer look at the executive search market and the conditions in Brazil. As always, we thank you for your support of the AESC and BlueSteps. We wish you great success.
Robert Wong: Thank you, I’m glad to be of help. Say hello to Peter and all of the good people there.
About Robert Wong Executive Consulting
Robert Wong Executive Consulting firm. RW is a national company, founded in the end of 2007 by Robert Wong a well-know consultant. Prior to starting his own firm, Robert Wong was Senior Partner at Korn Ferry International, the worldwide executive search firm, which he joined in January 1989 and was a member of its Executive Board. He held the position of President/CEO of its Brazilian operations from 1995 to 2002 and was the company’s South American Regional Director from 2000 to 2005.
The company is focused on two different services, the first one is Executive Search and the second one is coaching, counseling and mentoring through its V.A.P. (Value Added Performance) division.
About the Association of Executive Search Consultants
The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) is the worldwide professional association for the retained executive search and leadership consulting industry. The AESC promotes the highest professional standards in retained executive search and leadership consulting through its industry recognized Code of Ethics and Professional Practice Guidelines. The AESC also serves to broaden public understanding of the retained executive search and leadership consulting process and acts as an advocate for the interests of its member firms.
BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 8,000 executive search professionals in more than 75 countries, including Brazil. Be visible, and be considered for up to 75,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.