People power

People power

Louisa Yeung FCCA is a shining example for the corporate world in terms of what to expect from a top executive. Proactive and forward-looking, she possesses a proven track record of helping get new businesses started and getting great teams organised.

Yeung has been with international recruitment agency PageGroup for 17 years. A true go-getter, she has never stopped contributing to the growth of the specialist consultancy since joining, rising to the position of managing director, Page Executive Greater China, in 2013.

Prior to joining Michael Page – the group’s qualified professional brand – in 1997, Yeung worked as a taxation specialist at PwC where her focus was
on Hong Kong.

Then, two years after Michael Page’s first Hong Kong venture, the company was looking for an experienced accountancy professional to fill a vacancy and Yeung ‘accepted the pay card’ of the recruitment consultancy.

‘It was a new challenge,’ she says, recalling the contrasting nature of the fields and the fact that specialised recruitment was, and still is, a relatively minor department in the financial world.

‘Recruitment companies were a new concept in Hong Kong,’ Yeung explains. ‘At that point in time, we only had search firms doing senior executive-level placements or companies like Adecco or Drake who focused on the clerical level.

Having functional specialist recruitment firms focusing on mid-management levels was a new concept. Mid-level recruitment was all handled by either the recruitment arms in the Big Four firms or they would do it in-house, using the HR team or their own networking. Michael Page was the first recruitment firm in Hong Kong focusing on mid-level recruitment.’

Additionally, the recruitment sector, by its nature, is primarily people focused, and she quickly learned to broaden her professional network – an enjoyable task for Yeung.

After joining Michael Page, Yeung spent her first decade in finance professional recruitment in the commerce and industry sector. ‘I grew the team from four consultants in Hong Kong to five teams in Hong Kong, Kowloon, Shenzhen and Guangzhou,’ she recalls.

Having a background in finance meant Yeung could draw on her knowledge of the sector from her professional experience and also tap into her professional network of finance experts as she grew the Michael Page finance recruitment business.

Human resources was added to her portfolio, followed by property and construction, leading to the expansion of her teams, with her role consisting of 80% management and 20% business development.

‘I had nearly 40 consultants spread across different locations and offices,’ she says. ‘It was a pretty exciting time.’

There is no doubt that Yeung has played an instrumental role in the early growth of Michael Page, not only in Hong Kong but also in mainland China. She has been a key contributor and leader in PageGroup’s journey as the company has grown to more than 450 employees across 10 offices within Greater China. She remains an integral part of the company’s predominantly Chinese management group in Greater China, many of whom, like Yeung, joined as junior consultants and have been trained and developed over many years.

Industry specialists

In August 2013, Yeung was given another mission: to launch the Page Executive brand in Greater China, focusing on senior executive-level placements.

Currently, she heads a team of six consultants focusing on different industries such as retail, real estate, insurance and logistics. ‘Unlike Michael Page, we are industry specialists and operate at the regional level, while Michael Page as a functional specialist recruitment firm operates at the country level,’ she explains.

Page Executive is still a work in progress. ‘It’s nearly a year now and we have a better understanding of the business model and have worked out how we can complement and add extra business value to the main brand,’ Yeung says. ‘The new mission is a part of PageGroup’s natural development for the group to focus 100% on senior executive-level placement with Page Executive.’

The regional role involves a lot of travel, meaning that the mother-of-two spends roughly half her time away from her home base of Hong Kong. Yet she revels in the role – especially the fact that business development is quantifiable. This is, she believes, more about client relationships than specialised skills, while a dose of cultural understanding and sensitivity has a great bearing on defining success or otherwise in the field.

‘While it’s still relatively early days for Page Executive, the team is working hard and we have high ambitions to build this division of PageGroup to be as successful as the Michael Page brand, which this year celebrated its 20th anniversary of the first office in Hong Kong. Since then, we are very proud to have built a reputation for quality, specialism and expertise in everything that we do,’ says Yeung.

Cultural challenges

The specialism required of senior-level recruitment is, says Yeung, different from that of other PageGroup brands and elsewhere in the world, and can require more negotiation. She observes that, in many Asian countries, clients are often less specific about their request – something that she considers to be a cultural trait that can be difficult to understand for those from outside the region.

‘The culture could sometimes be a source of confusion,’ she says. ‘As recruitment specialists we make sure we understand deep down the request of a client. To achieve the end, we must be patient, ask appropriate questions and above all be able to read the minds of our Asian clients.’

Yeung seems to never tire of spending time travelling between cities and meeting people. On the contrary, she enjoys being mobile and understands that executives should be all-rounders. ‘Executive roles can be anywhere; top executives and talent are all mobile,’ she says. Indeed, her team of consultants – comprising specialists in categories from finance, property and construction to healthcare and life science – is equally mobile.

Top executives at the corporate level require completely different skill sets, such as the ability to adapt to an ever-changing market, and a key challenge for Yeung and her team is in finding senior executives with the ability to move between sectors; employees can find themselves dealing with a new top executive who has virtually no industry-specific knowledge.

‘It is common that top executive recruitment is non-industry specific and comes with no fixed mindset,’ explains Yeung. ‘Unlike an operational professional, a company’s top executive would have to take the duties with a broader corporate perspective, and apply strategic thinking as if one was running a business of his or her own.’

The placement market for top executives in China is encouraging, according to Yeung. ‘The trend remains positive and throughout the years, we have seen an increase in demand for international talent to work in mainland-based companies,’ she says. ‘There is a growing number of China-based companies looking to grow internationally. Some companies have an international team from top to bottom located in Hong Kong. They have their own culture and style, and the employees won’t find it alien to work in a mainland-based company. We have definitely seen a growing trend in this area and this applies to all sectors, but in particular the banking and finance sectors have a high demand in this area.’

Top executives, she adds, must also be willing to accept opportunities that are away from their comfort zone, geographically and figuratively, noting that opportunities may not necessarily present themselves in one’s own backyard.

‘Top executives in China easily command a guaranteed package of 3 million yuan plus discretionary bonus, stock options and other lucrative profit-sharing incentives,’ Yeung says. ‘These are local packages, which most senior executives in China are on. Even for international professionals, lucrative expatriate packages are becoming less common in China, especially in Tier 1 cities.

‘Most general manager roles or function heads easily earn guaranteed packages of 1.5 million to 2 million yuan and the total compensation package can reach nearly 2 million-plus for qualified local talent. The remuneration package in the mainland has been in an upward trend for many years. We believe this trend will continue.’

Gary Tsang, journalist

This article was first published in the China edition of Accounting and Business magazine in October 2014

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