Ep 3 – Starting, growing and selling the first and largest search firm in China – with Louisa Wong

Watch the Full Episode (40 mins)

Recruitment Transactions International is the first global matching platform for buyers, investors and sellers in the recruitment and staffing industry.  In our second podcast, RTI Managing Partner Simon Childs speaks with Louisa Wong on “Starting, growing and selling the first and largest search firm in China.” 

Louisa Wong is a titan of the Hong Kong and China search markets — a Harvard MBA, LinkedIn influencer, Top 50 Global Headhunter, and founder of Bo Le Associates, Asia’s largest and China’s first executive search firm of size and scale, which was acquired by Recruit Group, the world’s fourth largest and Japan’s largest HR service provider.  In 2012 Louisa also acquired Global Sage, a leading global executive search firm specialized in financial services.

Some key points of discussion:

[00:08] Introduction

[01:01] Starting the first executive search firm of size and scale in China

– The executive search market in China in the 1990s

– Creating the supply despite little to no demand 

[03:30] First contact and introduction to Recruit in 2009

– Bo Le: From 1 office in 1996 to 17 offices and over 500 people in less than 15 years

– The biggest and number one firm in China: Getting the attention of numerous prospective buyers

– Recruit: Acquisitions-led growth strategy and preparing for IPO 

[08:43] Initial discussions in first 3-6 months 

– First impressions

– Reasons for selling: Not about the founder, but what the founder can do for the company’s future

– Gaining influence over the future and post-sale development

[12:24] Due Diligence Process

– Lengthy and complicated due to multiple locations and different set-up structures across Asia

– All about trust.  It’s not about ‘how much’ but ‘how well we know each other.’

– Multiples and Deal Structure, ‘Step-Up’ Approach

[16:17] Impact of Post Lehman Shock and other events

[17:09] ‘The good, the bad, and the ugly’ 

[18:57] Working together and acknowledging limitations and weaknesses

– Cracking the India market and succeeding in Singapore

[20:33] Post deal changes: Impact of the Recruit IPO on the deal: changes in shareholders, management, strategy, etc. and vice versa

– Post deal investments to ensure value for both parties after acquisition can be realized

– In hindsight, what would you have done differently?  Forces that shaped the post acquisition

[25:45] Pivot to HR technology post sale and how it changed the CEO agenda, e.g. Recruit’s acquisition of Indeed.com, Glassdoor, etc.

[27:29] Departure two years after the sale

– Succession plan

– Life after Bo Le

[29:13] De-merger of Bo Le from Recruit and subsequent Management Buyout (MBO) 

[32:49] Louisa’s acquisition of Global Sage, a leading multi-country financial services search firm

[37:21] Louisa’s upcoming book, with highlights of her entrepreneurial journey

Watch the Highlights (2:40 mins)