The Journey East



Rob Jones


19th Jul 18


The Journey East

Richard Goddard is the COO and Global Managing Partner Technology for Selecture, a specialist Digital, Consulting and Technology advisory and search boutique operating out of regional hubs in London (Europe), Singapore (Asia) and Melbourne (ANZ). He has been recruiting since 1991, originally covering the semiconductor and component markets across Europe and Israel from his base in the UK.

In 1999, he moved to Germany to open up and build out a business in Frankfurt and Munich, during which time he also launched and led the Global Technology Practice for a UK listed recruitment organization. The business was unified by a focus on specialization and collaboration across Europe and fledgling operations in San Francisco and Singapore, to match the dramatic growth of technology ventures.

In 2006 he moved to Singapore, following many of his clients into the high-growth Asia markets. Again, he was the pioneer, opening offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai in response to a need from clients for leadership hires, especially in the fields of general/sales management, organizational development and succession planning to meet high growth opportunities throughout Greater China and the wider Asia region.

Richard says, “Throughout my career, I have opened offices and led and scaled teams across Asia and Europe. It’s a degree of experience that enables me to understand and address the challenges faced by clients and candidates as they build out and scale their own operations. The first half of my career was heavily focused on the semiconductor and hardware ecosystem whilst the second half of my career (to-date!) has been focused on enterprise software, with a specialization in SaaS. As technology evolves, so do I, and increasingly these two worlds draw ever closer and closer...”

Scaling up in a fast-moving market

The market has changed as rapidly as the technology. Says Richard, “The sheer scale of the market is incredible, but also daunting, and it’s been interesting to see it evolve through the lens of the people I’ve placed. Companies started by building up their manufacturing teams. They moved from there to R&D; and now to increasingly cutting edge deep technology and software. So the region has come a long way. And over the course of my time in Asia, China has exploded as a global economic powerhouse with a burgeoning middle class; India is also growing in the same direction. Every country is embracing and investing in the impact of technology.”

Ten years ago, companies might have felt comfortable approaching the region with a ‘cookie cutter’, but these new economic and technology frontiers demand more nuance. “Companies are taking the time to understand the markets better, considering not just the opportunity but also the political and corporate landscapes”, says David Lancefield, Selecture Singapore. “It can be a real minefield. But along with the need for bespoke treatment of each territory, there is renewed pressure for speed of execution. It started in mobile and then spread to e-commerce and now into the enterprise: Asia loves tech and competition demands breakneck speed. Everyone has a smartphone. Everyone can complete transactions and pay with their phones. Everything moves at a pace: the opportunity for success and failure is everywhere.”

Richard believes that to bridge the gap between experience and execution, high-growth businesses should hire executives who have already scaled - and perhaps failed - in the region. “They need to have some battle scars”, he says. “Asia is a market where the sheer pace of growth and diversity of the region means that often there is a great deal of experiential learning. Failure is often a key ingredient to succeeding here.”

Kick-start your first hire

As with all international expansion, there is exponential value in existing relationships. Richard says “Look for some beachheads: logos that you can leverage from your domestic market. It’s always worth going after low hanging fruit, to build reference cases and generate early revenues”.

Those beachheads may be cultural as well as commercial. “So for example ANZ and Singapore are mature economies, but they understand what a start up does, how cloud businesses work and why and how they should work with them. So a certain level of evangelism has already taken place for both customers and employees.”

“Then get a good Business Development specialist who understands the technology and has a good network; and focus them on some very tight markets and opportunities. They must learn, adapt and be seen to be consistent. You can’t just fly in and out. Your BD pioneer must be capable of not only selling, but truly educating prospects; building relationships and going the extra mile. Asians expect you to travel to meet them and establish a personal connection. Committed tenure within Asia is key.”

“They must also understand the different sales models needed for different markets across the region. For example; Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong are typically more ‘value selling’ markets: an understanding of the business case is essential for success. China, India and ASEAN are typically more partner ‘relationship’ driven markets; deep relationships with partners and customers is essential for success. Korea and Japan, meanwhile, are typically hybrid markets: leader must both create value and have deep executive-level relationships with customers. ServiceNow are doing this really well. James (Jimmy) Fitzgerald, former Head of APJ for ServiceNow and responsible for scaling in the region is my exemplar. But there are others such as Salesforce, LinkedIn(Microsoft), Netsuite (Oracle), Vmware (Dell), Red Hat, Genesys, Workday that have scaled and executed well. Other major players such as Adobe, AWS, Dell, Google, HPE, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP are also omni-present and successful throughout the region”.

“It’s also important to look at government programmes, especially in China with its five year plans, or Singapore’s economic strategies such as Smart Nation and so on. Understanding these programmes will provide valuable strategic insight and help shape your company roadmaps”. That said, China can still be daunting. Richard advises startups - especially software vendors - to build a track record in the rest of Asia; where there is plenty of opportunity for growth, before tackling the dragon.

Indeed, there has been an explosion of start-up tech oriented ecosystems in cities across Asia, attracting both home-grown and international young, tech savvy talent. Along with Singapore, Stephen Wilson, Selecture Australia recommends Sydney and Melbourne. (“strong tech hubs with very interesting projects around fintech and blockchain related technologies”); Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila etc. are all growing as well.

Even so, Richard still sees Singapore as the gateway to the wider region. “It’s extremely ‘plug-and-play’. You’ll need either a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident, or an Employment Pass holder, who could be a local director nominated through the holding company. After that, you get a rock-solid corporate environment that operates much like the UK, alongside a very active incubator and venture landscape supported by Government backed initiatives which are committed to making Singapore the technology start-up hub in Asia. The only trade off is that it’s an expensive place to live!”

The talent market has cooled in recent years, with fewer new senior players coming to Singapore from abroad; this is mainly a function of the strong existing pool of executive talent within the region. However, the urban lifestyle and commitment to technology means Singapore is seeing an increasing influx of talent in their late 20s and early 30’s from across the globe. A strong entrepreneurial mindset shared amongst millennials both locally and from abroad is also helping to fuel and staff the startup ecosystem. Says Richard, “It’s a cocktail of talent to be mixed under the right leadership.”

The Asia talent pool

Naturally, as an executive recruiter, Richard has ample appreciation of the regional skills base. “The good thing about Asia now is there is a great pool of talent”, he says. All the large enterprise players -Dell, HPE, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP etc. - have been here a longtime; and they have been key to developing talent in Asia. This has been supplemented with progressive young talent coming out of the UK, Europe, the US and ANZ. The result is a very strong pool of talent.”

However, there are even more opportunities, and what has come to be called a “war for talent” is extreme, particularly as home-grown whales like Australia’s Atlassian compete with local start-ups and high-growth newcomers. To win that fight, incoming ventures need a clear vision as to what the wealth creation opportunity for senior executives looks like. Says Richard, “You must take a broad and deep approach. Look at your competitors and find the real success stories. It takes a lot of research to understand what people have really achieved. And don’t discount long-term employees in the big companies like IBM etc.: they have often moved through multiple roles and geographies, and I have met many who have highly entrepreneurial backgrounds and tremendous potential.”

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