As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited several HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.
This week, we had a great conversation with Kenny Jin, Head of Talent Acquisition and HR Business Partner at REAPRA, a venture capital firm and investment group based out of Singapore. Kenny helps REAPRA’s startups, which are located across Southeast Asia, sort out their HR and recruitment issues. Kenny got his start in HR when he joined Michael Page International as a Consultant. He then spent several years working for several recruitment companies in different roles such as Associate Director for Sales and Marketing at Profile Search and Selection, Branch Manager at Adecco Group handling Finance, HR, Sales and Marketing, and finally, as Vice President for Accounting and Finance at Charterhouse Singapore before joining REAPRA.
Can you tell us how you got your start in HR and recruiting?
‘I definitely had a nontraditional journey. I started my career in investment banking. I did that for about a year or so, and I quickly found out that it was not really what I wanted to do. It wasn’t just the hours. You’re staring at a spreadsheet, building financial models, and you’re not talking to anyone. There are days when you can come in and you don’t talk to anyone. And I thought that was quite numbing in a few different ways.’
‘So, I approached a headhunter to help me find another career in finance. And basically, they said, “Why don’t you join us and be a recruiter for us?” And that’s how I joined Michael Page as a Consultant.’
‘The change or the type of feeling I experienced in my first few months there was significant. I couldn’t believe I was being paid to do something where I basically just talked to people all day, which was something I really enjoyed.’
‘I spent four or five years in Shanghai, and then four or five years in Singapore, and then I decided it was time for something a little bit different. As you and I both know, recruitment is a competitive and rewarding industry, but it can also be quite transactional. So that made me want to make the leap to in-house. And my current organisation was the perfect one to make that transition.’
‘Right now, I’m working for a holding company or an investment company. My role involves working with our portfolio companies on HR and recruitment matters. The dynamic is a little bit different from a recruitment agency, but it’s very transferable in terms of I’m the subject matter expert that these companies go to when they have recruitment or HR issues. Since we are part owners for these companies, the working relationship is more of a true partnership and is that much more impactful’.
Can you explain to us what you’re doing now as Head of Talent Acquisition and HR Business Partner at REAPRA?
‘I have two roles. I do all the recruitment internally for our parent organization, and I also help with recruitment for our subsidiary companies. We have 20 companies across Southeast Asia that are majority owned by us.’
‘And then, there’s the HR Business Partner role where I spend probably about 50% of my time in our local markets such as Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. I work with our companies there and help them solve HR problems, come up with HR best practices, look at the implementation of those practices, and things like that.’
Putting aside labor laws, cultural and language issues, what common themes are you seeing when you’re working and dealing with people issues across those five countries? Are there any commonalities?
‘There are definitely commonalities. There are two big parts to it. The first part is on the talent acquisition side. I would say that in Southeast Asia, there’s no shortage of talent, but there’s a shortage of good talent. There’s a huge war for talent especially in very specialised areas like UX, UI, and hot topics like blockchain developers. This is across all the different countries.’
‘The second big part is more on the HR side. I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK, but in Southeast Asia, there are a lot of HR tech companies popping up. Every week someone will approach me and sell me a new APS or management platform. And I guess nowadays you can’t really have a high performing team or HR framework without integrating some of these technologies. And the challenge that I see for a lot of my peers and a lot of other people in the HR industry is, how do we pick the right software and tools, and how do we integrate it into our overall HR strategy.’
What key themes and challenges in terms of HR are you facing across those organisations at the moment?
‘I think talent is obviously going to be the biggest part of it. And from the regional organisation level, each country is very different. They have a lot of different regulations and other little things that you have to worry about just to be compliant. So that’s one challenge that we’re facing, because we’re operating in five markets simultaneously without necessarily having satellite offices or local teams.’
‘I think the other main challenge is keeping people motivated. I told you that there’s a war for talent, but the war doesn’t end once the right person joins the organisation. You also have to fight to retain your talent. And I guess with lean startups you can have a very exciting startup, but the next day there’s another startup that pops up. And they have maybe higher pay or cooler perks. And that’s something that we’re always dealing with. Because at the end of the day, our target audience is similar to a lot of other companies’ target audience.’
What career advice would you give someone who is looking to get into talent acquisition or HR?
‘I think there’s no right or wrong way. Especially at the early stage of your career, it’s really about finding what you enjoy and trying different things. So, you start off looking at a very narrow set of responsibilities, but then you get better at that. Are you getting better each day? When you feel like you’ve mastered that, it’s time to take on some more responsibilities, whether it’s in recruitment or HR management. Find out what you like doing. I think after the first two to three years you can have a pretty good idea if you want to be a specialist or a generalist. I started off as a specialist, but it didn’t take me that long to figure out that maybe being a generalist is more interesting to me and closer to what I want to do in the mid-to-long term.’
Kenny has been with REAPRA for the last three years and joined the company during its early years.
If you would like to have a confidential conversation about your career or would like to understand how Human can support you in growing your team, please get in touch today.