Career Path

Keeping people in mind

by Martin Williams

Mark Carriban
managing director, Asia
Photo: Lewis Wong

Over the past 23 years, Mark Carriban has learnt that intuition and people skills are key to success in the highly competitive marketplace.

Mr Carriban, currently managing director of Hudson Asia, reveals that he was unsure about his career choices when he first went to university in his native UK. He did know, though, that he wanted to be in business, so he opted for a broad-based business studies degree.

After graduating, he realised he needed a second business qualification and joined Price Waterhouse to train as a chartered accountant. In spite of the chartered status, he did not find the accounting profession particularly stimulating. "I was more interested in people," he notes.

Wanting to learn how to sell, Mr Carriban then joined NCR, an aggressive US-based multinational for which he sold computer systems.

After just one year, he started to have doubts about his long-term career direction and turned to a recruitment consultancy for advice. Consultants suggested various fields but none of those appealed to him. Then the company's regional director suggested, "How about working for us? You'd make a really good recruitment consultant." Mr Carriban accepted the offer after spending time to really understand the nature of the job and the role of a recruitment consultant.

He started placing accountants in his fifth or sixth week with the company, and built from there. "It's about self belief," he observes. "If you've got that, it tends to propel you forward."

Two years later, he was promoted to manager overseeing a team of six staff. "A lot of people who are successful in this industry almost fall into it, and find that it is something that really works for them," says Mr Carriban. "I was one of these people."

Then, keen to prove he could make it by himself, Mr Carriban resigned and, with a partner, founded his own recruitment company. His plans were thwarted however, as recession hit the UK in the early 1990s.

Moving ahead

After another four years, missing corporate life, Mr Carriban joined another leading recruitment firm in the UK as a search and selection consultant. The job involved conducting retained assignments for a variety of clients and a range of other responsibilities on a director level. In 1997, he joined Bernard Hodes Group, a market leader in recruitment consulting and advertising. Over the following eight years he continued to excel in the field, progressed into senior leadership roles and ultimately became COO of the group's UK business.

"In tough times, you need the hearts and minds of people"

In 2003, Mr Carriban was appointed managing director of Hudson's market leading HR recruitment business in the UK, and he subsequently assumed additional responsibilities as managing director of Hudson's successful legal recruitment business two years later.

"Someone in Hudson's global leadership team asked if I would be interested in an opportunity in Asia," says Mr Carriban. The idea appealed and when the position of Hudson's managing director for Asia was advertised internally, he applied for it and won the job over 10 other candidates.

Having been in the city for a year now, he says, "I love Hong Kong. This is an incredibly easy place to work."

Mr Carriban currently oversees a team of around 70 people in Hong Kong and 120 staff in offices in mainland cities including Shanghai and Beijing. He also carries responsibilities for Hudson's pan-Asian businesses covering recruitment process outsourcing and talent management. His work entails travelling between offices and meeting staff ranging from consultants to managers.

"This is a significant growth market and there will be more opportunities for expansion as the economy recovers," says Mr Carriban.

High calibre

"I love the variety of days, sales pitches, camaraderie and working in a growth-oriented business. The job is about people — intuitively sizing up clients and matching them with candidates," Mr Carriban remarks.

People who are consistently successful in the recruitment field typically share a number of specific qualities, Mr Carriban notes. "You need to be interested in everything and enjoy meeting a variety of different people. You also need physical stamina. There are very few jobs with so many emotional highs and lows in one day and this can affect physical resilience. This job is not for the faint-hearted."

Successful recruiters must be ambitious and get satisfaction from doing a job well. He advises that when the market is candidate-led, recruiters need superb delivery skills and the ability to find clients. Conversely, when the market flips to become client-led, the key is finding roles for all the candidates.

Many consultants who have only worked in boom times find the current economic situation tough. Mr Carriban is providing support to Hudson's consultants and helping them to adjust their expectations. "In tough times, you need the hearts and minds of people," he says. "I like people — there is no other job as people-centric as this one. There are some really good people working in recruitment and it's a very interesting work environment. I have never wanted to do anything else."

Taken from Career Times 19 December 2008, p. B10
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