“ultimately, technology is a tool that should support personal relationships”

The personal touch

Cole and Company takes the time to get recruitment right


March 2020 Business Spotlight / Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Michael Holmes

Technology is changing the recruitment industry. New services — such as online interviews, video CVs and AI-enabled resume matching — have allowed many firms to accelerate their processes. But Eric Cole, president of Cole and Company, believes that something important is being lost.

“I’ve always recognised that this business is a relationship business, and I think our firm fills a gap in the market by offering a more personal touch,” he says. “AI is a hot keyword in the industry at the moment — and we employ a number of sophisticated, highly customised CRM [customer relationship management] applications and other IT solutions — but, ultimately, technology is a tool that should support personal relationships.”

Cole and Company works mainly with foreign-affiliated businesses active in the Japan market and focuses on placing middle and senior level executives in the consumer goods industry — including sectors such as retail, luxury goods, media and entertainment, advertising and B2B food ingredients. Approximately half of its clients are European, including a number of Italian and French luxury goods producers.

Cole explains that he is sometimes troubled by the impersonal nature of the recruitment industry here, where a candidate can be treated as “inventory” to be sold, rather than as a person looking for a new job. He has discovered the value of taking the time to learn everything he can learn about the clients and candidates he does business with. So, he insists on having a face-to-face discussion with each client and candidate, which is something that both satisfies them and is fundamental to his success.

“We meet with clients to understand the technical details of the position, but also the structure of the organisation, the corporate culture, turnover, and hundreds of other important details that are necessary for good quality candidates to know and that will ensure they are successful in their job,” says Cole. “And we meet with candidates in person to discuss their motivations, aspirations, achievements and capabilities. Our clients trust us to assess how well prospective candidates will fit within their business.

“Personal meetings are a key point of difference and a strong example of the value that we provide,” he adds.



Since many people at firms in the consumer goods industry have to deal regularly with others, there are special requirements when it comes to making placements.

“The need for candidates to have a sensitivity to interacting with customers and store staff is likely to be more important than recruiting for a software development engineer, where certain technical skills may be more important,” he says. “Culture fit is the thing that our clients are really paying us to find.”

The experienced consultants at Cole and Company — who are responsible for managing all aspects of the search process — have learned to identify which applicants would best suit a given position thanks to their close relationship with the candidate, a deep understanding of the client’s organisational structure and culture, and their market and industry knowledge. Each consultant at Cole and Company specialises in a different practice group, such as automotive, sporting goods or semiconductors.

“The trust and credibility that we develop with candidates over time enables us to provide useful information about attractive alternatives for them to consider for their next career move,” Cole notes. “Executive recruiters who take ownership of the whole process are able to best provide real value to the clients and to the candidates, because they know what’s going on. They see the reality and they live in it every day.”

Open communication is another cornerstone of the consultants’ work. This includes keeping clients informed about the search process and the status of the market as a whole, as well as facilitating negotiations between both parties before a candidate is hired.

“Successful recruiters know that this job is about lots of little details,” he says. “Managing expectations and regular communication are key ingredients to success in the hiring process.”

While many recruitment companies grow their portfolio of candidates through inquiries from those looking to change jobs, Cole and Company prefers to seek out what it calls “passive” candidates — those who are not yet seeking other employment — in order to have access to the highest quality people available.

Cole acknowledges there are advantages to placing those actively searching for a new position (most notably that they are usually available to begin a new role right away), but he believes that some of the best potential talent isn’t looking for a new role precisely because they’re thriving in their current one.

“Generally speaking, the best candidates are busy working now. They’re doing their job and doing it well,” he explains. “These are the people that I want to talk to.”

Cole’s confidence in his firm’s approach is borne out by the high success rate in placing executives who stay with businesses over the long-term, making Cole and Company one of Japan’s most reliable recruiters over the past 17 years.

While there is certainly reason for worry regarding the current Covid-19 outbreak — which is making businesses nervous due to its potential for causing a major economic downturn — Cole notes that his firm has weathered some significant storms over the years.

“After the Lehman Shock, some of the larger companies turned tail and got out of the market, but we actually grew that year,” he says. “People called us with business, and the reason they did that was directly related to the mutual trust, respect and integrity that we share with our clients.”

Whatever challenges and changes businesses face, it’s reassuring to know that time-tested virtues of respect, trust and open communication are still at the heart of some companies. 

“Generally speaking, the best candidates are busy working now”