“We’re helping Japanese professionals compete on the global stage”

The hiring empire

Robert Walters Japan continues to flourish


Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Kageaki Smith

In the era of globalisation, every company with vision strives to build a business empire on which the sun never sets.

Founded in London in 1985, professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters currently operates in 31 countries, and on all continents. However, it is the Japan office that has become the jewel in the company’s crown.

Since opening in Tokyo in 2000, and in Osaka in 2007, Robert Walters Japan has grown to become the biggest international recruitment firm in the country. Its consultants work to meet the hiring needs of clients — from multinationals to startups — in a wide range of sectors.

“In Japan, we work in specialised teams,” says Jeremy Sampson, managing director of Robert Walters Japan. “We’ve got more than 40 teams in total, with each one covering a specific segment, industry or function in the market.”

Foundational to its growth are the firm’s policies, which reflect the belief that taking care of its employees inevitably results in improved outcomes for clients and candidates alike. For example, all consultants must take a six-to-eight-week training course when they are hired, and they receive regular support and training throughout their career at the firm.

“We are arming our consultants to help clients win the war for talent,” states Sampson. “Training is one of the most important factors for our company, so we develop our people to provide the most positive and productive customer experiences possible.”

It has also put diversity at the heart of its business. Its over 300 employees represent more than 40 nationalities, and it has been awarded a 3-star Eruboshi certificate from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in recognition of its promotion of women’s advancement within the company.

“For us, diversity is something that’s happened organically, but not automatically — it’s not something we’ve forced, but we’ve always been conscious of it,” Sampson explains. “One of our leadership principles is: ‘Diversity enriches the work environment, leading to innovation and creativity’.”

The success of these policies is in evidence at the management level. All of its board members — made up of men, women, Japanese and non-Japanese individuals — have been with the company for at least 12 years, a longevity that is rare in the recruitment industry.

“I think it’s really a testament to the cohesiveness that we have as a business and our culture of inclusiveness,” Sampson says.

Instead of a commission-
based payment system used by the majority of recruitment firms, Robert Walters operates a profit-sharing system for its consultants. This fosters a collaborative rather than competitive atmosphere among staff, allowing them to focus primarily on the needs of clients and candidates.

Eschewing a system favoured by other recruiters across the world might raise eyebrows — but you can’t argue with results. Robert Walters Japan has achieved double-digit growth every year for the past eight years, and are on course to make it nine years in a row in 2019. This growth has made the firm’s Tokyo office the largest in terms of consultants in Robert Walters’ global network.

These efforts and achievements have not gone unnoticed. Robert Walters Japan was recognised as a Best Workplace in 2019 by Great Place to Work. At the Recruitment Industry Awards – Japan 2018, organised by Recruitment International, the firm was named Banking and Finance Recruitment Company of the Year, Best Back Office Team of the Year, and the Growth Company of the Year.

While such recognition is a point of pride for the team, there is still the need to contend with the challenges of the Japanese labour market — and provide solutions.

“The acute labour shortage is no secret, and it’s a real social issue for Japan,” Sampson says, adding that, nationwide, there are roughly 1.62 jobs for every applicant, and that, in Tokyo, the number is 2.12.

Despite the government’s labour reforms, which, Sampson notes, are attempting to address this shortage — a major obstacle to Japan’s growth — the situation isn’t going to improve any time soon. But for Robert Walters Japan, these challenges play directly into their strengths.

“A lot of companies have become more open to the idea of importing talent from abroad,” Sampson explains. “We have programmes in place to source Japanese and non-Japanese professionals outside of Japan and bring them into positions of employment here.”



But, certainly, great talent can still be found at home. Owing to the firm’s nearly two decades in Japan, it has amassed the largest curated database of Japanese and English bilingual professionals in the country.

Sampson also highlights Robert Walters Japan’s willingness to propose less commonly considered solutions to companies’ staffing problems, such as putting forward older, more experienced candidates for leadership positions — many Japanese HR departments still often think only in terms of the need to hire younger employees and new graduates.

“I think we’re in a very fortunate place right now,” Sampson says. “Despite the overall shrinkage in the Japan market, our particular segment is expanding, and I think we’ll continue to grow at an even faster rate than the market.”

Robert Walters Japan sees to it that this good fortune extends to the community at large. The company, both globally and locally, is committed to CSR and social initiatives.

“We have our Global Angels programme where, every year, we send a number of people — including employees in Japan — to southern Kenya to build critical pieces of infrastructure to support sustainable farming and provide access to clean drinking water, something that’s been hugely popular. We’ve also invested in building a new classroom at the local secondary school,” Sampson says. “And we have volunteer leave in Japan. We give every employee, as part of their contract, one day of additional annual leave to volunteer at a charity of their choice.”

Sampson also sees sponsorships as an important way to support Japanese society. Robert Walters Japan sponsors the Japan national rugby team, ultimately, “helping to raise the profile of rugby here”, he states.

But it’s not only major teams that get the firm’s backing. It also sponsors Paralympians, as well as young, aspiring athletes who compete in more minor sports, such as cross-country skiing, women’s baseball and finswimming.

“This is similar to what we’re trying to do as a business,” says Sampson. “We’re helping professionals in Japan to compete and be successful on the global stage.”

As Robert Walters Japan works for the common good, and wealth, of the nation, it clearly has many sunny days ahead. 

"we develop our people to provide the most ... productive customer experiences possible”