“We challenge each of our consultants to become the most knowledgeable expert in their particular area of specialisation”

Unleashing potential

Recruit Group’s bilingual talent businesses rebrand to synergise their positioning in Japan


Text by Gavin Blair /  Photos by Kageaki Smith

Competition is heating up for a limited talent pool of bilingual professionals to staff a booming corporate Japan. In this climate, two businesses — the bilingual arms of Japanese recruitment giant Recruit Group — serving the sector are undergoing a rebranding. On 1 April, CDS will become RGF Executive Search Japan, while RGF HR Agent Japan will become RGF Professional Recruitment Japan. These changes are aimed at clarifying their positions in the market and their service offerings for clients and candidates in Japan and across Asia.

RGF Executive Search Japan was founded as CDS 20 years ago by three expat recruiters, and was one of the pioneer foreign-owned agencies in the nascent sector. It was sold to Recruit Group in January 2008, becoming one of the first businesses acquired by the conglomerate as part of its expansion into serving foreign clients and overseas markets. RGF HR Agent Japan was originally set up as a division of Recruit Group’s domestic operations, but in October 2014, it became part of the same international recruitment group as CDS.

The new RGF Executive Search Japan will continue to focus on roles for managers up to top executives, while RGF Professional Recruitment Japan will keep its focus on management positions and below. The inevitable overlap on middle management positions is something Struan McKay, CEO of RGF Executive Search Japan, says they “have always been comfortable with.”

“It was intentional; Japan is a job-rich, candidate-short market and companies have different approaches to recruitment,” explains McKay, who began his career in factory management with Nissan and Nestle in the UK before entering the recruitment field in Japan. “We thought that having a small, reasonable degree of overlap would maximise our potential for serving clients in a market where it is difficult to recruit bilingual talent.”

Although there is overlap, the two companies employ different methods in their quest for the right candidates.

“RGF Professional Recruitment Japan is predominantly a database-driven company,” explains Matt Nicholls, Managing Director of RGF Professional Recruitment Japan. “We get a requirement from a client and we can react quickly. We have a deep database of candidates we can immediately activate.”

RGF Executive Search Japan, as the name implies, is more search-focused, involving market mapping, research and headhunting for a particular requirement.

According to McKay, the company’s strength lies in its bespoke in-house research capabilities, and the market knowledge and extensive, hands-on experience of its consultants, who have an average of 9.5 years in the industry — well above the level of its competitors.

“We also have a strong focus on deep specialisation, and what we call market mastery,” McKay adds. “We challenge each of our consultants to become the most knowledgeable expert in their particular area of specialisation, who knows more about what’s happening with the industry, the clients and the candidate pool than anybody else.”

RGF’s own mix of staff is split approximately evenly between Japanese and non-Japanese, with more than 20 nationalities represented across its offices in Tokyo and Osaka. And in what is still often viewed as a male-dominated industry, around 45% of its employees are women. Some 36% of management roles are held by women — a percentage both firms are keen to increase as part of an ongoing diversity drive.

Foreign multinationals make up 70% of RGF Professional Recruitment Japan’s clients and 90% on the RGF Executive Search Japan side. When it comes to regular domestic talent, “the Recruit Group has some very strong recruitment solutions of its own for Japanese clients that we don’t attempt to compete with,” says McKay.

The rebranding is part of an Asia-wide brand integration, designed to unify various companies that the Recruit Group has acquired over the years under its global RGF brand. There are currently 45 RGF offices in 26 cities, covering 11 countries and markets.


“For clients that are multinationals and work across various geographies in Asia, it will make it much clearer to them what our organisation is and the fact that the brand they’ve learned to trust in other markets is actually the same brand here,” says McKay. “Today, someone who works with, for example, RGF Executive Search Singapore, may have no idea that CDS is effectively the same business, with the same ownership and the same service offering in Japan.”

Having the Recruit brand behind the companies is an advantage across the board, according to Nicholls, who says it has helped RGF Professional Recruitment Japan quadruple in size over the last couple of years.

“Although we deal mostly with international companies, the people who work at them are mostly Japanese, as are most of our candidates. So, the brand is a massive advantage on both sides,” explains Nicholls, who founded and then sold a recruitment agency in the UK before coming to Japan.

“There are a lot of candidates out there who only feel comfortable trusting their personal information and their careers to a Japanese business, but who want to work for an international company,” Nicholls adds. “And the rebranding makes it clear we fill that niche.”

Although placing bilingual Japanese staff in multinationals operating in Japan is the main pillar of the business, RGF Professional Recruitment Japan also recruits from overseas.

“We place a lot of non-Japanese candidates who come from our Asia network — Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese developers, engineers and programmers, particularly in the mobile gaming sector,” notes Nicholls.

Other areas facing acute shortages include strategic consulting, engineering and e-commerce, according to McKay.

“In a market where the supply and demand gap is already unsustainable, every sector needs innovative and creative hiring solutions,” adds McKay. “The wholesale shift, in almost every industry, from traditional marketing to a more dynamic digital strategy has created one of the most extreme examples of imbalance; there is extraordinary demand across the board.”

Additionally, Japan’s greying population makes a shortage of healthcare professionals unavoidable, but this is exacerbated by another factor.

“The competition is fierce and the demand is very strong, and the candidates — even compared with other sectors in Japan — tend to be more conservative and more risk-averse, and therefore reluctant to consider career change,” says McKay. “This situation underscores why clients should care deeply about which firm represents them to potential candidates and persuades them to come to the table.”

“In a market where the supply and demand gap is already unsustainable, every sector needs innovative and creative hiring solutions”