My Shanghai, an Urban Family series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us about their life.
To feel a driving force from within that pushed her to create her own thriving business, is how Mette Leger knew she wanted make her mark on the world. Her Shanghai-based recruitment consultancy firm, Grow HR, has been operating since 2008 and continually presents Mette with the challenges that she loves getting up for each morning; working with her clients to meet their talent acquisition needs and truly understanding the candidates she meets to generate that perfect match. While managing her team, nurturing her family and trying to carve out time for herself, life is certainly hectic but also extremely rewarding.
What is your career background, was it always recruitment?
I received my Masters in International Finance, and after graduation I wasn’t sure what to do or what I was even good at, but I knew I wanted an international and fast-paced career; one which would give me the opportunity to rise through the ranks quickly. This led me to apply for various international management trainee programs and that is how, at an early age, I ended up in China on an expat package. And what a great opportunity that was.
If I had to describe in three words what Shanghai was like at that time, it would be, ‘vibrant,’ ‘dynamic’ and ‘fun.’ I worked for a German direct sales organization which was extremely unsexy, but I did learn a lot about being in a multicultural environment, and most importantly, about myself.
You moved to Shanghai 13 years ago, what prompted you to launch your executive recruitment firm Grow HR after you arrived?
There were two major reasons that prompted me to start my own business. Firstly, most of my friends were entrepreneurial and we spoke about how we wanted to change the world and take market share. So, the people I was surrounded by were a crucial factor and a major inspiration for my decision. Secondly, if anyone can survive a direct sales market, then I believe they can survive almost anything, and I found this appealing.
In addition, I missed not having the intellectual challenges that I thrive on, and I didn't fit in with the company culture where I was, this was another strong driver to do something else. That is when I choose to follow my gut instinct and my heart, and I established Grow HR in 2008.
You have a young son, Otto, who is almost 2 years old and soon you’ll have a newborn; how do you juggle your family commitments and managing your own business?
I love my job, the challenges it creates and the joy of working with my team and partnering with our clients; finding solutions, growing and developing together gives me such satisfaction. Frankly, I worked until the day before I delivered Otto and thought I would be a hard-core working mum. But something happened when he was born. It has not been easy, and to be honest, at times I’ve felt highly stressed and incomplete on all levels; not being enough as a mom, a wife or the MD of Grow HR, and not having enough time for myself.
At one point, after realizing I spent about 2 hours a day with my son, being stressed and angry all the time, a change was needed. And again, I was lucky to have a fantastic team that understood and embraced the challenge of taking on more responsibility. I have now found a much better structure, but it is all about compromising, prioritizing and managing expectations; particularly my own. It is a constant process.
Do you still ask candidates about strengths and weaknesses, and does everyone still answer they are a perfectionist?
Asking questions is a very delicate thing and I would say it is about what you ask and how you ask it. The most important aspect when interviewing, is to be an active listener and really focus on understanding who the person in front of you really is. There are some broad and general guidelines when it comes to interview questions and at Grow HR we use situational questions.
Let me give you an example: Questions like “how do you manage stress” or “describe yourself as a leader” can be answered by learning how to respond from the internet, but they won’t really tell you anything about the candidate. So, instead we would ask something like “when was the last time you were stressed in your job, why and how did you handle it?” or regarding a candidate’s management style “tell me about a team challenge you have had and how did you deal with it and what did you learn?”
Of course this is simplified, but with this style of questions you can really learn about the candidate and their behaviour it certain situations. Also, of importance and many times overlooked is to always ask follow up questions and be tuned in to what is said/not said and how it is delivered.
What is the current trend in China in regards to positions that are being incorporated into a business?
I would say that globally, we are in an extremely interesting period and in a transformation, almost in the midst of a paradigm shift. Traditional companies are struggling to keep their market share, and consumer behaviour and preferences have totally changed. Just look to how many traditional off-line retailers are struggling; with that background and a changing competitive landscape, companies also look at talent management and acquisition in a new way.
At Grow HR we say "The calibre of the people is key."
As a consequence, companies must clearly understand what kind of ‘talent’ they need for today and for tomorrow, as well as how to attract, develop and inspire them to reach their full potential. In general, people who know technology, automatization and digitalization are well sought talents in almost all industries.
What is it that you enjoy most about recruitment?
I love recruitment when it is all about people and business. It is about understanding our client’s needs, managing those needs through knowing the market and providing the best solutions to help grow their business. It is about knowing who is sitting in front of you, whether it is the client or a candidate, and analysing situations and finding solutions. It is about influencing people and team work. All these elements are what I love about recruitment and what inspire me every day.
What has been your most challenging experience when managing a business in Shanghai, and what advice do you have for others looking to launch a corporate business in Shanghai?
I would say building a team and building the right client relationships have been, and still are, the two major challenges I have encountered. Managing a business is a constant challenge, and I do believe it is all about embracing that challenge and seeing it as an opportunity, adapting to change and daring to lose a foothold momentarily. Last, but not least, be positive. A positive mind is power and it also makes the experience a lot more fun!
Finally, can you tell me a little more about Grow HR and how our Urban Family community can get in touch with you?
We are an international HR consultancy firm with a strong client focus, that specializes in middle and executive placements in the APAC region. We add extra value by investing in market research, which allows us to not only present the best candidates but also guide our clients through talent acquisition and organizational solutions.
For more My Shanghai series, click here.