Business Irish

Thursday 5 December 2019

ChinaHR jobs recruitment firm may float in Hong Kong

Investment in China 'long-term' play

ChinaHR's Leslie Buckley
ChinaHR's Leslie Buckley

Nick Webb

ChinaHR, the fast growing Asia-focused recruitment company owned by Leslie Buckley and Denis O'Brien, is mulling over plans to float in Hong Kong.

Buckley told the Sunday Independent that an IPO was "one of the options" being considered by the group in coming years. He noted that the investment in China was "a long-term play".

ChinaHR, formerly Saon, sold its European operations to Stepstone for around €76m last year. Its core Chinese business is forecast to grow by 60 per cent this year, having placed 1m jobs. Denis O'Brien owns 75 per cent of the recruiter, and chairman Buckley the other 25 per cent.

"One of the reasons we decided not to sell it to Stepstone was there was still plenty of heavy lifting to be done, which would see more value created over the next two years," Buckley added. This would give the firm further bulk, should it consider raising money on stock markets.

Some of the proceeds of the sale of its European operations will be reinvested in the Chinese operations, according to Buckley. "We've already put in about €60m," he said. The company may need between €20m and €40m more as it moves towards profitability over the next 18 months.

The company employs 2,600 staff in 26 cities across China, though it has a reach into 180 cities.

The acquisition of rival in early 2013 catapulted ChinaHR into the number three slot in the competitive Chinese recruitment market. The market leaders are 51 Jobs and Zhaopin. Buckley indicated that ChinaHR was about half the size of Zhaopin, which plans to raise $200m in an IPO this year.

"There's a lot of small companies setting up every day there. The consolidation will come and we're in a very good position," Buckley added.

ChinaHR may seek acquisitions of between €2m and €10m as it continues its growth spurt. "We're always looking at acquisitions and we have an open mind."

While further buyouts may be on the cards, the sheer size of the Chinese jobs market means that there are enormous opportunities for organic growth. "We have moved into other products. We were about 90 per cent online, now we're about 55 per cent online and 45 per cent off line," Buckley said.

ChinaHR now offers turnkey services for recruiters seeking graduates or specially targeted recruitment. The company has also expanded into job fairs, hosting 23 job fairs in the city of Hufei over the last two months, attracting about 30,000 visitors.

The company has made a major investment in the mobile space and is set to launch a platform which will enable jobseekers to apply for positions using their phones.

China's technology boom – highlighted by the popularity of social media giants like Weibu, WeChat and QQ – has helped boost ChinaHR's business. The company is also looking at expanding its offering in the financial services sector.

Buckley dismisses fears over the health of the Chinese economy. "People keep saying that it's slowing down. There won't be double-digit growth, it'll be about 7 per cent. If we had a third of that we'd be happy campers," he said.

Sunday Indo Business

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