Global executive search firm Korn/Ferry International has been granted an industry-first joint-venture licence in China. The search firm will partner with recruitment company Talent Shanghai to provide recruitment services to corporations on the mainland. 'This is the way to comply with the law - a regulation process according to China's Ministry of Personnel, Ministry of Commerce and State Administration and Ministry of Industry and Commerce,' said Alan Choi Chun-lam, regional managing director, Greater China, Korn/Ferry International. As well as complying with the law, the move means Korn/Ferry can enjoy several benefits from partnering with a local entity. It gives the firm wider geographical coverage through the links of its local partner. 'Our local partner has established offices in Guangzhou and other parts of China - this will help us in serving clients and carrying out assignments in remote areas,' Mr Choi said. Through the joint venture entity, the firm can now bill its clients in yuan rather than invoicing in US dollars. It is believed this option will offer more flexibility in the operations, as well as give the China operations a more standalone identity. Besides the geographical element, the entity can also work on the less senior positions that Korn/Ferry would forsake because of its focus and speciality. 'We mostly work on projects on the chief executive level. Those projects that were not financially meaningful to us can now be effectively implemented by our partner,' Mr Choi said. The China operation has been enjoying healthy growth in recent years - 8 per cent was recorded in the third quarter. 'It is a booming market, needless to say. With the huge amount of money flowing through the market, job creation is one of the major results,' Mr Choi said. He said that two years ago all the company's clients on the mainland were multinational corporations. But the situation has gradually changed over the past year. 'We are now serving a number of locally listed enterprises,' he said. 'Some of them are looking for chiefs to head up their overseas operations, say the United States or Europe. We believe there will soon be a Chinese household brand turning into a globally renowned one, just like South Korea's Samsung.' In responding to and servicing the upward demand, the office has been cautious about expanding its professional team. 'In the search business, we have quite a limited competition,' Mr Choi said. 'We cannot easily hire from our competitors. Most of the time we grow and train up our own people. We expand via organic growth rather than through acquisition, particularly in this market.' Mr Choi, who joined the firm in 1981, has experienced the ups and downs in the field. 'In the 1960s, there were only two search firms in Hong Kong,' he said. 'At that time, the clients were mainly from the consumer and industrial sectors. Subsequently, the financial services market opened up, offering vast business opportunities to the industry.' The trend was similar to what is happening in China today. The candidates' feedback is also similar. The first question candidates ask is: 'Who gave you my name?' Hong Kong and mainland candidates are equally nervous when they think search firms have confidential information about them. 'Our brand name helps - it gives more confidence to the candidates. But it still takes some time to put them at their ease,' Mr Choi said. 'Most of the mainland candidates cannot talk during office time because of an open-office layout. Also, they have to switch to speaking in English. This made us schedule a number of after-work appointments. The situation has changed these days as they are getting familiar with the concept.' Mr Choi said Hong Kong and other Asian (mainly Singaporean and Taiwanese) executives had an edge over mainland candidates in terms of experience, skills and abilities. But this situation will soon change. 'In the future, they will be easily replaced by local candidates, which is very natural for a maturing market,' he said. The search firm forecasts continuous and strong growth in the coming years. 'With the 2008 Olympics and 2010 World Expo coming, we expect prolonged and prosperous opportunities in China,' he said.