Inspiring growth in the Asia Pacific human resource industry
Master of Business Administration, Marketing
Founder & CEO, ACI HR Solutions
A passion for travel, hospitality and helping people achieve their career aspirations has led Andrew Chan to build his own successful human resource firm, ACI HR Solutions, with offices throughout the Asia Pacific.
On graduating from high school in Sydney, Andrew went straight into work and progressed quickly through sales, business development and marketing management for a series of large airlines and hotel chains. But it wasn’t until relocating to Singapore in 2004 that Andrew was offered an opportunity to lead the regional arm of a large recruitment and executive search company that he discovered his niche.
“Since joining the tourism industry I have discovered that incorporating a HR element into my work is something that motivates me every day. The best part, and why I am so passionate about it, is that I am constantly able to meet and interact with inspirational people and learn from their experiences and success,” Andrew said.
After completing an MBA at UniSA in 2010, Andrew could combine his broad experience of the tourism and human resource sectors to start his own venture.
“Having utilised head-hunters throughout my career, it became apparent that understanding the nuances and macro-talent issues of an industry required people from within the industry to appreciate. In addition, the inability to truly understand candidate requirements, their experiences and skills, can only result in misplaced aspirations,” he said.
“So we identified a need for a specialist firm that is owned and operated by people from within the travel, hospitality, lifestyle and tourism industry to compete against the major generalist recruitment firms.
“I founded ACI HR Solutions in 2012, not long after completing my MBA as my studies gave me the necessary tools and confidence I needed to combine with my experience to set up my own business.
“We ensure that all of our consultants have worked in travel, tourism and/or hospitality and are genuinely passionate about both the client’s success and the industry as a whole.”
This recipe has proved itself as ACI is now considered one of the region’s leading boutique recruitment firms and Andrew has expanded the company throughout the region with offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney.
“We have been quite fortunate in recent years to be recognised by industry peers with a number of awards, including being crowned the Recruitment Agency of the Year in 2017. That was certainly an honour, but having my team with me on stage as we received the award, and sharing the excitement with them, was the best part and a proud moment for us all.”
It has not always been an easy path to navigate however. Andrew was leading TMS Asia Pacific when the global financial crisis hit. He describes it as one of the toughest experiences of his career when TMS scaled back operations in the region by over two thirds.
“I went from being the CEO of nine office locations with over 80 FTE to having to retrench two thirds of my manpower and close six offices – all two weeks before Christmas, it was terrible but getting through that period was one of the most important learning experiences I’ve had.
“It is a lesson that still guides me. The start-up phase for ACI during the first couple of years was particularly hard as we were a small to medium enterprise without external funding so it was a fine line between spending and returns.
“Being the owner of a business offers me a degree of flexibility and freedom. But there is also little opportunity to switch off. Rather than reporting to someone above I believe that it’s an even higher level of responsibility knowing that ultimately the buck stops with me and the decisions I make impact everyone within the business.”
Andrew’s interest in helping people achieve their career ambitions has also led him to a role in guiding others as a speaker and mentor at tourism conferences, events and educational institutions.
“There have been considerable changes in the human capital landscape over the years, as organisations struggle to engage and retain their best talent and fuel growth. I am a firm advocate for the need for leaders to change from the ever-popular command-and-control type management, to a more holistic mentoring approach to help overcome these challenges.
“This year we created the ACI Mentor of the Year Award as a way of encouraging more people to see the benefits of a more democratic leadership style that allows staff to grow professionally and learn to be more creative and invested in their work.
“We received entries detailing some truly inspiring stories about mentors, before we eventually crowned Dr Jennifer Cronin, President of Wharf Hotels in Hong Kong our Mentor of the Year in 2017 for her dedication to her staff and her work.”
Another area that Andrew hopes to influence is to see a better transfer and delivery of education, training and skills across the Asia Pacific.
“Millennials are said to be the most educated generation in history, but in developed countries we’re still facing a skills shortage, with more of the working demographic retiring than entering the workforce - this will become a major problem for years to come.
“Developing nations have the human capital to address an aspect of this problem, but insufficient access to higher education and training has prevented them from fully addressing the issue.
“I wish I had the skills to do more. I try to involve myself as much as possible in initiatives run by industry associations such as PATA by offering my expertise, and speaking to students through workshops and seminars in developing countries in order to help these organisations create more opportunities.
“The most important lessons I have learnt that I would pass on to others is to be resilient, be nimble and always be willing to learn.
“Personally, I embarked on my MBA during one of the busiest and most turbulent periods of my life, but an industry mentor of mine had convinced me that it would be worth the time investment and a decision I would not regret, and he was right. Having my parents attend my graduation ceremony in Singapore was probably one of the proudest moments of my life, and one I won’t forget.
“Whilst it’s important to have strategic goals and plans in place both professionally and personally, the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over is an important virtue to have.”
This is testament to the success Andrew’s company is now experiencing. “We are careful when it comes to growth. However, I do believe that there’s still a white space for travel, tourism and hospitality recruitment, with very few specialist firms across Asia, Middle East and India. I’m confident that the market has potential and our aim is to grow across those regions.”
WATCH: ‘A day in the life of Andrew Chan.’ Andrew Chan takes you behind the scenes at a recent media interview.