Recruiting in Asia from New York – Kevin Collins

We spoke with Kevin Collins of April International about his firm’s work in Asia and his approach to recruiting. This is the first part of a two-part interview.

Tell us about your office.

We have eight people, and we work days and into the night. We work until usually 11 pm or midnight, because we have a Hong Kong and Tokyo business.

It’s a round-the-clock job.

I’m in from 11 in the morning until 5:00 or 5:30. Then I go home and have dinner with my wife, then come back at 8:00, and then I work until 11, sometimes 12.

But I’ve left here at 4:30 a.m., too, depending on what’s going on. Close a deal, do some dealing in Tokyo time. Time is relative — irrelevant, actually. It doesn’t mean anything in this global economy.

What’s the background of your international reach?

Maybe 15 years ago, Salomon Brothers asked us to find a Japanese-speaking accountant. We went out to dinner, came back, called all the American and British firms in Tokyo — that is, once we figured out how to dial a phone — and we asked if they knew anybody. Next thing you know they started calling us back saying, “We have positions we need help filling. Could you help us?” That was Japan.

Next thing, a lot of those guys leave Japan and go to Hong Kong, and they took us with them. From that we’ve done work in London also. We only work out of New York, which is somewhat of an advantage for us when recruiting in Japan. They are always looking for Westernized bilinguals.

Do you speak multiple languages in the office?

Actually, only English, because that’s what our clients need.

Long-Term Capital Management
asked us to find the CFO for their Japan office, and I sourced a fellow out of the Midwest who was with Andersen Consulting at the time. His English was so good that they came back to us and asked if he spoke Japanese. He was a Japanese national, but his English was so good from going to school here and then working for Andersen.

I think he only lasted about a year and a half after the collapse. Very, very bright guy. It was a shame. He said to me that he used to walk down the streets in Tokyo and no one knew who he was, and then after the collapse everyone was pointing at him like he was to blame.

How does your business break down geographically?

Right now it’s probably 70% New York and 30% Asia, but that fluctuates. At one point when things were really down in New York, we were probably just the opposite, 70% in Asia and 30% New York, maybe 80-20 at one point.

Is the typical hedge fund candidate willing to relocate internationally?

For the most part, especially if they’re younger and don’t have a family involved. Most of them are citizens of the world, and they go for it.

The most talented quants, too?

It’s hard to say. Of course, in harder times, they’re much more flexible. But I find that people with the hedge fund mindset definitely have a go-for-it attitude, and they’ll go anywhere in the world to work. Not to mention, they like the exposure. It’s good for their résumé.

Tell us about a candidate who stands out in the work you’ve done.

There have been a few. There was a fellow I recruited once. He was from Scotland, a graduate from Oxford with a degree in Physics. He went to the University of Idaho to get his MBA, and there he became the soccer coach. He was there on a full scholarship, and he was also a jazz singer, a flautist, and a pianist.

And he was just one of the most down-to-earth, brilliant fellows I have ever spoken to. After he left the University of Idaho, he went to Stanford for his PhD in Physics. The last time I spoke with him, he was doing research in St. Andrews and had just walked off the golf course where he shot an 81. So I just looked at him and thought, “Boy, this guy is the whole package,” you know?

For some roles it’s a candidate market.

Yes, good quantitative analysts, risk managers, combination quant-risk people.

Is it always going to be this way?

There was a time I remember in the beginning, when no one knew what a quantitative analyst was. Then it became very popular. Now there are quite a few quant analysts running around, but there are some extraordinarily good ones, and it makes a big difference — from that quality to someone just going through the motions. These very numeric people sometimes can’t think outside the box, and when you find somebody that can, and who can really make decisions on their feet, it’s very refreshing.

When a lot of people look good, how do you separate the best?

A lot of it is how they carry themselves. You can tell. Sometimes you’re talking to someone and it’s like talking to a helium balloon. You have to pull it back down to earth every so often. Then you have the person who is on the ground, can speak effectively, can explain to me what they do, can explain their position and what they would like to do. Maybe it’s a little innate, a feeling of who is real and who isn’t.

Do you have a favorite interview question?

No. I just like to see where people want to be in five years. What they want to do, if they have any goals for themselves, how motivated they are, if they have that little fire in their belly.

In the second part of the interview, Kevin talks further about his methods and the current state of the industry.

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