In 2004, Dutch HR service and temp staff provider Randstad only had two people in its office in Tokyo. Today, they are one of the major HR service providers in Japan, with 59 offices nationwide.
The growth is mainly due to the efforts of Marcel Wiggers, chairman and CEO of Randstad KK. Born in Holland, Wiggers joined Randstad in 1991. After nine years in the Netherlands, he worked in Italy, Japan (in 2004), and then Australia. While he was in Australia, he helped negotiate Randstad’s acquisition of Fuji Staff Holdings which was finalized in 2010.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Wiggers at the Randstad offices in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.
Why did it take Randstad so long to come into the Japanese market?
If you look at our company history, it was very much focused on the western Europe market. By the end of the 1990s, we went outside Europe with a fairly big acquisition in the U.S. After that was completed, we were able to start looking at Asia.
What was your strategy?
There were only two if us here in 2004. But because of the size of the market in our industry – it is the second largest in the world in temp staffing – I realized that we had to make an acquisition. So I spent 2004-2009 building up the company to a point where we were able to acquire Fuji Staff Holdings in 2010.
Now we are positioned 6th in Japan. We have 59 offices across Japan, including three in Tokyo.
How do you market the brand?
Fuji Staff Group, which is headquartered in Utsunomiya, had a 25-year history. They were quite well known. After the acquisition, we had to rebrand the company. That took place last year in the third quarter. Our name recognition is still low, but we are moving in the right direction.
Our main marketing method is the day-to-day contact that our staff have with clients. In addition, we bundle media and social media campaigns in areas where we think we are strong.
Was 2011 a good year?
The second quarter of 2011 was very bad. We have a strong presence in Tochigi where many companies had to close after the March 11 disaster. Other companies all over Japan stopped hiring “haken” staff, while others relocated or were temporarily closed.
However, toward the end of the year, a lot of clients restart production and had to hire a lot of extra people on a temporary basis. So our last quarter was good.
What are some differences in the Japanese market?
One of the big differences in Japan is the image of the industry. In Japan, the reputation of a ‘haken’ working style is still relatively low and has a penetration rate of only about 2% in the workforce. In Europe, it is seen as an excellent second-best choice. Indeed, some people prefer that way of life in Europe. We think that our service makes a company more efficient and that can help them become more successful and create more job opportunities.
Another factor is the payment level and whether ‘haken’ workers can qualify for a company’s health insurance and pension programs. We believe that you need to have this way of working to be competitive. You need to have certain security in terms of employee access to pension and health insurance programs and salary increase after so many years.
This is a big issue in Japan right now and needs to be debated more. In some countries, there is a collective labor agreement where companies like us come together with employee associations and unions to ensure a certain pay level for ‘haken’ workers. That is absent in Japan, so there are relatively big pay differences between ‘haken’ staff and permanent employees.
Where do you find the people that you place with clients?
We recruit by using job portals, our own website and specialized websites, social media and occasionally job magazines.
What are some of the challenges that you face?
One of the biggest challenges is that most requirements are for full-time jobs, close to 50 hours a week. Not everyone is available to work those hours. In Japan, there is a huge pool of women, especially mothers, but the job needs don’t always fit the circumstances of the mothers, who seldom can work from 8 to 8. It’s the same for older workers in their 60s. I think the process is changing very slowly.
We also have quite a lot of people working with disabled people helping them to find jobs, which as you know is not always easy.
How do you define a ‘haken’ worker?
It usually starts at a few weeks and go for as long as three years. It’s not unusual for good temp workers to be offered a permanent job. For us, that is a confirmation of our services.
You mentioned that in Europe, it is a popular lifestyle choice for some. How about in Japan?
In Japan, corporate life for permanent employees is not so easy, with long hours, long commutes. Some people like to travel and study in between temp jobs. Others use it as a stepping stone to gain experience at various Japanese and foreign companies. If you are good, you will almost certainly be guaranteed a job. Our best people get lots of job offers and some actually decline because they want to do other things with their lives.
What is your revenue model?
We charge the company and we pay the worker. So if you are the client, you pay us the salary of the temp worker, social security and other benefits’ costs and a fee for our services.
What else does Randstad due besides temp staffing?
We have a strong outsourcing business. Career transition is becoming important. Companies that are downsizing their organization ask us to help relocate their staff.
What is your management style?
I very much trust my Japanese management and listen more than I talk. I am very much involved in setting strategy and with talent development.
What is a typical day for you?
I show up here about 8 a.m. Three days a week, I go to the various branch offices to talk with managers about issues and solutions in the operation. I hardly leave after 6:30 and I encourage staff to have a work-life balance.
What do you do when you are not working?
I like to ride motorbikes off road. I spent 8 days riding in Laos and Cambodia, and 10 days last year in Mozambique.
Would the temp lifestyle appeal to you?
I started my career as a temp with Randstad. After graduation, I decided not to have a permanent job because I wanted to travel abroad. I went to Africa many times for biking—six months on to work, six months off to the road. After a few years, Randstad asked me if I’d like to work for them and I started as a consultant in a branch. I enjoyed the temp lifestyle.