Government Affairs: Talent trends for 2022

As Government Relations challenges abound, so demand for talent is growing. But there are specific skillsets employers are prioritising as they grow the Asia Pacific teams.

No-one operating in the Government and Public Affairs space can have failed to notice the number of key personnel movements over the past quarter, nor the number of very senior roles opening up across Asia. A common question Andrews Partnership receives from both candidates and employers is: what sort of talent is in demand in the region right now? In other words, what makes a successful Asia Pacific Government Affairs leader in 2022?

In order to understand the talent dynamics, it’s important to first examine the operating environment. Foreign investment in Asia has remained resilient throughout the pandemic, and businesses investing in the region – which are often refocusing investments from slower-growing European and North American markets – are looking to grow their Asian Government Affairs capabilities in tandem. By capabilities, we mean not only team size, but seniority, experience and intellectual depth. With multiple countries and regions courting investment, whether it be China with its Greater Bay Area, or markets in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, the sheer complexity of incentive programs, regulatory environments and legislative agendas means great Government Affairs people are in strong demand. Some parts of the region are ‘friendly’ to foreign investment; others less so. Some are stable and offer not more than the usual challenges, while others – take Cambodia and Myanmar as two examples – fall under the heading of crisis management.

At a regional level, a great Government Affairs candidate is one with a broad understanding of the political agendas of the region, together with an ability to dive into the detail of individual markets as required. They know enough to understand where the landmines might be, and to ask the right questions where they don’t have all the detail. At a country level, strong candidates need to have strong networks with policymakers and regulators, together with an ability to connect the country agenda with the broader regional mission.

So what does the ideal candidate look like? Given the diversity of issues businesses face, there may be no such person. But we have identified five key traits employers are targeting. Strong Government Affairs leaders are:

  1. Both advocates and teachers who embed a deep geopolitical understanding across the business.

Just under a quarter (24%) of respondents to our recent study, The New Career Playbook for Corporate Affairs, were prioritising business growth in 2022, while a further 18% were addressing geopolitical issues to support the business. “The direction from our Chairman is strong and clear: We’re focusing on ‘the New World’ — that is to say, on Asia,” said one of the senior leaders who participated in the study.

What the research highlighted was the need for geopolitical understanding to be a priority far beyond the traditional reaches of the Government Affairs function. In 2022, you cannot be a good Communications leader, or Marketing leader, or a great General Manager, without understanding the way your work impacts and is impacted by the interactions the business has with governments, regulators and civil society. Employers therefore need Government Affairs people who can multiply their impact by advocating for the function in the business more broadly, and by ensuring others are aware – at least at a high level – of the key political issues the business faces. No longer does Government Affairs ‘own’ relationships with government stakeholders; increasingly the function will act as a resource to help others – whether they be general management, sales, supply chain or legal – to have productive interactions directly with officials.

  1. Growth hackers who can build a playbook for Government Affairs that can be quickly deployed as the business grows, both geographically and across product lines and industries.

As investments in the region grow, so too does the need for Government Affairs support. But while team sizes are growing, the hiring process means those team sizes naturally lag commercial activities. Rather than put more pressure on existing teams, or risk making incorrect decisions in the face of an ambitious growth agenda, Government Affairs leaders are putting together playbooks that can be deployed with every new market entry, or new product launch, or acquisition. Documenting best practises – whether it be building new relationships with key legislators of regulators, or addressing licensing challenges, or securing favourable taxation arrangements – supports both on the ground teams and agencies in driving progress. This is an area where a regional leader can add real value, identifying best practices from individual countries and promoting them around the Asia Pacific.

  1. Coaches with a passion for building in-country teams, who excels at bringing out the best in others.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents in our research identified ‘an ability to connect with people’ as a key traits of a successful corporate affairs leader; 15% said talent leadership was critical. Successful Government Affairs leaders are not just good at leading people; they’re utterly passionate about the success of their teams. What does that mean in a practical sense? It means giving your team an opportunity to shine in front of key commercial leaders, potentially staying out of the spotlight yourself. It means taking risks on people, and allowing them to take leadership of major projects. And it means trusting their judgement, particularly when it comes to country-specific issues where they have the advantage of local knowledge.

Andrews Partnership has seen a major shift towards hiring staff with a deep knowledge of the region. Both language and cultural skills are critical, not to mention a strong understanding of policymaking, and good networks of relevant contacts among government and civil society.

  1. Bridges of east and west, who both have the depth of understanding in the Asia Pacific region, but also appreciate the realities of western politics, and the structures their leaders and peers in other regions operate under.

Equally, for Western multinationals in particular, it remains important that Government Affairs leaders have a strong understanding of the broader set of policy issues facing their companies, many of which are driven by the politics of their home countries. The ability to bridge the Asia Pacific and the head office market is important for anyone working in a multinationals; for those in Government Affairs, it’s critical. As the recent Xinjiang cotton controversy has underlined, as much as business operating in China, for example, will be expected to be sensitive to certain political issues, if that business is – for instance – European, it also needs to be sensitive to the demands it faces from consumers in Europe.

  1. Commercial leaders who can measure the impact of Government Affairs in outcomes for the business.

Government Affairs professionals in Asia have a unique opportunity to impact the business directly, through successful lobbying on key issues, and through alignment of corporate strategic direction and policy. Increasingly, our clients are looking for Government Affairs leaders who can tell the story of their business impact using business measures – such as revenue, client acquisition and margin – rather than metrics that are specific to the function. As one respondents to our research put it: “I led the media and government affairs strategy that helped us get our licence to operate in China, which had been the key barrier to overcome for us to get into the Chinese market. As a result, in the first year, we added 14 million merchants, 16 new partnerships and tens of millions of purchases — a business coup that, overnight, established our reputation as a major new player in the market.”

Andrews Partnership are the reputation experts, with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore working across Asia, as the leading specialist corporate affairs, communications and investor relations executive search firm. We excel at understanding each organisation's unique challenges and appointing the right talent, who make meaningful business impact.