As Managing Partner of EvolutionHR, Starr Xian enjoys a privileged perspective of the very lifeblood that fuels Macau and its gaming sector. IAG spoke with Starr about her career journey and Macau’s current HR challenges.
Oscar Guijarro: Thanks for speaking with us Starr. Could you tell us, a bit about your background and where you grew up?
Starr Xian: I was born in China, in Guangzhou. I grew up in Guangzhou and went through the Chinese education system. During the last year of high school we were about to decide where to go, which university to join. This was when China was already open and many of my classmates studied overseas.
I also wanted to, but my parents, because I was an only child, didn’t want to send me far away from them.
Then one day my father came home and showed me a picture of IFT (the Macao Institute of Tourism Studies). He told me that Macau was good because we would be nearby, so maybe I could think about studying in Macau.
I said, “Okay, that’s a tourism school and I really like travel, I like geography.” At that time I was already thinking about something related to tourism, so I applied to the school and after the exam my father came home one day and said that I had been invited for an interview.
Then he took me to Zhongshan for the interview. That was my first time speaking with a foreigner. I thought it was just a normal interview and then when I went I saw it was the principal of IFT. I had no idea if it went well, but after that my father told me that I had passed. That’s how I came to Macau.
OG: How is your relationship with your hometown these days?
SX: My parents still live in China and I still have friends in China. When I go back, as my husband already has a Chinese visa for multiple entrances, we try to explore and see if there are any opportunities that we can develop in China, because we also have a [Portuguese products] trading business. I remember when I was young there were no foreign products, but nowadays we are starting to see a lot. However, we don’t see many Portuguese products in China right now.
OG: How did you find your way into the Human Resources sector?
SX: After I graduated I didn’t work in the tourism and hospitality industry. My first job was in real estate and I didn’t even apply for that. I had a colleague who was not a Macau local but she applied for that job and during the interview they asked her if she knew any Macau residents suitable for the job, and she referred me, so I started working in real estate. It was a British company and they were mainly selling properties in Thailand. I was in Macau helping them to develop the local market too, not just selling properties in Thailand. At that time there were already some foreigners from Hong Kong that wanted to invest in Macau and move to Macau.
By chance, after a couple of years, one of my clients from Hong Kong approached me and asked if I wanted to work with him because he was setting up a real estate company. I started to work with him and his partner, and his partner was doing the human resources side of things – the recruitment. So I started to work with him, assisting in hiring construction people.
OG: What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of working in HR in Macau?
SX: Recruitment is a long and challenging process. It’s not like selling a product, I think it is a bit more challenging – especially in Macau where everyone knows everyone else.
Many people think recruitment is an easy job, that we can get candidates just by searching on LinkedIn or Facebook or by referral. But it is not that easy. We have to really study the client, their competitors, and we have to compile a strategic map to see which direction we will search in to identify candidates who match with the client’s requirement. That is very challenging in Macau – maybe you identify someone the client already knows.
Because the Macau market has been growing very fast, some company owners who don’t really understand the market think it will be like overseas where it can be easy to find people. So we have to communicate with the client and tell them the situation here is not like other places.
The whole process is very challenging. Until we match someone and right up until they start, there are challenges. Sometimes, especially before the pandemic, there are lots of opportunities in Macau, and candidates may tell you just before they start or just before they sign the contract that they no longer want the job. And then we have to go back through the search process again.
The rewarding part is that I get to know a lot of people.
OG: When you are not working, what are your favorite things to do?
SX: I’m a registered Reiki master, so I like to stay in a quiet place to just be with myself and do some meditation. Then other times, because I also like to talk with people, I will go out to meet with friends.
OG: Do you have any special spot in Macau where you like to relax?
SX: I like Coloane or somewhere far away from the city.
OG: What is your favorite meal and why?
SX: My husband is a chef. I like Portuguese food and I don’t have any specific favorite but whatever my husband cooks, I like.
OG: Macau has changed a lot over the past few decades. What changes do you think have been positive and what has been negative?
SX: It’s a totally different city. I remember when I came to Macau, there was a bar called Embassy Bar, and outside the bar there was just the seaside. There was no Sands Macao, no other land. Still – and I’m not talking about the Cotai Strip – sometimes when I go out nowadays, in the evening, I look at Macau and think it’s amazing. It’s beautiful.
OG: How has COVID-19 and the new gaming law affected the HR industry?
SX: I see it as an opportunity. I see more positives than negatives, because this is not the first time in my career that I have seen the economy going down. But this time with the combination of COVID and the gaming law changes, there are a lot of challenges in all industries. But as people say, a challenge is also a pathway to change.
OG: How do you see human resources in Macau in the future? What are the challenges the sector will face in the coming months or years?
SX: We are actually managing two companies right now. One is EvolutionHR, which is a licensed recruitment company in Macau. We also have EHR Human Resources Management where we do human resources outsourcing for companies.
We see that some companies have a limited budget, they are cutting costs, and we actually try to diversify to help our clients, to outsource our HR services for them.
So we provide payroll services and part-time casual contractors. We have diversified our business. We are not only recruiting in Macau, we are also recruiting overseas. And last year our company was registered in Zhuhai, so we are exploring the market in China as well.
OG: How have you coped with being unable to travel for the past few years?
SX: That hasn’t bothered me so much. Last year I spent most of weekends playing golf with my husband and friends, and I also had the chance to do things I hadn’t done before such as learning Portuguese and some things for girls, the beauty stuff. I joined lots of online webinars too so I wasn’t bothered. Luckily, before Macau closed the border, we took a trip to Portugal.
OG: Finally, when Macau opens up to the world and you can holiday again, what will be the first place you want to travel to?
SX: Portugal, to visit my parents-in-law.