Chief of job-search portal Indeed wants to be 'world’s most powerless CEO'

CEO with access to vast amounts of hiring data says there’s still too much friction in the job-search process

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Hisayuki “Deko” Idekoba, chief executive of the company behind top job-search engine Indeed.com, doesn’t seem to place much significance on his own position.

“I want be the most powerless CEO in the world,” Idekoba of Japan’s Recruit Holdings Co. told Haslinda Amin in an interview for Bloomberg TV’s Latitude. “What I think is, ‘How can I facilitate everybody?’ and ‘How can I give good vision?’”

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It’s not an uncommon refrain, but in the case of Idekoba, it just might be true. He spends most of his time outside his home country of Japan and lives in Austin, Texas, where Indeed was founded. He moved there more than a decade ago after convincing his bosses to buy the startup for US$1 billion, and stayed even after being promoted to Recruit’s CEO three years ago.

With access to vast amounts of hiring data, filling more than one million positions every month, Recruit and Indeed have a high degree of visibility into global work trends. There’s still too much friction in the job-search process, providing plenty of opportunities for growth, according to Idekoba.

“The biggest trend is that all developed countries are having less supply of labour force,” Idekoba said. The goal, he says, is to make it easier for people to find jobs, and for employers to fill them. Although postings for remote work are shrinking, demand for flexible roles remains strong, he added.

Recruit is arguably one of Japan’s least-understood companies. In addition to Indeed and employee-review portal Glassdoor, it operates job advertising and staffing services across the world. Recruit connects consumers with businesses large and small through various portals. It’s like having LinkedIn, Zillow, Yelp, eHarmony, Booking.com, Square and dozens of other apps all under one roof. With a market capitalization of ¥11.3 trillion (US$75 billion), Recruit is bigger than Nintendo Co., or Honda Motor Co.

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Back in the late ’80s, Recruit was at the centre of a shares-for-favours scandal that brought down a prime minister. Left without its founder and US$14 billion in debt, the remaining employees took matters into their own hands, creating an independent and more flexible culture. Recruit even discourages lifetime employment, making employees eligible for an early retirement payout after roughly seven years.

“We’re not forcing people to be kicked out,” Idekoba said. “We encourage people to think.”

In the age of artificial intelligence, it will become even more important for people to think about their work, and what they want to do, according to Idekoba. Coding jobs, for example, will most likely be replaced by AI, he said. Recruit is also investing heavily in AI in order to improve its ability to match people with jobs and businesses, he said.

Even with a well-positioned business in a growing sector, Recruit remains undervalued, according to ValueAct capital, which took a 1.1 per cent stake in the company in November. The activist investor hasn’t said much beyond an assertion that the shares could be worth twice as much. Since then, the stock has climbed more than 40 per cent, boosted in part by a ¥200-billion share buyback.

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“Not only activists, investors are in general, so smart,” Idekoba said. “I’m having good conversations with them. There are some really good eye-opening type of opinions. We’re trying to constantly learn from everybody, all the stakeholders.”

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Listening to shareholders is part of being a public company, although Recruit itself has been listed for only a decade. Idekoba’s predecessor took the company public in 2014 in part to raise cash and issue shares that could be used for big acquisitions. Yet apart from the US$1.2-billion purchase of Glassdoor in 2018, Recruit hasn’t done any major deals, and had about US$7.3 billion in cash and equivalents at the end of 2023.

Asked whether he was looking at any targets, Idekoba said there’s still a wide discrepancy in the price for businesses between buyers and sellers, making it difficult to find opportunities.

“There are so many good companies, but I’d rather invest more into our business, with AI technologies,” Idekoba said. “It seems like the best bet, for my point of view, right now.”

— With assistance from Justin Solomon and Winnie Hsu.

Bloomberg.com

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