The PIE: Tell us first about LH Global and its origins.
Ryan Henderson: LH Global was initially a Perth migration firm focusing on Chinese clients who wanted to migrate to Australia, and then in 2004, it merged with China’s largest HR company, Leader HR. More departments were brought in-house, so we grew to cover education, academic placements, property and project acquisition, which normally was property and tourism. Apart from growing in the business area, we also grew in footprint to most other Australian cities, Chicago in North America and London in the UK in 2019.
The PIE: Are your clients now still mainly from China?
RH: Most of our clients do still come either from China or are of Chinese origin. We’ve really geared up that way, with most of our staff speaking Mandarin and also having that large presence in the mainland.
But we are also working in Bhutan, which is really interesting for us. We have an office Thimphu in the capital and we are probably the largest academic agency out there, sending 400 students per intake to universities across Western Australia.
The PIE: How did that come about?
RH: Our previous education head in Perth was quite connected to a company in Bhutan. And so they used to use our contracts to place students in Australian universities. Very quickly, we hired the boss of that company and brought him over to Australia, and then we bought out the company, I think, in 2018. So we acquired a very good company. Students from Bhutan are interested in hospitality and healthcare and tourism management, and general business as well.
The PIE: I’m interested more in the property acquisition that you do for clients. What would a typical client brief look like?
RH: For the UK generally, it’s related to education, so we would either get a family coming over here with a young child – maybe four to 12 years old. And the first thing they do is place the child in the school, next thing they do is try to find a house near the school. Working closely with developers to actively promote their development is something we’re looking at growing.
“It’s about being that helping hand to accompany individuals”
It’s about being that helping hand to accompany individuals to go look for houses, often they don’t have language skills or knowledge of the purchasing process or finding a lawyer, that sort of thing.
The PIE: And what proportion of your education clients would typically come with extra requirements attached, whether that’s property or something else? What else might you do apart from finding property?
RH: I would say basically all of them want something else. Property is maybe 20%, but others want migration or visa support, which is obviously essential for education or investment.
We find that our students will get a student visa and [their parents] will join them.
So in a very typical case – I noticed this even in the previous company I was with too – is while Chinese students used to come for higher education, usually postgrad, that has just got younger and younger, and these days, usually dad would be in a pretty good job running a good business in China, mum would come over as a dependent on the child student visa. Or they would get an investor or innovator visa and then the child would be dependent and then usually mum would accompany them.
The PIE: Do you think high schools or universities are geared up to understand that Chinese students often come with family members who also need some sort of support?
RH: That can be problematic, especially if the child’s been accepted to a school sponsoring the visa and mum or dad don’t speak any English. Just figuring out the communications is difficult enough. So part of [our support] is this home away from home guardianship services package. Even if the family are here, we call it guardianship lite, where we represent them to the school and vice versa. That’s that’s quite a big one for us.
In the US, [these types of services] are on offer. In the UK, not so much. It tends to be a lot less official where you might have a family friend or ‘uncle’ who for a fee does a lot of those things. We’re trying to professionalise it and [provide] a very clear, all round guardianship service.
The PIE: And what sort of development do you have in mind for the future?
RH: I’ve been CEO for around three months, but before that I was general manager of the UK. So the main difference is I’m now looking after other regions. In terms of development, by the end of 2022, we’re looking to expand to France, Germany, Canada and repopulate the Australian cities that unfortunately, we had to put on ice during the pandemic.
“By the end of 2022, we’re looking to expand to France, Germany, Canada”
The PIE: And are you looking to also service clients who are outside of China as well?
RH: Absolutely. For the UK in particular, I think just geographically and historically we’re attractive to a lot more countries, and we’re not exclusively China focused. So I think branching out to regions such as the Middle East, Russia, Southeast Asia is a definite priority.
The PIE: How are you going to do that?
RH: We don’t want to be stepping on the feet of anybody who’s also sending students, and we’re quite happy to help add strings to their bow in the form of migration services or property support and tourism, even study tours and also direct recruitment. Partnerships with other agencies would absolutely be the way to go about doing it.