Case Study

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Audible Attracts Top Talent to Build Out Their Japanese Team

The Situation

Audible is the planet’s largest producer and seller of audiobooks, offering digital audiobooks, radio and TV programs, as well as audio versions of magazines and newspapers. Audible’s USP is simple: they have professional voice actors, celebrities, and sometimes even the authors themselves narrate the books.Amazon bought out the company in 2008, making it a wholly owned subsidiary. 

In 2014 Japan was the next market on the list, and Audible’s EVP of Operations, Will Lopes, had big plans to build a team and launch several Audible products here. Fueled with acquisition investment, success in other markets and Amazon’s strong local user base to build from, Audible saw a powerful opportunity to penetrate Japan’s market. In particular, the crowds of commuters riding the trains would give them the chance to explore different genres of content. Lopes was hunting for a showrunner who could make the team go.  

Hiring Challenges and Solutions

Amazon Japan has been in Japan since 2000, and has a strong brand presence here from the consumer perspective. Some local turnover at Amazon, however, had given the company a mixed reputation among jobseekers. 

That makes vetting candidates for Amazon and related companies tricky. After hearing that Audible was an Amazon subsidiary, for example, many candidates became wary, and others turned their backs on the opportunity. We immediately began to de-emphasize the Amazon connection, even though in other markets that might have proved advantageous. 

The Audible culture does have similarities with Amazon—it’s also lean, data-driven and performance-focused. But Audible’s footprint is much smaller globally, and most of its offices are sited outside of Amazon; the culture has remained rather separate, and crossover is minimal. So we presented Audible as a separate business—which it really is—and as an opportunity to grow a well-funded startup business from scratch. This was much more appealing, and we quickly gained traction. 

The Candidate—Waiting in the Wings 

We worked closely with Will Lopes and our HR partner in Japan, Michiko Takahashi, to vet several candidates. We quickly identified a candidate who had worked in entertainment, had an MBA, and seemed like the perfect team leader. For various reasons, unfortunately, mostly related to her career goals, she decided to pass up Audible’s offer. 

Fortunately we had an alternative candidate who was working at Google. But how could we convince someone to leave Google? The answer lies in one simple fact: Mountain View develops the products, and Google Japan acts largely as a sales organization, composed mainly of advertising sales employees and supporting structures. Unless you are high up in the org—often at an Asia-wide level—you rarely have responsibility for the full profit and loss of a business unit. Audible presented the chance to be the local GM, localize products and build out new products for Japan with full P/L responsibility. From a career perspective, that’s enticing. The candidate agreed, and Audible had its showrunner.

Key Takeaways 

We believe our approach worked for several reasons. First, we had another excellent candidate who was both vetted and interested, and who we stayed close to through the entire process. Second, we took into account the market perception of related entities—in this case Amazon—and tailored our approach to de-emphasize the Amazon connection. 

Third, by leveraging the growth story and painting a compelling story of the potential investment and P/L responsibility—key aspects top candidates look at in relation to career growth—we convinced a top candidate to leave a comfortable post at Google. 

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