Australian online recruiting company SEEK has joined the race with seven other bidders to acquire JobKorea from private equity firm H&Q, in a strategy aimed at expanding its reach into South Korea, industry sources said.

SEEK’s participation comes as a surprise, as most candidates vying for the company have been financial investors. The shortlisted bidders announced last December were CVC Capital Partners, TPG Capital Asia, TA Associates, Affinity Equity Partners, Permira, Hanwha Asset Management and MBK Partners.

SEEK is reportedly working with an unnamed private equity firm. All contenders have been conducting due diligence before the final round of bidding, due later this month.

Founded in 1997, SEEK has been the number one recruiting company in Australia for the last 20 years, recording an annual growth rate of 6.6%.

The Melbourne-based company went public on the Australian stock exchange in 2015 and has since focused on overseas expansion, largely through acquisitions of leading service providers in target regions. Apart from the Pacific region, the company has operations in China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Mexico and some Southeast Asian countries.

SEEK fared well despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Its revenue for the year ended June 30, 2020 was 1.57 billion Australian dollars ($1.19 billion), up 3% from 2019. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization were A$414.9 million.

Offerings using big data analytics were cited as one of SEEK’s key strengths in the latest market report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

“Online recruiting companies face competition from popular job search engines like LinkedIn and Indeed, but SEEK has maintained its market dominance with its differentiated services,” said the report. “By using big data analytics, the company finds suitable openings for job seekers and provides employers with lists of pre-screened candidates.”

SEEK has continued to invest in its mobile app as users spend more time with their mobile phones, and also has been stepping up efforts to offer career education services in partnership with specialists across the world, according to the report.

“SEEK is one of the highly valued companies in the global job search market,” an industry insider said. “It has an advanced business model compared to JobKorea as it provides comprehensive solutions to its users instead of just matching job seekers with employers.”

Selling their stake to major industry players such as SEEK is usually one of the exit options for private equity bidders in the race, so the company’s participation may deter some from competing, observers said. (Reporting by Hee-yeon Han)