George Thompson, joint managing director of Harrison Scott Associates, a recruitment consultant that also serves the print and packaging sector, says that when choosing a consultancy to help with a senior hire, it’s important to find one that uses experienced recruiters. Leading by example, he says
“only managing consultants and directors within our company handle executive searches. We set the bar high, requiring a minimum of 10 years’ experience at top management level.”
His reasoning is that clients who appoint his firm are top level CEOs and chairmen/women
“who not only have a high expectation which is reflected in paying a five-figure sum fee, they also expect to deal with a consultant who has the knowledge and experience to execute the search to an exceptionally high standard.”
But just as clients have high expectations, so Thompson says that candidates too have high expectations of a consultant’s grasp of facts and figures:
“There is no doubt that the top executive candidates will always be in high demand therefore dialogue with them has to be on a highly professional basis. One needs to know the client proposition inside out and must carry out thorough research to ensure that the target candidate is indeed a good match for the role.”
He adds that credibility is a key factor in gaining the trust of a target.
Thompson, understandably, also takes the line that consultants can add significant value, primarily because of who they know.
“At Harrison Scott we have spent 30 years building an extensive database in print, packaging and paper, we know thousands of candidates. LinkedIn is the best business ‘social media’ platform however as useful as it is, we rarely find someone on LinkedIn who is not already known to us.”
This said, he sees LinkedIn serving the purpose of finding out where a potential target is currently employed and what their career path has been in the last few years. The other key point to remember should be quite obvious – that not everyone is on LinkedIn. This is why his recruiters “conduct extensive networking the old-fashioned way, by picking up the phone”.
Other challenges to meet when assessing a candidate’s suitability includes understanding the motivation for the candidate wanting a new role. Here Thompson says that
“it’s important to apply knowledge and expertise to understand detailed financial reports to assess whether or not a candidate is considering leaving a great success story to which they have contributed to or are abandoning a sinking ship.”
…That seems quick compared to when Thompson first started in recruitment when a typical search would take four to eight weeks. But speed is of the essence now:
“everything is expected to be achieved almost instantaneously”. It’s for this reason that Harrison Scott implemented a seven-day week (with a rota for weekends) six years ago. As clients tell him, “the sooner the person is on board, the sooner they can start contributing to the success of the business.”
Thompson’s take on remuneration differs slightly. While remuneration can encourage certain behaviours, he advises clients to not lose sight of market conditions and
“to be as flexible as possible with regard to what potential candidates are currently being paid and how one would structure a deal to attract the right person”.
Although the print industry does not enjoy the same level of profits it once did, it remains, says Thompson,
“a sector with virtually full employment and is certainly still the case where the demand is greater than supply for top talent, particularly for sales directors; market forces means the package offered to the successor will normally be higher than that of the incumbent”
An alternative for Thompson is the restrictive covenant.
“These,” he says, “are very commonplace and we’ll often advise clients on the construction and wording of these.” As he cautions, “the more reasonable the time period and the more specific the restrictions, the better chance an employer will have of enforcing it”.
If one thing doesn’t surprise Thompson, it’s the lack of foresight of some clients. He gives a classic example of how not to handle a search:
“A client phoned one of our consultants looking for a replacement for their operations director who was retiring. The call took place late Friday in the last week before the Christmas break. After our consultant took detailed notes, he asked the million-dollar question ‘so, when does your operations director retire?’. The client replied ‘cars are coming to collect me and my colleagues in about one hour. It’s his leaving night tonight, we are going to combine it with the management Christmas night out’”.
To carry on business with minimal disruption, Thompson suggests that
“it is best to implement some sort of succession planning to allow for a transition period whereby the new candidate can shadow their predecessor and be introduced to procedures and clients.”