The Situation

Our client was a private equity business needed to refresh the boards of six of its acquired businesses with a new CEO and a new FD for each. They were in broadly similar industries and so some economies of scale were possible. The businesses turned over between £1m and £5m with profits ranging from negligible to 20%. All had tremendous potential and were in industries that were going through significant change, but all had their challenges, ranging from highly complex and political Executive Boards to cash flow problems of catastrophic levels.

Our challenge was to find forward-thinking, positive individuals who could see the potential in these businesses. We would probably be asking them to sign up for less than they were currently earning, generally with businesses that needed at the very least careful handling, if not totally turning around.

These candidates needed to be at the top of their game, the very best in their industry, and we had not a lot to attract them. Most importantly, we needed to create six CEO/FD leadership teams that not worked together well and suited their individual businesses, but also fitted with all of the other new appointments.

The Solution

When faced with a challenge of this sort, it is very tempting for a headhunter to take a brief, nod and smile, then go out to market and struggle immensely to find candidates prepared to do the job. We needed to do two things:

  • Create a compelling business proposition
  • Identify what sort of people we could and should hire

We spent a long time with the client, discussing what was and was not possible. It was key for us to establish the needs, draws and limitations in the early stages of the search process; What was the objective for each business? What core skills were needed? Where could they compromise? Was it technical skills that were important or soft skills? What could we offer to make their proposition stand out? What made these businesses different?

These were not always comfortable discussions and we certainly did not always agree with our client. We knew that the market would view our client very differently to how they viewed themselves. Entrepreneurial CEOs and FDs are both hard to come by and very demanding in their need for information so that they could make a sensible judgement call on whether this was a risk they were willing to take.

We knew that we had to be open and honest with candidates, without revealing too much to those we didn’t feel had the potential to succeed in the roles or who we couldn’t see an obvious fit for with other candidates. Our interviews were quirky – we were looking for character fit, personal and professional style, the right attitude and industry connections.

The Outcomes

Within two months we had researched the market, carried out an extensive online advertising campaign, networked everywhere we could and interviewed dozens of candidates. In one memorable week, we interviewed 35 FDs, which proved to be a challenge in itself. We presented our shortlists of CEOs and FDs to our client and discussed with them who the best candidates were in relation to one another; who were likely to be the best teams? What they had achieved that was relevant? How would they respond to our client’s very particular management style? What did we need to do to support them? Where were the “missing ticks” that we needed to acknowledge? and so on.

All of the candidates we offered a role to accepted. All of them were still in the role two years later, with the exception of one CEO. After six months with his business, he presented his findings to our client, which essentially closed off three of the four potential routes to market that he had been recruited to explore, and everyone agreed that the original goals were achievable. His FD is still in place today, looking after a very different business. The other businesses in the portfolio went from strength to strength. In one case, we appointed an internal candidate, and we created a new role for a high potential sales director who we discovered over the course of the search.

Today, several years on, roughly 50% of our original appointments remain in place. Those who have left have done so because they had achieved their objectives and have been replaced by people who are more appropriate for a different phase in their company’s evolution. The client’s needs are many and diverse, and we are proud to be their partners.

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