1st Executive Blog

01 Aug Executive search and global disruption

“The main Challenge isn’t technology, it’s culture”


This quote came from a July-August 2019 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Building the AI-Powered Organisation.” AI is yet another technological advancement that has been used to predict the demise of the Executive Search and recruitment industry. I took heart from a finding that suggested an enlightened approach to AI (and I would argue almost any other technology) “inspired other workers to imagine how AI could augment and elevate their performance”. Technology is just one area that is influencing global trends in Executive Search, however I don’t believe it is the death knell for the industry but rather, is empowering those organisations that use it effectively.

Roles or Gigs?

We published research a few years ago that identified how true Interim Management had not really kicked off in Australia despite there being great conditions for it here. It is well-established in western Europe and there are statistics that suggest over 40% of the executive workforce has taken at least one temporary assignment in the USA. We have always felt that the link between Executive Search and Interim Management is strong as executives can complete outcomes-based project while evaluating whether or not the organisation that contracts them is the right place for them long-term. While some commentators have related this to the growth of the economy, we reject that as Executive Search placements, whether permanent or temporary, require much more serious scrutiny and commitment.


The Return of the One Stop Shop – Kind of

Obviously there is an advantage in providing both Interim Management and Executive Search solutions, as 1st Executive does. However, what we are reading is an interesting take on the kinds of approaches that Executive Search firms are needing to make. It is certainly the case that the capacity to identify with data analytics the skill sets that are promoted less strongly in the CVs of executives has led to them developing greater variety of experience. In many ways this has been the domain of high-quality Executive Search firms in the past anyway – finding the hidden talents to suit a situation.

There is talk of how Executive Search firms need to offer a more complete range of services. Indeed we have seen some of the major global brands in the industry create leadership development academies, place more emphasis on psychometric assessments as well as providing other services such as coaching, mentoring and board services. When we started our business, rather than go down the traditional Executive Search agency path of developing a recurrent contract book, we chose to balance our income streams with advisory services. These cut across the traditional streams of general and human resources, strategy, business advisory, leadership development, coaching and mentoring and psychometric services. There is no doubt that we have benefited over the last 15 years or so of having a range of services that our clients have valued enough to return regularly.

As our Executive Search offering developed over the years we obviously noticed where the true global Executive Search markets existed. In Australia there’s not that much true Executive Search activity outside of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, though Perth had elevated activity during the mining construction boom. We see that Executive Search candidates have also often worked in places such as:

Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, London, Los Angeles, New York, and a whole host of key cities in Western Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Becoming members of the NPAworldwide network several years ago we were able to add unparalleled geographic coverage to our offer. What this means is that while we have been early adopters of the kind of technology that: finds talent, allows us to provide hard evidence of soft skills, and to evaluate all of these scientifically, we now also have Executive Search partners in many cities around the world who operate to the same set of values, are personally known to us and own their own businesses – we are happy to share fees with them.

This geographical (and specialist) coverage provides a unique advantage over the majority of major international brands who employ most of their consultants. In addition, this has encouraged much higher degrees of diversity in our sourcing strategies and those of our clients. We have moved candidates from Melbourne to Tokyo for clients in San Francisco, provided search solutions for hiring and human resources teams located in different states of the USA for an executive role in Australia, we have sourced innovation talent into Queensland from the Netherlands and it is not uncommon for us to be engaged in interviews with candidates, or conference calls with clients, at our kitchen table in the small hours of the morning or in the office late in the evening.

Personal Learning Cloud Enhances

In addition we have added extraordinary capacity in the personal learning cloud through the online services of Mindshop International for: onboarding and integration, leadership development of individuals and teams, coaching and mentoring and even project support. There is no doubt in my mind that hiring leaders is more complicated than it once was, it is also faster and more competitive than ever, probably more so when it comes to delivering results that it is in terms of pricing. Add to that the capacity of serious senior executives to search out organisations with purpose, strong vision and goals and there is no doubt that Executive Search is operating in a VUCA environment. Obviously, we thrive on that and are now starting to look seriously for the next things commentators will be writing about as the "newest thing" in 2 to 4 years time to make our client and candidate experiences even better.