Interview: 680 Partners’ Ross Freeman Discusses Advantages of Boutique Firms

October 23, 2009 – As founder of 680 Partners LLC, Ross Freeman has specialized in executive search for a wide array of industries over the past decade. Mr. Freeman works in long term partnerships with many top venture capital firms, private equity and LBO funds to help build senior management teams. 680 Partners specializes in recruiting senior executives including: CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CTOs, CIOs and VP's across various organizations. In the following interview, Mr. Freeman offers his insight on the current state of the search industry and discusses the advantages of being a boutique firm.

How has the economic downturn affected your firm?

The overall economy has affected our firm as we had slower first and second quarters then in years past. With that said, we keep a lean organization so we have been able to operate without interruption.

Do you see an improvement coming this fall for the recruiting sector — or has the continued 'jobless recovery' pushed any improvement into 2010?

Our Q3 and Q4 have been very strong and we are seeing an overall uptick in hiring needs across multiple sectors.

What are your thoughts on the downward slide of the two largest publicly-held search firms?

My thoughts are that some great talent became available as employees watched their net worth decline. There will always be winners and losers on Wall Street and it has been a great time helping those that were locked up with high stock prices find new and better opportunities for themselves.

The only pockets of good news for the recruiting sector seem to be coming from small and mid-sized search firms. What are some of the advantages of being a small, boutique player?

Simply put, boutique firms offer a competitive advantage to their client companies. Starting with the breadth of companies from which they can recruit from (based on conflict of interest issues at larger firms) and ending with not having to placate stock holders if they are a public company. It is my belief that client companies want to make sure that their interests are paramount and not have to worry about search firms trying to serve their own shareholders' needs to the detriment of the client.

Are hiring companies more likely to go with a boutique firm in a down economy?

Fundamentally I think that hiring managers will work with the people they trust and feel can do the best job, big company or small. That said, in a down economy, boutique firms have greater flexible as it relates to fees.

Are candidates more hesitant to change careers in this economy — has the declining real estate market made it more difficult for candidates to consider moving from one geographic area to another?

The economy and resale value of homes has certainly added another level of complexity to moving a candidate. We have found a correlation between the cities most affected by the housing downturn and the cities suffering the greatest job loss. Candidates are beginning to realize that sometimes to take that next step in their careers they will have to take a small loss on their house to take a giant step forward in their career. Also, depending on the size of the company, we have seen some of our larger clients still taking care of full relocation expenses.

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