October 4, 2015 – In all the excitement of finding faster and more efficient ways of identifying top talent what is getting lost is how important executive recruiters are to the business of building world class teams of people. LinkedIn and other social media identification platforms might be the rage today, but headhunters I speak with on a daily basis say that technology in and of itself can only go so far – especially the higher up the corporate ladder one ascends. To be sure, top-end recruiters face enormous challenges of their own, from competing with in-house teams of talent management professionals to dealing with an enormous surge of recruiting rivals pounding the pavement in every city around the globe.
I’ve been tracking the talent and leadership solutions field for more than 25 years now and I cannot recall a time even remotely like this which the executive recruiting profession is battling through. But stepping back just a bit, I see the ongoing advances in technology and proliferation of third-party databases affecting everybody: recruiters, in-house talent managers and candidates. Who the clear winners are today, and who they might be a decade from now, is not exactly a metric than anyone seems to have a clear handle on.
David Barrett, a managing partner with New York-based David Barrett Partners, a boutique specialist search firm which recruits senior and C-level professionals for the investment and wealth management sector, has been a leading recruitment advisor in this sector for nearly 20 years. Just after being featured in Chief Investment Officer’s How to Lose Jobs & Alienate Everyone and The Talent Allocators, he sat down with recruiting industry tracking firm, Hunt Scanlon Media, to discuss the nuances of recruiting in this demanding sector, and what we can expect to see across the recruiting spectrum in the next few years.
“Recruiting top talent in our space has always been challenging and even with ongoing advances in technology and, as you say, the proliferation of third-party candidate databases, it will not get easier,” said Mr. Barrett. “The investment and wealth management area is a very high paying industry and if someone is successful in it, there will often be little incentive or reason to consider a move.” That means recruiting in the sector can be fraught with obstacles, bumps in the road, and more likely than not – pure frustration.
“Quality platforms, of course, will always be able to attract talent – but it will be increasingly difficult for undifferentiated platforms to attract and retain world class talent,” said Mr. Barrett. In either case, candidate identification is being commoditized. “Investment managers will need experienced recruiters whose real value-add is their ability to access and calibrate the appropriate pools of talent.”
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, Mr. Barrett believes, the challenge for recruiters will be to demonstrate that they have the relationships, the market credibility, and the industry knowledge to not just serve up candidates, but to deliver the right ones. It is something electronic databases struggle with and will likely never overcome.
“We work in a high-end, high-touch people business,” said Mr. Barrett. “The need for personal, focused, client- and candidate-centric, senior level recruiting will only grow in importance.” The volume of mid-level search work, he said, with the growth of internal recruiting departments and third party candidate identification technology tools, may level out – “but what we do at the top of organizations will always be important.”
“Having a specialty focus, global reach and a business model that is tightly aligned with the best interests of clients in mind will only be more important in the years ahead as the world gets smaller and the demand for world class talent grows.” Barrett Partners has offices in New York, Boston and London – with Hong Kong coming online soon. “There is no question that our clients want a search firm that can access talent, and is in the flow, at local, regional and global levels. Being ‘on the ground’ in the U.S., UK/Europe and Asia is an important differentiation for us.”
Mr. Barrett said that his global clients are increasingly consolidating their search firm relationships and seeking search partners who know them well and who can deliver “a consistent search product” around the world. “The ‘global reach’ point was the card we played when we were with large, multi-industry search firms. Today, we have that card, along with other advantages, that differentiates our boutique firm and allows us to deliver the highest quality product possible.”
Mr. Barrett spent 17 years with two highly respected, global search outfits: Russell Reynolds Associates and later at Heidrick & Struggles, where for eight years he ran the firm’s global asset and wealth management practice. That ‘big firm’ training set a unique foundation – nearly 20 years on, the majority of the 12 recruiters at his firm have been trained in large, multi-industry search firms. “I believe we bring the best of that large firm training to all of our current searches,” said Mr. Barrett.
“As we tell prospective clients, a successful search is not dependent on whether you use a large or boutique recruiting firm; the more important facet is the focused, hands-on involvement of senior level recruiters who are credible in the space, actually executing the work themselves, and who are not subject to large firm off-limits constraints. We feel our boutique structure offers clients the highest probability for success on any given search.”
At Barrett Partners, seasoned recruiters, in teams of two, personally execute all aspects of the search process. They do this without junior recruiter execution leverage or, more importantly, the financial need. “It is that alignment of interests between the recruiter and the client that motivated us to commit to the boutique model,” he said.
“As a boutique, our goal is to do as much work as possible for as few firms as possible, thereby maintaining our competitive edge in terms of off-limits and access to talent. Being the only global boutique firm dedicated solely to the investment space hopefully differentiates us in that context.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media