September 25, 2015 – Andrew Norrie is managing partner and co-founder of Toronto-based Four Corners Group, a generalist boutique search firm founded in 2007. Andrew’s career in executive search began 17 years ago at Terham Consultants, a specialist recruiting firm focused on placing marketing and advertising executives, He later served at Odgers Berndtson as partner.
In this interview Andrew reveals how he has positioned his firm in the burgeoning Canadian business sector and gives his views on competing in the U.S., where the firm has recently expanded. Andrew discusses his firm’s association with InterSearch, one of the world’s largest search networks, and how that has helped increase his firm’s global footprint. He then explores how social media technologies have impacted recruiting, and how diversity has become a key driver in his business.
Andrew, compare and contrast your firm against the larger search brands in the Canadian market.
There are really three key differentiators when we compare Four Corners Group to the large, publicly-held search firms. First, our firm was founded on being more hands-on with clients, delivering a more personalized approach and executing with excellence. Having spent time as a partner in a multinational search firm, there is an expectation to be billing and generating revenue, not executing the work for your clients. We fly under the radar a bit because all of our work comes by referral and the partners here execute so many critical components of any search assignment themselves. This allows for greater success in my view. There was an article in the Economist a couple of years ago that said one of the global firms did an audit of their own placements and only 40 percent of placed candidates were still in the role after 18 months; our same statistic is 98.5 percent. That’s why clients keep returning. The other key differentiator for us is our value proposition. Our clients are our core concern; if we aren’t delivering for them, they have a thousand other options on how to fill a role. With the public search firms, their core concern is the shareholder. That’s a very conflicting agenda. Finally, I think of our firm as being more innovative. Some of our services are very unique in the Canadian market – which is also, in part, why we’ve expanded into the United States. We’ve succeeded in ‘building a better mousetrap.’
As a Canadian-based search firm how do you effectively compete for assignments in the U.S.?
We’ve only recently started to expand in the United States. About 10 percent of our overall revenue was generated from U.S. clients last year. We’ve been very thoughtful about the kinds of U.S. clients to partner with; it has to make sense for them and for us. We would only take on a client if we could add immediate value and make a significant impact. The recruiting industry is fortunate in that technology is a huge facilitator for enabling cross-border business. Again, it comes down to our success rate and size – both of which weigh in our favor – and the uniqueness of our services.
Four Corners Group is a member of InterSearch. How much of a difference does that make when working on cross-border assignments?
InterSearch was a great achievement for our firm when we joined in 2009. To become part of this network so soon after launching our business was a tremendous accolade for us. There are certain searches when InterSearch plays a critical role. We did a product development search in the medical device industry recently and we were looking for talent with some very precise skill sets. Our InterSearch partners were very helpful and we ended up relocating a British citizen, working in Portugal at the time, to Canada for the role. Our client was thrilled with the outcome. We have also had a global technology client here in Canada leverage our InterSearch network. They had to hire sales people in Belgium, Germany, Italy and France, and were incredibly appreciative that we were able to introduce them to excellent local search firms in each of those markets. It made a significant impact on their business because we were able to mobilize so quickly and execute on those assignments.
How has social media technology altered the competitive landscape for firms your size?
I think social media, as a whole, is quite important for our industry. We use Twitter to share thought leadership and communicate with clients. It’s a fantastic way to collect and share information. We use Facebook as more of a resource to younger people in the workforce, those who are at the early stages of building their careers. We work hard to maintain a relevant presence by being thoughtful about what we post and what we share. Like most search firms, we use LinkedIn as a resource to help with candidate research, but we are cautious not to over rely on it. There are two reasons for that: First, not every candidate is on LinkedIn; it’s not the complete candidate landscape for any search. I know many executives who don’t believe in LinkedIn and would never post their profile to a social media site. As search professionals, we need to be mindful of this and ensure we continue to see LinkedIn for what it is – a single source of candidate information, but most certainly not the only source. Second, LinkedIn has opened up the market of candidate information – which is different than recruitment and assessment. There are still so many components to the overall search process that require thought and expertise in order to be successful. In fact, now that so many search firms and corporations have access to the same candidate information on LinkedIn, the focus of our job becomes engaging and influencing people that are getting bombarded by multiple messages about new career opportunities on a daily and weekly basis. A great search practitioner knows that candidate engagement is an art, and practices it on a daily basis.
Your firm is known to place a heavy emphasis on diversity. Why?
Diversity is a critical part of our values and a wonderful mandate we are trying to support within our industry. One of our partners, Jane Griffith, has been a great champion of this by leading our firm as one of the key supporters of the 30% Club in Canada. Thirty years ago, many people would have rolled their eyes at this notion, it feels like only recently that the topic has some significant momentum and, while there is still a long way to go to have diversification be a critical component of corporate hiring, some progress is being made. You can’t work in a world focused on globalization without having diversity – the two need to co-exist in order to be successful. Personally, I would love to see the search industry embrace diversity in a meaningful way, and come together to demonstrate our collective values. There is no good reason to oppose diversity, it can only make every organization stronger.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media