Armstrong Craven Moves to Employee-Owned Business Platform

Citing the benefits of employee ownership and a dedicated team, the U.K.-based search firm says the shift will make its business stronger by deepening ties with 50-plus employees. “We felt it was important that they were able to share in any future success of the business,” said joint managing director Peter Howarth. Here’s the latest.

September 29, 2020 – Executive search firm Armstrong Craven, headquartered in Manchester, U.K., has become a majority employee-owned business. The firm will continue to be led by joint managing directors Rachel Davis and Peter Howarth. “We have long believed that the well-known benefits of employee ownership, when combined with our extremely dedicated team, will be a recipe for success, and we expect to see our business go from strength to strength under our new co-ownership structure,” the firm said.

Everyone in the firm, slightly more than 50 people, is now part of the new ownership platform. Armstrong Craven also has plans in place that any new starters will also become owners. “Retention was obviously one of the things we thought about when we took the decision to become employee owned,” said Mr. Howarth. “But it is more than that for us. We ask a lot of our people and they are all experienced and highly committed to providing great work for our clients. We felt it was important that they were able to share in any future success of the business, so better retention is hopefully the result of what we are doing rather than the reason for it.”

Next month, New York City-based Solomon Page will shift to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) model to, among other things, enhance the firm’s ability to recruit and retain top talent. ESOPs, according to financial experts, are most commonly used to provide a market for the shares of departing owners of successful closely held companies, to motivate and reward employees, or to take advantage of incentives to borrow money for acquiring new assets in pretax dollars. In almost every case, ESOPs are a contribution to the employee, not an employee purchase. Whether this becomes a new trend among executive search firms remains to be seen, but clearly the pandemic is creating an environment where many of the old rules of managing and ownership no longer apply.

Mr. Howarth said that he, Ms. Davis and the firm’s chairman, Mark Bates, led the change in ownership. “We had a majority PE owner for six years which throughout that time worked with the leadership team to develop Armstrong Craven,” he said. “Their guiding hand helped us expand our global footprint in Singapore, Switzerland and most recently the U.S., as well as develop great practices and strong stewardship. In discussions with our former owner which started in earnest very early this year we agreed that their direct input to the business had run its natural course, and they agreed to support our change to becoming a majority employee owned business.”

According to insiders, Armstrong Craven has always had a real family feel to it and alongside that a highly professional, quality orientated mindset. “That is one of the main reasons why I joined a year ago,” said Mr. Howarth. “Our people routinely go the extra mile for clients, and because of that we have always had a small shareholding for the wider team.”

A More Flexible Approach

“We are all ambitious about growth and think that the market is ready for more flexible ways for clients to access the best talent,” he said. “We felt the best way to achieve that, given that we know how much hard work it will take, is to give everyone a financial interest in the company to go along with their emotional one. With this new structure we have been able to increase the shareholding for all staff  tenfold, which we think is absolutely the right way to run a business which is so reliant on the skill and dedication of its people – which as with most talent businesses are our only real asset.”

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Mr. Howarth said that he disruption from the pandemic, although difficult for every business, will bring the market disruption that will help clients to change their mindset and try new methods of finding scarce and senior talent. “In addition, clients will need support understanding what the new talent landscape actually looks like,” he said. “And both of those things we have been doing well for the last 30 years.”

Related: Conducting a Job Search During a Global Pandemic

The Armstrong Craven “deconstructed” approach to executive search means each research element can be commissioned on its own, as well as providing end-to-end searches, said the firm. Armstrong Craven also gives clients full data ownership, meaning they can make additional hires at no extra cost. The search firm’s talent research and consulting advice provides company boards with an independent view on business-critical people problems they need to solve to make their organization succeed. These projects can range from how to increase ethnic, gender or neurodiversity, right through to predicting global future talent hubs for in-demand skills such as data science.

Is Your Business Ready for the Talent Storm?
When the pandemic is over, one result might be a period of unprecedented hiring activity as businesses reboot their talent acquisition processes, according to a new report from Armstrong Craven. Proactive recruiters could well find that top-line talent once impossible to even talk to is now accessible. Here’s more, with additional insight from Peter Howarth about some changes already underway.

Armstrong Craven provides a number of unique services and solutions to clients, including talent mapping and pipelining. That seems to be resonating with clients the world over, who are seeking flexible talent solutions along with flexible pricing. “Our deconstructed search model has become increasingly popular in the current climate,” said Mr. Howarth.

“There are several attractions to clients. Our clients receiving full data ownership is one, particularly if there is scope for more than one hire to be made where skill shortages are the main driver rather than a specific executive hire, as the second hire can often be made at no extra cost. With more traditional executive appointments the ability to commission each part of a search independently gives clients the ability to manage costs far more effectively, and also allows them to ensure their internal executive search teams can be fully utilized by taking our work forward at any point as capacity allows. The fact that we also look at the whole of the market for every search (rather than relying on a black book) means we can identify candidates more easily who have never been open to hearing about new roles before – those unicorn candidates!”

Respected Recruiters

Over 85 percent of Armstrong Craven’s work comes through professional recommendations from its clients, which include some of the worlds’ most recognizable companies, including Microsoft, GSK, Coca Cola and Bank of America. As a global talent partner, the firm’s team has fluency in 25 languages from its offices in Manchester, London, Geneva, Singapore and New York.

Last year, Armstrong Craven’s CEO, Kanesh Khilosia, stepped down. He is currently chief finance and strategy officer for international e-liquid manufacturer Flavour Warehouse Ltd. He was not replaced, and Ms. Davis and Mr. Howarth currently lead the firm.

Ms. Davis joined Armstrong Craven in 1998 and is responsible for business development and driving the sales performance of the business globally. She previously held roles as COO and practice lead, responsible for driving the global growth of the healthcare and life sciences practice.

Mr. Howarth joined the firm last year. He takes a lead on the commercial activities of Armstrong Craven, managing its team client partners and helping to further develop client relationships. Through over 20 years in recruitment and several years in HR consultancy, Mr. Howarth has significant experience of managing the performance of commercial teams and re-shaping organizations, as well as leading and developing people. He has a background in HR consulting and recruitment, and has worked for listed and private equity backed recruitment companies in leadership roles.

Related: Conducting Executive Searches During a Pandemic

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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