Bringing Corporate Know-How to a Specialist Search Firm

October 4, 2016 – During his tenure at investment advisor Edward Jones, Matt Huffman was responsible for building and leading the firm’s corporate executive recruitment function.

Working out of the Edward Jones’ headquarters in St. Louis, he executed its most senior searches, among a number of other duties. But one of the greatest rewards of his time there was the insight he gleaned from some of the shortcomings of outside recruitment firms, which he enlisted when his own internal team was at capacity.

Among Matt’s more important efforts was to place talent into those less celebrated, but crucial, positions below the C-suite — at the mid-to-upper mid-level — or as Matt puts it, the “mezzanine.”

Given the nature of financial services, he had no interest in bringing in a middle market generalist search firm. Instead, he wanted to partner with specialists, but not ones that put all their focus on C-level fees. More often than not, he came away disappointed.

Inspiration From Frustration 

As critical as those positions were, Matt found, outside recruiters were often unwilling to take them on, because of the smaller fees such assignments paid, or because they simply were unable to recruit the kind of talent he was after. It created a frustrating dynamic for him.

But what he learned from that experience gave him the inspiration for what would become his own search business, Myriarch Advisors, which he launched last month. Now his mission was to deliver the kind of services that those in the financial services sector might expect from a corporate executive recruiting function blended with a specialist executive search practice.

“The reality is, when you look at strategy development and execution at an enterprise level, the most crucial roles are not always in the C-suite; they are often at the mid to upper mid-level,” Matt told me recently. “Ironically, they also tend to be the most difficult to fill, and the least attended to by search firms large enough to have a specialist practice.” This need is the basis for the founding of Myriarch Advisors.

But Matt knew better than to just dive in. He talked to folks about what he saw, and what they told him verified his hunch. “Over the course of my time in corporate executive recruiting, I was lucky to have developed relationships among my counterparts in the industry, and I decided to test-market the idea of the firm to them,” Matt remembers.

“Guess what I found? Every one of them agreed with me, that they were not happy with the service and results from search firms that were given key role assignments at the mid to upper mid-level.”

The large search firms gave the mezzanine roles inadequate attention because the fees at that level were less than those for the top jobs. And the small firms had inconsistent results, or themselves only chased C-level fees. “So I founded this firm to focus on strategically impactful, financial services infrastructure roles for our clients, at the mid to upper levels, where we know they need a specialist who understands their business and the realities of leading a search from their perspective,” Matt says.

At Edward Jones, he had also seen the growing need for interim executive recruiting, an area that continues to emerge, and made that part of what he would offer his own clients as well. “With transformational regulatory issues affecting wealth management, we saw very few options for a search partner who could provide us with executive, subject-matter expert talent on contract, acting as the legal W-2 employer,” Matt says. “Wealth management, capital markets, banking, insurance, and asset management are all sectors consisting of firms with the need to become much more agile, while working through their strategy for adapting to both regulation and market forces.”

An Unusual Talent Pipeline to Keep Full

St. Louis-based, Myriarch Advisors’ clientele includes those in wealth management, asset management, insurance, and banking. Its engagements largely involve financial infrastructure. One assignment, for instance, has been to find a leader in the risk and compliance function within the investment advisory business of a large bank. Another is to identify a strategic leader in the retirement space focused on product, distribution and engagement with the plan participants for a global assessment management firm. Myriarch Advisors is also active in the trading sector. In that area, it is currently searching for a senior executive to oversee a fixed-income trading platform.

“Our pipeline is largely based on regulatory transformation driving risk management, including actuarial and underwriting leaders for insurance company risk management, operational and investment risk for fee-based platforms transitioning from commission-based businesses, intermediary oversight for asset management firms, and investment professionals who can bring people leadership to transitioning platforms,” says Matt.

Before joining Edward Jones, Matt headed the niche executive search firm Capital Markets Recruiting Partners, which he founded. That entity focused on the recruitment of mid- to senior-level executives in the U.S. and global capital markets. It specialized in investment banking, equity research, institutional sales & trading, institutional asset management and private equity.

Previous to that, Matt was senior vice president of an executive search firm that specialized in financial services. Placing dozens of senior financial services professionals there, he was responsible for creating the overall sales and marketing approach of the firm to the capital markets and asset management community domestically and abroad, and for developing long-term, sustainable relationships with the firm’s top clients.

Serving Clients More Deeply

Having earned his stripes in the search industry, Matt’s shift to corporate recruitment proved to be an invaluable experience. To be able to build an in-house recruitment function from the ground up as part of a large talent management operation was an opportunity that hardly came along every day. At Edward Jones, Matt designed, led and participated in all of the executive level interview processes, including the debrief sessions and third party candidate assessments.

“The depth that I was able to acquire as an internal executive recruiter with regard to not only talent assessment and consultation to senior leaders but also knowledge about the industry and the functions of the business itself was so much more than I expected,” he says.

Much of Matt’s corporate efforts grew out of an annual talent review process, which he and his team used to align the firm’s strategy, structure and talent. “This process gave me tremendous exposure to the inner workings of the broker dealer, the ability to participate in role design and talent assessment, and the mandate to identify and acquire the talent needs of the firm in order to drive strategy,” he says.

But simply having been a search firm client was an education in itself. As Matt noted, the results Edward Jones got from its search partners were often less than optimum. “It’s very different to manage a search from the inside than from the outside, because you have so many more moving parts to align, and I don’t think the executive search side clearly understands that,” he says.

“It was very eye opening to become the client after 10 years of being on the other side of the table. I learned that there is a tremendous opportunity to serve clients more deeply, and to bring them a richer experience from the standpoint of service, technology, speed, advice, and results.”

Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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