How One Executive Search Firm is Weathering the Global Pandemic Storm

The COVID-19 crisis has rocked the executive recruitment industry from one continent to the next. For one German talent provider, Delta Management Consultants, business slowed down but never completely stopped. Adjustments were made, and a coveted award was earned. Managing partner Hans-Matthias Ruppert joins Hunt Scanlon to discuss it all.  

August 11, 2020 – Since being declared a pandemic in March, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the executive search sector. Industry leaders were forced to make swift changes. Budgets were scaled back. And plans were put on hold. Adopting a wartime mindset, search firms have quickly shifted the prime directive of their business to strengthening relationships with clients. It is an unexpected silver lining in a very difficult year for recruiters.

With business beginning to pick up here and there, search firms are learning to do business in new ways. And it is not only a U.S.-based phenomenon. Duesseldorf, Germany-based Delta Management Consultants GmbH has seen the effects of the pandemic in all regions in which it conducts business.

“COVID-19 initially had a significant market impact across all of the areas we serve clients, from assessment and coaching to executive search and other consultative work that we do,” said managing partner Hans-Matthias Ruppert. “U.S. subsidiary companies, in particular, were pretty fast and strict on cutting those service activities to zero.”

Executive search activity, he said, slowed down with face-to-face meetings, “but it never stopped.” Instead, he said, it moved to video. “Searches were postponed for all of us, but they didn’t completely stop.” New assignments are beginning to pick up pace. “We suffered a bit, but from what we have heard we did better than others due to a very strong client base of German family businesses who seemed to have a more long-term view and took the chance to seek out talent during a time of lessened competition for top-flight people.”

 Hans-Matthias Ruppert has worked with a large number of clients over the years, filling senior management positions in the high-tech industry, mechanical and plant engineering, electrical engineering and the automotive sectors. He also advises companies in Central and Eastern Europe and in China and Japan on senior level recruitment and has substantial experience of management audits. Mr. Ruppert spent 10 years working in various positions in the plant and marine engineering industry, including a period with the Bremer Vulkan Group. He moved into executive search in 1989, where he spent considerable time with two well-known American firms and Germany’s leading management consultancy. He joined Delta Management Consultants in early 2004.

Mr. Ruppert said that his firm’s clients have generally been delaying searches. “Of course we did a COVID-19 budget adjustment and took necessary action on cutting costs,” said Mr. Ruppert. “But we are fully operational and very flexible when it comes to managing fast delivery. And yes, we are still optimistic in a market recovery and making something close to the original budget.”

The German Search Market

“The German search market is about 1.2 billion Euro, shrinking during COVID-19 by about 40 percent,” he said, noting that the market is highly diversified with Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, Russell Reynolds Associates, Egon Zehnder and Korn Ferry claiming a major portion of the business. But it is a large and striated market, he added, “with other very active known local and international players like Odgers Berndtson, Signium, Ward Howell, Heads! International, Eric Salmon, and some nice boutiques like us, or Rochus Mummert, Hofmann Consultants, and many small scale firms or individual recruiters.”

Related: 10 Tips for Networking with Executive Recruiters During COVID-19

Delta Management Consultants, which is part of global search consortium Panorama, is conservative when it comes to discussing clients. “We can count some DAX firms and some well-known major German family businesses as our clients,” Mr. Ruppert said. “We also work for private equity investors in the start-up arena. What we could tell is that we do have a strong foothold in helping retail and traditional industrial German companies to digitally transform their businesses.”

Delta Management Consultants Named Best Executive Search Consulting Firm in Germany for Fifth Consecutive Year
Delta Management Consultants has been voted Germany’s best executive search consultancy for the fifth year in a row by German newspaper Die Welt. The top ranking is awarded by an independent survey of more than 2,500 nationwide clients. Delta claims to be well prepared for another challenging year during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing best-in-class leadership advice to clients across Germany and internationally.

“We also serve public holding firms and their portfolio companies,” he said. “And the classic media are a fine example of our expanding client base, too. We also do have TCM and work in biotech. We are a typical boutique firm – close to our clients, strongly committed to deliver quality, and we are flexible. And we have no off-limits issues because we do not accept assignment by competing clients.”

Related: Finding Opportunity in the Face of a Crisis

“Something which is not so known and which we do normally not speak about it, is that we are a technology driven firm working in the cloud, and that gives 24/7 access for clients to our system and we are GDPR certified,” said Mr. Ruppert. “We use algorithms for internal and external candidate surfacing and screening.”

Looking ahead, beyond the pandemic whenever that may be, Mr. Ruppert said that “mastering the digital transformation coming as part of the New Normal will be key for the recovery – not only in Germany, but globally.” Executive search, he said, will ultimately play a highly significant role helping to find, attract and assign the right leadership talent for the fundamental transformation on the way. Hence,  executive search will come back stronger than before and stronger than ever!”

Related: Executive Recruiters Roll Up Their Sleeves as COVID-19 Crisis Unfolds

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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