December 18, 2020 – Ralph Grayson is a partner with U.K.-headquartered executive search firm Sainty, Hird & Partners. He has 30 years of recruitment experience in the financial services sector. Mr. Grayson specializes in global capital markets across all functions, products, and geographies. He has been instrumental in the establishment of many of the leading equities and investment banking platforms in London, as well as recruiting teams in continental Europe and North America, including CEOs, global heads of investment banking, equities and corresponding functional leaders and teams across all levels of seniority in research, sales and trading. Mr. Grayson recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss his views on the London executive search market.
Ralph, what’s been the primary impact of the pandemic on your business?
The impact has been mixed, although perhaps the underlying issues around regulatory changes and Brexit for London have had more of a strategic impact this year, rather than COVID-19, which has been more of an operational and tactical issue to overcome. The big banks put on hiring freezes in the main, as they do when any market dislocation happens; but at the same time many made public announcements that they would not undertake restructurings nor lay-offs until later in the year, so in fact turnover of staff has fallen across all levels – many hiring approvals had been predicated on flat headcounts. Strategic hiring has continued as people became more comfortable with video engagement; but as we move into the new year, inevitable issues around bonus accruals and expectations have come to the fore, leading to a bid/offer and risk/return reappraisal by both candidates and recruiters.
How have the sectors you serve fared during these challenging times?
In banking, advisory searches have centered around the transition to the new ESG agenda, across transition advisory in resources and energy. In securities, the secondary markets remain largely flat. ECM, equity advisory and private markets have all seen more activity as has debt restructuring and M&A likewise. Insurance remains very active, as does aligned activity around technology, data/AI and cyber. In asset management, “private markets” professionals, in both investment and distribution, and in debt and equity, continue to be in high demand. There remains also demand for quant investors, specialist fundraisers (whether product or client defined) and new areas, such as client experience. There is a lot of M&A activity at all levels of market cap, especially in wealth management, which again is a hot area. The need for greater diversity in London is an accepted fact and a dominant theme and this is reflected not least in a strong demand for new non-executive directors.
Have clients been moving ahead with searches?
Searches were delayed in the second quarter but have largely come back unless the business case had changed due to COVID-19. There is a growing question mark around this quarter (not only COVID-19, but also the U.S. election fallout, Brexit, etc.) and it seems inevitable that some searches not yet completed (or initiated) may be delayed until there is further clarity, at least around the bonus cycle.
How has COVID-19 affected some of your clients?
Most of the larger banks and asset managers have been public in their work from home/return to work policies so nothing to add. It is self-evident that younger employees have been keen to leave their small flats in London and return to work where possible, while more senior personnel with longer commutes and bigger gardens have been happy to delay. There is no evidence yet of firms relocating, although a number of major houses have announced that they are reconsidering the size and structure of their office space.
Despite the economic slowdown Sainty, Hird & Partners has experienced a recent wave of hires, can you provide a brief overview of the new additions?
The firm recently appointed JP Hibbert to lead our new human resources practice. Mr. Hibbert has delivered on mandates across all areas of financial services including: banking, asset management, private equity, hedge funds, insurance, re-insurance and fintech. Mr. Hibbert has 15 years’ experience in search and recruitment as a specialist in placing senior HR professionals into financial services. He has assisted a wide range of clients from small firms and start-ups looking for their first strategic HR director, to the larger global financial institutions wanting to strengthen their HR teams. His appointment follows a number of other senior hires in the firm this year in London. Alex Williams joined Sainty, Hird this past April, Juliet Garforth-Bles also joined the firm in London, and Liz Duggan became a partner in the board practice concentrating on non-executive appointments across a range of industries and sectors.