Hunt Scanlon’s Top 10 Recruiting Acquisitions of 2021

December 22, 2021 – Acquisitions made huge news in the recruiting industry this year, and for good reason. Outside investors finally caught on to the sector’s expansion potential and long growth runway ahead. Top search leaders also found ways to maximize profit (cutting back on office space helped every search firm achieve a better bottom line in 2021). That made them highly attractive to private equity firms looking for platforms they could accelerate. Hunt Scanlon Ventures was at the center of much of the consolidation activity, having closed six deals in its first full year of operation. Hunt Scanlon’s M&A business has seven deals closing in the first half of 2022, with five more in the pipeline.

The reasons and strategies behind the deals varied, said CEO Scott A. Scanlon, but strengthening offerings and gaining market share was on everyone’s mind. ZRG Partners, which has been steadily expanding in recent years, acquired culture transformation firm Walking the Talk with an eye on the big business that culture consulting is poised to become. Meanwhile, Caldwell’s acquisition of Applied Behavioral Academy, a cognitive psychometrics consultancy, along with the addition of IQTalent Partners late last year, will help Caldwell’s clients bring data-driven analytical rigor to their hires. Nor did Korn Ferry stay on the sidelines; its acquisition of Lucas Group, a professional search and contract staffing firm that targets middle market businesses, gives the largest search firm an even stronger full-service operation.

CTR Group, for its part, saw a great opportunity to gain market share as well as establish new toeholds with bigger partners when it reeled in RM Nephew & Associates. In the meantime, Heidrick & Struggles’ acquisition of Business Talent Group, a marketplace for high-end independent talent on demand, was a golden opportunity to expand its executive talent solutions offerings and make a splash in the rising interim talent solutions area. And with the purchase of Arete Partners, Riviera Partners built upon its focus on Seed-to-B stage VC-backed start-ups, boosting its market coverage of earlier-stage companies and bringing its proprietary service-meets-tech offering to clients of both organizations.

Other firms were breaking into or strengthening their position in a range of business sectors. True’s purchase of Hobbs & Towne, a fast-growing climate technology and sustainability executive search firm, for one, gives True a powerful position in a sector that will be in our lives for years to come. It was similar thinking that brought Kirby Bates Associates and Tyler & Company together, only with the focus being on healthcare and life sciences. And the promise of the sports, media and entertainment sector fueled both ZRG’s acquisition of Turnkey Search and SRI’s purchase of Marquee Search.

Let’s go inside the deal making that made headlines in 2021!

ZRG Acquires Walking the Talk
Executive search firm ZRG acquired Walking the Talk, a consulting and advisory firm focused on culture transformation, halfway through 2021. Hunt Scanlon Ventures facilitated the introduction and transaction between both organizations in its first cross-border M&A assignment. Walking the Talk, headquartered in Amsterdam, specializes in enhancing performance results by aligning culture with strategy. Since the company was established 11 years ago, culture has landed firmly on the agenda of most executive teams and boards of directors, making this the premier acquisition of the year. As pioneers in this field, understanding the impact culture has on growth, performance, and reputation, Walking the Talk has grown to become the largest consulting firm solely focused on the culture agenda. The firm operates globally and has supported clients on dozens of engagements, which can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. “Hiring top talent that aligns with a client’s culture objective has been a key success factor for ZRG,” said Larry Hartmann, CEO of ZRG. “With the addition of Walking the Talk, we will expand our consulting and talent solutions capabilities, helping our clients address challenging topics like change management and culture transformation. Walking the Talk’s intellectual property developed by Carolyn Taylor and the team will enhance our ability to understand, measure and assess culture contribution at multiple levels. We see great power in the combination of our two businesses,” he said.

Caldwell Acquires Applied Behavioral Academy
Toronto-based Caldwell acquired Applied Behavioral Academy (ABA), a behavioral and cognitive psychometrics consultancy that leverages highly respected, results-driven tools to assess talent and to align people and business strategies, in 2021. Coincident with the acquisition, Caldwell expanded its alliance with The Predictive Index (PI), launching Caldwell Analytics as a PI Master Certified Training Center, delivering programs and workshops to train clients and other PI Certified Partners and their clients on all aspects of PI that initiate immediate transformation in their organizations. “As Caldwell continues its transformational growth trajectory, the integration of the Applied Behavioral Academy team represents another important step forward for us,” said John Wallace, CEO of Caldwell. “Our focus and priority is to connect our clients with transformational talent, delivering long-term improvement to their enterprise, and increasing value to our shareholders. The added capabilities at both executive and enterprise levels that ABA brings to Caldwell will help our clients apply the same data-driven analytical rigor in their approach to talent acquisition and performance as they do in their financial and operational decisions.”

True Acquires Climate Tech Leader Hobbs & Towne
Haddonfield, NJ-based True, a global executive talent management platform, acquired climate technology and sustainability executive search firm Hobbs & Towne, Inc. (HTI) as 2021 came to a close. The merger combined two Top 25 search firms. Led by Andy Towne and Bob Hobbs, HTI will continue to serve its mission-driven clients and provide a greater range of capabilities under True. True, one of the fastest growing search firms of the past decade, will report $270 million in global revenue for 2021, of which nearly $230 million will come from its U.S. business (a growth rate of 130 percent), according to Hunt Scanlon Media estimates. (That excludes revenue from its end-of-year HTI acquisition). Including 32 people from the HTI acquisition, True added some 350 professionals to its global roster in 2021 alone, cementing its place as the top place to work among high-end search firms. “This is a wonderful transaction for both firms, a perfect fit,” said Scott A. Scanlon, CEO of Hunt Scanlon Ventures, which helped facilitate the transaction and served as a strategic advisor to Hobbs & Towne. “As we all make the transformational shift to cleaner, more sustainable living, True is buying into a super high growth category with big momentum. For its part, Hobbs & Towne is joining one of the most progressive leadership teams in our industry,” he noted.

Korn Ferry Acquires Lucas Group
Korn Ferry entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Lucas Group this year. Lucas Group gives Korn Ferry professional search and contracting expertise which is expected to enhance the firm’s search portfolio. “This combination is the right move at the right time,” said Korn Ferry CEO Gary D. Burnison. “Today’s workscape is being transformed before our eyes – people working anywhere, everywhere and at any time. Professionals are on the move, Boomers are retiring and career nomads are looking for change – early and often. We are seizing this opportunity to help clients find the right talent who are highly agile with specialized skills and expertise to help them drive superior performance,” added Mr. Burnison. “We are pleased to find the ideal strategic home at Korn Ferry,” said Randy Marmon, president and CEO of Lucas Group. “We are excited about what the future will bring from this acquisition in terms of anticipated synergistic offerings for our clients as well as career opportunities for our employees.”

SRI Acquires Marquee Search
M&A deals happened with a little help from our overseas friends as well. London-based executive recruiting firm SRI acquired Marquee Search, an executive search firm serving the sports sector that has placed over 1,000 mid-senior executives. The partnership brings together Marquee’s 20 years of North American sports expertise with SRI’s 20 years of serving the converging sport, media, entertainment and technology landscape across four continents. The acquisition has Jeff Yocom (formerly founder and president of Marquee Search) and Tyler Nelson (formerly director, executive search, Marquee Search) joining SRI to bolster its global sports practice. They will both be based in Portland, OR, further strengthening the existing North American team. “Jeff’s shared passion for building trusted long-term relationships with clients along with his deep experience of working in the sport and entertainment sectors make him an outstanding fit for SRI,” said Jay Hussey, SRI’s CEO, North America. “Tyler is a strong executive search operator, and they will both play a significant role in the expansion of SRI’s capability here in North America,” he added. They join Paul Chidley, SRI’s partner based out of Los Angeles, bringing a powerful and highly effective team to clients across the space.

Kirby Bates Associates Acquires Tyler & Company
Orlando, FL-headquartered healthcare-focused search firm Kirby Bates Associates (KBA) and Tyler & Company merged business operations in 2021. The unified organization now operates under the Kirby Bates Associates brand. “Tyler & Company offers an exciting opportunity for Kirby Bates to strengthen its service and scope in healthcare executive leadership,” said Melissa A. Fitzpatrick, president of Kirby Bates Associates and Tyler & Company. “With its range of high-profile clients and service expertise, Tyler & Company’s complementary offerings are highly aligned to Kirby Bates’ strategy to lead the market by expanding services throughout the C-suite and across the continuum of care.” The merging of Tyler & Company into Kirby Bates presents a major growth opportunity for both businesses, said Shane Jackson, president of Jackson Healthcare, the parent company of Kirby Bates Associates and Tyler & Company. “By combining the organizations into one, we can now effectively meet even more of our clients’ existing and emerging needs, benefiting healthcare leaders and care delivery organizations across the country.”

CTR Group Acquires RM Nephew & Associates
A group of private investors led by majority partner CTR Group, a Virginia-based, family-owned employment services firm, completed its acquisition of RM Nephew & Associates, an executive search firm headquartered in Boston, MA. Hunt Scanlon Ventures facilitated the introduction and the transaction. RM Nephew and Associates, with offices in Boston and New York, offers partnership-driven solutions to business leadership and recruitment challenges for a premier list of clients, primarily in the healthcare, technology, and professional services sectors. Those clients range from Fortune 500 companies to mid-sized firms and private equity-sponsored enterprises. The firm has extensive experience partnering with privately held, family-owned businesses and has conducted numerous C-suite and board-level searches over the past decade. RM Nephew & Associates was founded in 2010 by Robert Nephew, an executive search veteran with more than 35 years of experience. For RM Nephew, the acquisition positions the firm for sustained growth and expansion and will enable it to better serve its clients on a multinational level. “Backed by the resources of CTR Group, RM Nephew will now have the opportunity to grow an already impressive in-house research and recruiting team, deepen its functional and industry expertise, and expand its international capabilities,” said Scott A. Scanlon, who assisted both firms in the transaction. “It is an honor for my firm to have been selected as the core platform from which CTR Group will build its exceptional, mid-sized executive search firm,” said Mr. Nephew.

Heidrick & Struggles Acquires Business Talent Group
Executive search, leadership consulting and culture shaping services provider Heidrick & Struggles closed its acquisition of Business Talent Group (BTG), a marketplace for high-end independent talent on demand, in 2021. The addition of BTG complements Heidrick & Struggles’ strategic growth initiative to expand its suite of executive talent solutions to address new and ongoing client demands and builds on a two-year exclusive collaboration with BTG that began in 2019. BTG will continue to be led by co-founders and co-CEOs, Jody Greenstone Miller and Amelia Tyagi, and operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Heidrick. “Heidrick & Struggles was a forerunner of the executive search industry when the firm was founded more than 65 years ago,” said CEO Krishnan Rajagopalan. “The seismic changes over the past year have accelerated the future of work and underscored the importance of agile leaders and workforces. We are excited to be the first global leadership advisory firm to enter the on-demand, independent talent space and partner with BTG, a leader and pioneer of the high-end independent talent marketplace.” BTG will continue to provide clients seamless on-demand access to top independent talent, including professionals with deep industry and functional expertise for interim leadership roles and critical, project-based initiatives, such as performing a market assessment, developing an ecommerce strategy, standing up a PPE supply chain or placing an interim CHRO to prepare for an IPO. BTG’s marketplace and model deliver the right independent talent on demand by blending proprietary data and technology – including the private and confidential First Look ® project-bidding platform that ensures the most efficient pricing – with a dedicated talent solutions team.

Riviera Partners Acquires Arete Partners, Creates Riviera Ventures
Riviera Partners, a recruitment provider specializing in C-level engineering, product and design leader placements, acquired Arete Partners during the second year of the pandemic. The Arete Partners team now form the foundation of Riviera Ventures and will build upon its focus on Seed-to-B stage VC-backed startups. Eóin O’ Toole, co-founder and CEO of Arete Partners, is leading the new Riviera Ventures unit. Over the course of the past six years, Arete Partners has placed executive talent for Seed-to-B stage companies with “an understanding that the earliest leadership hires are of critical importance if startups are to reach their full potential,” Riviera Partners said in a statement. “The focus and specialization our companies share makes us highly compatible and will help us meet the existing and increasing demand for tech leadership recruiting,” said Will Hunsinger, CEO of Riviera Partners. “With this acquisition and Arete’s expertise, we significantly enhance our market coverage of earlier-stage companies while bringing our proprietary service-meets-tech offering to our combined clientele.” Riviera Partners is “synonymous with startup recruiting, a position earned through a relentless focus on quality and specialization,” said Mr. O’Toole. “The Arete team has become the leader in identifying emerging executive talent at a startup’s earliest stages,” he said. “I am both excited and confident that the combined entity – leveraging Riviera Partners’ proprietary ML-enabled platform – will deliver even greater value creation for our VC partners, clients, and candidates.”

ZRG Acquires Turnkey Search
ZRG made a major move into the sports, entertainment & media sectors by acquiring Turnkey Search as 2021 kicked off. Renamed TurnkeyZRG, all Turnkey staff and assets merged into ZRG, led by Len Perna, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Turnkey. Turnkey now adopts ZRG’s tech-enabled, data-driven approach to the search process which it says will give the combined firm a competitive edge in the hunt for sports, media, and entertainment talent. Larry Hartmann, CEO of ZRG, called the deal a “blockbuster acquisition.” Hunt Scanlon Ventures facilitated the introduction and transaction between ZRG and Turnkey, both perennial leaders in Hunt Scanlon’s rankings of executive search firms. “Len Perna built Turnkey into the most formidable sports recruiting brand in the nation,” said Scott A. Scanlon, CEO of Hunt Scanlon Media. “This combination allows ZRG to deliver its ‘Moneyball’ approach to sports and entertainment, using a proprietary Z Score ‘scorecard’ to leverage data and analytics into better hiring decisions,” he said. “Unlocking hidden value in talent and skills makes this the ultimate Moneyball team. It is a game-changer in sports & entertainment recruiting,” Mr. Scanlon said. “We landed the best sports executive search firm, and the No. 1 talent recruiter in Len Perna,” said Mr. Hartmann. “Len started Turnkey 25 years ago, and consistently won gold-standard clients from billion-dollar competitors. Along the way, Turnkey cemented a reputation for integrity, accountability, and prioritizing diversity long before others.”

Teneo Acquires Ridgeway Partners
Global CEO advisory firm Teneo acquired U.K.-based Ridgeway Partners, an advisory firm specializing in executive search, board appointments and succession planning for a wide range of companies. “We are truly delighted to be welcoming the Ridgeway team,” said Declan Kelly, chairman and CEO of Teneo. “CEOs and leading companies today demand integrated services to help address their biggest challenges and opportunities. We believe talent advisory is a critical component of those services and are deeply committed to further building out our global capabilities in this area to best serve Teneo’s clients.” Ridgeway, headquartered in London, has been built from a small, affiliated business into a sizeable independent partnership. And it has been seeking growth and expansion opportunities in the face of the pandemic. The firm has expertise in board appointments and advisory services to both public and private companies, including a special focus on the appointment of diverse directors. Ridgeway’s functional expertise include executive committee roles in finance, IT/digital, risk and HR, operating across all sectors. In addition, Ridgeway has industry experience in retail financial services, investment banking, asset and wealth management, insurance, consumer markets, oil and gas, and technology.

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

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments