An Inside Look at Recruiting In the Global Payments and Big Data Sector

June 24, 2016 – Many executive recruiters work in well-defined and traditional business sectors which have attracted thousands of qualified consultants over the years. But with the advent of technology and its continual expansion, new sectors have emerged that are as much of the organization fabric as any others.

One such area is the payments and digital sector. It encompasses a wide swath of functional niche areas including digital, mobile payments, fin-tech, loyalty, and big data & analytics, among other related disciplines. One recruiter leading this sector is Chris Pantelidis. As global head of EMA Partners’ global payments, digital & transaction services practice in Toronto and New York, he is supporting financial institutions, retailers and technology companies as well as cutting edge innovators and new disruptors who are all contributing to revolutionizing the way we live and work today.

In this interview Chris addresses the challenges in recruiting for this sector and its position as a driving force in technology. Prior to joining EMA, Chris was a partner in the financial services practice at Odgers Berndtson.


Unlike many who enter executive search from outside the recruiting industry, you started your career in search with a boutique firm and then joined Odgers Berndtson. Why did you decide that executive search was the best career path from the start?

I started my career at a boutique search firm in 1995. It was an opportunistic decision for me. I was presented with an opportunity to get into the search industry through a close contact of mine. I wasn’t pursuing a career in executive search at the time but I was looking for a profession where I could capitalize on my desire to become a specialist in a specific field developing expertise in a growth area. When I started my career in the industry the goal was to find a gap in the market where there was a need for an SME that didn’t exist at the time. I quickly identified the need for an executive search practitioner in the payments & transaction services industry. There were many large complex organizations, medium sized companies and associations that expressed the desire to work with an executive search consultant that truly understood their business. The payments business was going through a great deal of change and growth and it was also experiencing a talent shortage across the ecosystem at the executive level so it was an opportune time to get immersed in the business.

You arguably manage one of the most successful global payments, digital & transactions services search practices in the field. What can you tell us about it and why has it become so critical?

Our global payments practice covers a wide spectrum of organizations across industry sectors. The best way to think about it is to consider how many players are involved in the facilitation of payments or loyalty transactions – you have banks, retailers, tech companies, networks, merchant processors, and consumers.  Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed new companies challenge traditional and legacy organizations. New entrants have emerged through acquisition, or through the development of new technology and applications. The payments ecosystem has seen a transformation with pure play digital companies like Apple & Amazon – both have augmented business lines by creating innovative ways for consumers to shop and pay. To remain competitive, organizations need to hire exceptional leaders who have specific skills expertise and experience in digital companies or digital transformation. There is a massive talent shortage at the C-level across functional areas and across business lines in this sector.  As more companies realize the need to evolve with digital, to innovate, and to disrupt, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify and attract talented executives. It’s critical for leaders to understand payments – both legacy systems and disruptive applications. They need to drive strategy and transformation, and promote growth as well as stability.

Chris, where do you see Big Data heading in the next 10 years?

Big Data is a key component of the digital evolution. Organizations use data to change the way they operate or to improve products and services, and the analysis and manipulation of that data has become a driver of revenues and profits. Over the next 10 years the scale and diversity of Big Data will lead to new sources of insight that will allow companies to engage with customers in unique ways. Many experts believe that there is a time lag between insights and the utilization of data, so there is a need to generate real-time results and use them to gain a competitive edge. Continuous research and development is paramount in this area, and the trend of building centers of excellence to support big data initiatives will continue. We are seeing an increase in demand for chief data officers, chief data scientists, chief analytics and chief digital officers. Similar to other digital roles, organizations are finding it very difficult to identify strong leadership talent in these areas. It is a niche market that is getting more complex, where the demand for talent far outweighs the supply.

Certain sectors have experienced a talent shortage, particularly at the C-Level. How have you been able to source top talent in an environment that is so competitive?

There are a few basic things search practitioners need to do to be successful when sourcing C- level talent. First of all you need to be credible and to do that you need to be knowledgeable about the businesses that you serve. You also need to establish strong, long lasting relationships with key leaders in your area of specialty. The most sought after C-level talent will get approached and offered opportunities on numerous occasions. If your value proposition is compelling and you’re a known entity in the market, that goes a long way to forging a relationship and enticing top professionals. A lot has been said on how to successfully partner with clients – they want to ensure that you’re able to identify best-in-class leaders for any given role. And I believe that you need to think about partnering with top talent in a similar fashion. Top talent wants to be represented by the highest degree of professionalism and they want the same assurances that organizations want, that they’re being presented with the best-in-class opportunities.  You have to be prepared to invest the time to forge close relationships with top talent. I’m interested in developing new relationships with trend setters and market leaders across the areas that I specialize in. We all have access to candidate profiles and if you’re a seasoned search professional you will likely have developed a sound search strategy and execution methodology. The differentiator lies in your ability to relate to top leaders in a compelling, unique and credible way.

Chris, define leadership.

True leadership is having the ability to guide people towards achieving specific goals. The best leaders are authentic about creating an environment of collaboration and trust. Inspirational leader are always in high demand. The ability to influence, think strategically and build strong and capable management teams are all qualities that we look for in a senior leader. Today, organizations need executives who can lead transformation, and in particular, digital transformation. Global experience is not only a ‘nice to have’ – it’s often a necessity to bring an international perspective to a mandate. I think it’s important for leaders in non-technology sectors to have an understanding of how technology is impacting their businesses. It’s a given – leaders must be digitally savvy. And finally, leaders must possess the ability to select the right talent for an executive team, as well as promote a culture throughout the organization that fosters employee commitment and long term loyalty.

Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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