April 22, 2016 – Launching a new business is no easy task. It requires ideas, talented people, a synergistic culture and a full understanding of the product or service at hand.
When Clark Beecher and Tim Reagan departed search firm Magellan International, where they first met and worked side-by-side for a number of years, they had all of this plus a fair amount of drive. Their determination to build a new platform led to Beecher Reagan Advisors, today the 29th-ranked search firm in the country.
Focused solely on finding leaders in the professional services sector, the firm today enjoys a client base that reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ in consulting. Since inception, they have served the likes of McKinsey & Co., Boston Consulting Group, AT Kearney and Accenture, to name a few. But, creating a business virtually from scratch took passion, persistence, and perseverance – clearly the three essential traits both of these recruiters share.
In the following interview, Clark and Tim discuss why they set out to start their own search firm in 2009. They give insight into their highly specialized market and explore the synergies that exist between the search field and the management consulting sector. They also look at the role technology is playing in how the search for professional services talent is being conducted and how their work with the Global 500, alternative investment sector and private equity is broadening their firm’s client scope. Beecher Reagan Advisors maintains offices in New York, Houston and San Francisco.
Magellan International, where you both worked prior to founding Beecher Reagan Advisors, is a boutique search firm focused on partner level lateral hires in the strategy consulting space. How did your respective tenures there lead you here?
Beecher: At Magellan, where Tim and I met, we were able to identify the ‘need’ for organizations to aggressively go after consulting talent. The demand for this talent was growing in high double digits, but the supply was not. Examples of this might include a consulting firm looking to invest in industry, functional or geographic practice areas; a Fortune 500 company looking for a vein of talent from which we might identify their next executive; or an alternative investments firm that might be identifying professionals to work in operating groups or in companies to improve asset performance. We felt that this level of expertise was not being satisfied by the big search firms nor were their specialists focused enough on who operated in this niche. It was at that point that Tim and I decided there was an opening to form Beecher Reagan.
Reagan: I spent three years at Magellan after spending six years in executive search in Washington, D.C. with other firms. My time at Magellan gave me invaluable tools that have greatly aided my recruiting career. First, and foremost, is being able to bring differential insight to the consulting space. The power to leverage insight from across a firm focused on a single talent market is a differentiator in acquiring clients and executing searches. At Magellan, I was also impressed with how we were able to be true trusted advisors to our clients. I had never seen a search firm able to manage a client and search better, especially with extremely challenging assignments. The transparency of the search process, the ability to provide critical market feedback, and being focused on coaching the client on how to pivot a search when the talent market was not responding to their needs were things that I learned and later used as we built Beecher Reagan around.
There exist many synergies between management consulting and executive search. How has this helped in how you conduct search for clients like A.T. Kearney, Bain, McKinsey and others?
Beecher: It has allowed us to take a ‘trusted advisor’ approach with clients vs. the traditional brokerage model approach of what I term legacy search firms. We advise clients on their needs, we help them define their roles and position profiles, and we then execute the process. We are honest with clients about candidates but never advocate, and we mediate in the closing process. We have incorporated a hypothesis-driven approach, combining the skills of our consulting clients, and applying them to our ‘go to market’ and engagement delivery.
Reagan: We have had the luxury of working with some of the smartest consultancies in the world, and we are constantly taking best practices from those firms and applying them to our own firm. The biggest advantage we have gained from the synergies between management consulting and executive search is one of the pillars of our firm: to become a trusted advisor to our clients. Our role in the process is not just to fill a position, but to advise on the talent landscape and to help shape how clients think about their human capital needs. Tactically, we leverage the synergies between executive search and management consulting. How we assemble the search teams for clients, organize our firm with regard to market and functional focus, and our ability to completely understand our clients’ needs comes from our insight into the management consulting space. There is also a level of client service and a focus on data-driven insight at Beecher Reagan that comes from working closely with management consulting firms for so long. It is a hallmark of their service to their clients, and it is a hallmark of ours as well, and why we boast a 92 percent completion rate for our searches.
Much of your search work today encompasses technology. What do you both see as the biggest changes affecting talent acquisition?
Beecher: Technology is playing a bigger role in the identification process of prospects. I think at lower levels it can be disruptive. At the most senior levels it is still a ‘full contact sport’ that encompasses relationships and art as part of the ability to attract passive candidates to our client. Technology is also playing a vital role in search transparency and reporting. This is good for the client. They should be able to see what we do week-to-week vs. having some random resumes pop out of a magic box on weekly calls.
Reagan: We are seeing technology consulting and services becoming more and more entwined with broader business, operational, and strategy consulting services. As we see formerly disparate consultancies and service lines converge, organizations are looking to add talent that can bridge the gap between technology, operations, and business / strategy consulting. Scaling digital practices is one of the top focuses of our clients today, and the competition for that talent is fierce.
Another area of expertise for Beecher Reagan is in the alternative investment sector. What areas there are most active and what’s driving it?
Beecher: Private equity and hedge funds. PE clients come to us for our access to current and former consulting talent. They deploy this talent in operating groups at the fund level or embed them in the asset companies in transformative roles. The next job of many of these candidates is running portfolio companies. Hedge funds want to expand their business models and become more like long-established asset managers so they can access more traditional pools of capital in phase two of their business growth. They come to us to access consulting talent to drive new concepts and operating models for their businesses.
Reagan: I lead our work in the private equity space, and the largest demand we are seeing is from mid-market PE firms that are building or scaling operating groups. Many mid-market firms are now hyper-focused around one or two industries, and this model allows them to build smaller operating teams (at the fund level) that get great leverage across their entire portfolio. The focus has been on acquiring top-tier strategy and operational consulting talent in-house vs. using outside consulting firms, which provides the added benefit of being able to allow the operating groups to build rapport with the deal-side team. This, in turn, leads to collaboration between those groups to better assess acquisition targets and set cost or growth achievables on those new acquisitions.
You’re a mid-sized boutique. How do you leverage your size in competitive casting calls where larger firms with global reach are competing for the same business?
Beecher: While we are indeed a mid-sized executive search firm, we maintain one of the largest professional services search practices in North America. So we have scale around supply in a much bigger way than our competitors. We also run a single P&L and everyone on the team touches a search and that approach allows our assignments to not only move ahead, but to succeed. We look more like a consulting team, similar to how McKinsey is structured, whereby it’s the delivery model vs. the traditional desk-driven search model.
Reagan: Our focus around consulting and services talent is highly respected in the marketplace, and the insight we bring to our clients around this talent pool and the broader market has helped us win assignments, even in instances where we are going up against larger brand names in the search sector. Every member of Beecher Reagan has either worked within the consulting space or had a career in search dedicated to this market. That level of dedication and focus is our differentiator. Clark and I believe that if you build a team of search consultants that have actually worked in the sector, it makes an enormous difference. We are all able to speak the language of our clients and they are immediately able to discern that we are experts who know the space inside and out. As a result, as a specialist firm we are in a much better position to understand our clients and to service their talent needs.
Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media