Spotlight: A Look at Current Trends in the Executive Search Industry

April 27, 2023 – Umesh Ramakrishnan is the CEO of Crescent Cove Advisors-backed Kingsley Gate
Partners. He is responsible for executing the firm’s global expansion plans. Mr. Ramakrishnan has held several positions like vice chairman, chief innovation officer, president, and chief operating officer in the technology and service industries that have given him both strategic planning and operating experience. In his search career, he has placed members of the boards of directors, CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, COOs, CDOs, and other senior management positions in North and South America, Europe, and Asia.

Mr. Ramakrishnan recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss how he helped grow Kingsley Gate from a three-person search firm to a global firm. He also shares trends that he is witnessing in the executive recruiting sector.

Umesh, give us a sense for how 2022 went for the firm and how it is doing today.
It could not have gone better. It was probably one of the most momentous years we have had. In my opinion, private equity investing in pure search is probably less interesting than private equity investing in what they consider to be a technology disrupting platform. That is why we believe Crescent Cove invested in us and so far I believe we have delivered what they needed.

When I was assembling my leadership team, it wasn’t necessarily to handle today, because you could make the argument that we overstaffed for what we were when Crescent came in. But this is now proving itself out because as we scale, both organically and inorganically, I want to make sure that I surrounded myself with a group of people that can take this to where both Crescent Cove and the firm are successful. We just started Kingsley Gate about seven years ago when we were three people with an idea sitting around a kitchen table. And now we are operating in 36 countries, serving almost 2,000 clients around the globe. 2022 was the year that we wanted to have as a privately private equity backed firm, laying the foundation for the next five years. It met every single objective we had in mind.

What is your firm’s strategy for handling a potential downturn?
The trick to this is to be sure that you hedge against different industries, geographies, currencies, etc. We have built a pretty healthy portfolio where certain downs will be overcome by other verticals or geographies. That is the way we are dealing with it; we’re pretty sure that there will never be a time where every single country, every single vertical are all at their supreme highs. There will always be winners and losers in any economy, whether it’s up or down. And so what we have done very purposefully is to build a portfolio that sort of hedges against that. For instance, we have within our financial services practice, certain practices that do well in a down economy, while others do better in an up economy. That has been our strategy. So far, it’s been implemented, I would say, with reasonable success, and it’s probably what we will continue to do going forward.

What roles are you seeing most in demand?
There are still a lot of legacy players that are trying to transform themselves, especially in light of people suddenly realizing that AI is here to stay. So chief digital officer with strong machine learning and artificial intelligence experience is the one role that I think you’re going to see over the next 24 months get more and more popular.

What are candidates generally looking for in new positions today?
As you can imagine, it all depends on which candidate and which company, which country, which vertical; it is very granular. But the one common thread that I would say is added flexibility. If companies are rigid in their requirements, whether it be remote or relocation or the way benefits are paid out, or what kind of benefits they’re willing to offer, that I don’t think plays well anymore.

Companies need to be far more flexible than they were pre-pandemic. This whole return to office has been quite the failed experiment. If you look at it across the globe, people are either mandating five days or somehow finding three days to be a magical number. I think this is a big mistake. We ourselves have not yet rolled out our RTO policy because we want to make sure that it takes into account various factors. Some individuals want to be in the office. So mandating them not to be in the office I think is a mistake. Picking a number of days, I think is rather arbitrary. It’s not a one-size-fits-all policy. Before, a policy handbook just was uniformly prescribed for every employee. Those days are over. What is here to stay? Is the company required to be flexible, and almost having a tailor-made bespoke policy for either an individual or a group of individuals?

Are there any trends that you’ve been noticing that we’ll be seeing in the next year?
Yes. I think about seven or eight years ago, this little thing called LinkedIn came along, and everybody said nobody is ever going to use it. Now, I think if you ask every search firm they’ll tell you that they use it extensively. I think people are making the same mistake with ChatGPT. It is going to change this business, and those that are able to work with it and around it are the ones that are going to succeed. It will apply because it does a lot of the mundane work being done by the search industry today and with fairly good accuracy. So even if it’s only 50 percent, you got 50 percent of your work done. So without getting into too much detail because this is an area that Kingsley Gate has been working on for over five years we feel very good about it and where we are. We believe that productivity gains and accuracy gains are going to be not incremental but exponential over the next two to three years.

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