The Road From Pure Search to Premier Human Capital Solutions

Executive search firm SpenglerFox has made a savvy climb to become one of the top global recruiters. Above all, however, the firm prides itself on its ability to nimbly meet its clients’ rapidly changing needs, whatever they may be. CEO Jens Friedrich sits down with Hunt Scanlon Media to talk about the firm’s rise and the search industry’s evolving landscape.

January 19, 2023 – SpenglerFox is a search firm on the go, boosting headcount, creating capabilities and capacities around the world, and earning a spot among Hunt Scanlon Media’s top 40 global talent providers. The Eschborn, Germany-headquartered firm was established in May 2003 as the executive search arm of the Ireland headquartered Grafton Employment Group. Its earlier beginnings saw the firm expand fast across the emerging markets of Central and Southern Europe, Middle East, and Africa, where it quickly established as a leading executive search provider. In 2017, SpenglerFox was acquired by the management team as part of an MBO, and today is a wholly owned business with fully integrated offices across North America, Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

From a services perspective, whereas initially SpenglerFox was an executive search firm offering some additional value-added services, today the firm is a provider of human capital solutions which include executive search, leadership advisory, recruitment process outsourcing, global talent mapping, and more.

“What sets us apart from our competitors, is our agility to respond to the rapidly changing needs of our clients, supporting them with new solutions to new problems, our global footprint, our strong focus on innovation, and our amazing people, who we call the Agilists,” said Jens Friedrich, CEO of SpenglerFox. “We are thrilled to be recognized on the Hunt Scanlon Global 40 ranking and as we only started our partnership with Hunt Scanlon last year, it is also our absolute strategy and intention to be listed and recognized as one of the top 10 providers of premium human capital solutions on a global scale.”

Mr. Friedrich has worked in executive search since 1994 and has delivered assignments across all SpenglerFox’s practice groups. Additionally, he is a key member of the firm’s private equity and executive interim management practice. Mr. Friedrich joined SpenglerFox in 2010 as regional director for DACH and CEE. After overseeing global operations from 2012 and successfully leading the firm’s management buyout in 2017, he now holds the position of CEO. Mr. Friedrich recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss his firm’s offerings, the growth SpenglerFox is experiencing as well as what he sees happening in the executive search sector.

Jens Friedrich

Jens, tell us about the SpenglerFox Global Alliance and your international coverage.

To ensure a global presence outside of the emerging EMEA region, SpenglerFox established a top-tier affiliate network in other major markets. Today the SpenglerFox global network comprises of wholly owned offices in 12 countries, and a network of top tier affiliate partners covering another 31 countries, giving us virtually full coverage across the Americas (including LATAM), EMEA, Middle East and Africa, and AsiaPac. Our aim is to continually evaluate our existing partner network and augment our network with additional wholly owned offices and affiliate partners in markets where we see additional revenue growth opportunities.

What are your growth plans for the near future?

From a geographic perspective, we will continue to evaluate our global affiliate network and add additional partners where necessary or where opportunities arise. At the same time, our strategy is to strengthen our existing office network across the EMEA region, and we will do so by increasing headcount in strategic locations. Our strategy has always been to create global capabilities and capacity, rather than building a huge brick and mortar infrastructure in every country in which we operate. Our approach, and for that matter one of our USPs, has always been built on our agility to mobilize our workforce to support clients wherever those needs arise, whilst staying efficient in process and cost structure.

Will the firm continue to grow existing locations?

In major geographies where we have big offices and where client needs are demonstrably stronger, we will continue to build our teams in those markets. But there is one more issue that I think is important to highlight here: When we started off, we were a pure executive search provider – no more, no less. Later, we became an executive search firm that also provided other complementary HR solutions. Today however, SpenglerFox and our alliance network are providers of premier human capital solutions that include executive search, global talent mapping, interim management, recruitment process outsourcing and leadership advisory. We support our clients with all their human capital needs, and part of our growth plans include proving that seamless capability to our clients wherever they need our support.

What are the profiles of the typical searches your firm takes on?

Our core capabilities are in executive level talent acquisition, meaning senior management up to supervisory board level. From time to time some of our regular clients ask us to support them on senior expert roles, and we are happy that our infrastructure is set out to do so. We do not however have the capability to provide mass recruitment at lower levels. However, as this is often a need by some clients, especially when they need to ramp up a business line fast over a short period, we introduced a project based RPO service to our suite of human capital solutions about three years ago and this has proven to be a major success and is a rapid growth area for us.

What sectors does the firm serve?

From an industry perspective, we have historically been strongest in four key areas: Life sciences, consumer, industrial, and digi-tech. Financial and business services are making a strong comeback as well. Our practice groups are set up around these industry sectors, and our people often come with the relevant sector experience. Our focus has always been to understand these sectors in-depth, and this is how we can offer our clients the market intelligence they need. Whilst our searches often cover the traditional functional roles in those sectors, many of our search mandates are for niche roles in those industries. So, it is safe to state that we do not define ourselves as functional, but rather industry sector experts.

What do you foresee for the executive search industry for the near future? What current trends are you seeing?

The employer-employee relationship has been converted. In the past, the employer totally dominated the relationship with its employees. This is no longer the case. Employees expect this relationship to look more like a partnership, one in which both sides have an equal say. It is now a two-way street. People don´t hesitate to quit for seemingly better and more flexible opportunities. It is a candidate driven market out there, and companies that do not look after their top talents have a higher risk than most to lose them. Global talent shortages are preventing companies from growing. This really is a global phenomenon, and companies who are more assertive to allow work from anywhere, clearly have access to a much wider talent pool outside of their classic office locations. There has been a shift from “candidate suits the role” to “role suits the candidate.” We have seen a paradigm shift in traditional roles, with a myriad of new roles emerging in the “new economy.” As such, the days of matching candidates with job descriptions are over – instead companies must make compromises and consider candidates who apply for roles and who may not necessarily tick all the boxes but are nonetheless interested. This is particularly relevant to new, non-traditional roles, and roles for which there are few (if any) candidates available on a given market.

“Loyalty only lasts as long as employees are fulfilled in what they do.”

Is working from home something that we will see continue?

The home office lifestyle has become the norm, people working anywhere, anytime. As such, hybrid workplaces must be created. Companies that insist on a 100 percent office-based attendance will have severe difficulties in retaining existing talent, or attracting new talents. In addition, working from anywhere opens significantly bigger talent pools for companies. There has been a trend toward an increase of internal mobility, with companies offering horizontal moves and shifting into different areas within the own organization. In a way, this is a direct consequence of a general talent shortage, forcing companies to fill roles internally. Moreover, people want professional development opportunities, and companies who offer internal mobility, including opportunities to work abroad, have better retention rates compared to companies who do not offer such opportunities to their workforce. Loyalty only lasts as long as employees are fulfilled in what they do.

Any other trends you’ve noticed?

As a direct consequence of the above, talent development is on the rise. “Recruit and retain” is another trend, where employers focus on the holistic employee journey, from onboarding, to developing and promoting, but also off-boarding – to keep the door open for potential returners. “Former employees” are an incredible valuable source of talent, many large multinationals rely on their alumni networks. This also enhances a company’s employer brand. At SpenglerFox for example, we have always had an open-door policy for top talents who left us in the past to pursue professional opportunities, and many of those have returned to us, and are still with us to this day. There is also an increasing demand of interim executives to meet scaling workforce needs. This has been a trend in developed markets since the pandemic reared its ugly head, where companies relied on interim executives to manage important transformation projects. Given the fast pace of change, companies are increasingly bringing in seasoned interim executives to lead change and seize short-term opportunities.

We keep hearing the importance of work-life balance. Please discuss this.

From work-life balance to work-life integration, gone are the days where employees are 100 percent office-based and trying to manage their private life from there during their lunch breaks. Perhaps the biggest legacy of the pandemic is the need of employees to manage their work schedules around their family commitments, not the other way around. Work and personal lives are now fully entwined with each other, and often the border between the two is blurred. People not only have the need for work-life integration but have proven that they can manage that integration very effectively.

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

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