You can't get to the top without the headhunters. That's as true for businesses as it is for established and emerging leaders. The world's top headhunters control access to the lion's share of C-suite succession and leader-replacement searches for the world's largest corporations. Their influence also extends to the top ranks of the most ambitious smaller companies, which understand how crucial top talent is and are willing to pay for it.
That's why BusinessWeek has introduced its exclusive database of the world's most influential headhunters, with comprehensive information on 100 of the top global executive recruiters. So what is it that separates these executive recruiters from the rest? BusinessWeek considered a number of factors in selecting these 100, including their individual reputations; their years of headhunting experience; the global scope of their recruiting practices; their accessibility and responsiveness; their high visibility within the client markets they serve; the recognition they enjoy within their firms and/or global executive search communities.
It is important to note that their individual reputations are often the most important reason that corporations engage these headhunters. And while these 50 include some of the world's best, given the global influence and size of the $10 billion executive headhunting market, more will soon be profiled by BusinessWeek to expand this already impressive list.
Who are the most powerful talent brokers? They include former management consultants, corporate human resources executives, authors, boardroom advisers, graduates of the world's most elite business schools, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and trusted confidants of the world's most powerful business leaders. They are almost universally workaholics and globetrotters with a passion for the business of executive matchmaking, an affinity for socializing and peering deep into the human psyche, and a finely honed instinct for fitting candidate and company.
Thirty-one of the first 50 headhunters profiled herein hail from North America, the world's largest market, for their refined talent-spotting abilities. Many of them recruit for industries—such as financial services, consumer goods and services, technology, retail, and manufacturing—that have long relied on external talent to drive performance and fulfill senior leadership functions including the most prized C-suite posts.
Wide range of influence
And given its recent recruitment of two especially influential headhunters from competing firms, NYSE-listed Korn/Ferry International (KFY) takes the lead with seven headhunters on this initial list of executive recruitment power brokers.
If they hadn't pursued the business of corporate headhunting and weren't busy recruiting the most powerful business leaders, they say they would have otherwise pursued careers as venture capitalists, musicians, lawyers, politicians and teachers, among other professions.
Together these 100 headhunters recruit the lion's share of CEOs, presidents, and board members at the world's largest and most prestigious corporations. They exert massive influence the world over.
What to look for in a leader
Even though the recruiters have a number of traits in common, they have fascinatingly different perspectives on what they're looking for in leaders, what advice they would offer, and what global business trends will influence corporate performance. "Be exceptional and we'll find you" is what Senior Chairman Gerard R. "Gerry" Roche of Heidrick & Struggles (HSII) tells today's emerging corporate leaders.
"Focus on and balance what is good for stockholders, clients, and the talented people in your organization, and do what is right for them," advises President and CEO Christopher J. Clarke of Boyden World. Do that, he contends, and "Your rewards will follow."
Judith M. von Seldeneck, chairman and CEO of Philadelphia-based Diversified Search Ray & Berndtson, says that while senior leaders are facing increasing pressure for performance from a variety of sources, what matters is keeping oneself grounded and vested in continuous learning. "Have confidence in what you know and bet on it," von Seldeneck advises, "but keep a constant vigil on what you don't know and figure out how to best learn it sooner rather than later."
Given their wide acknowledgment that the demands of corporate leadership are more intense now than ever before, ask any of these especially influential headhunters about what it will take to bring the right stuff for your dream job and you'll get a different answer every time. John Peebles, professional director of his own Auckland (New Zealand)-based John Peebles Associates, says the essentials that he looks for in senior management candidates include, "Passion for the goal, sound functional skills, bottom line orientation, the ability to effect change through people, and proven success."
Ignacio Bao, chairman of Signium International, the global executive search practice formerly known as Ward Howell International, says he recruits based on similar leadership traits. "I typically look for candidates with positive energy and the ability to energize others. They are extroverted and optimistic. They thrive on action, relish change, and have the ability to go, go, go. They pull, they don't push. They inspire and they influence. My ideal candidates also have the ability to execute—to get the job done."
The world's most influential headhunters will continue to shape the companies—and the executive careers—of the future.
But depending on the companies they serve and the niche markets in which they operate, they have divergent views of how their work and the business of work in the 21st Century will have an impact on corporate performance, careers, and the global economy.
They point collectively to a variety of issues—such as globalization, environmental sustainability, advances in technology and, perhaps not surprisingly, to the demographic shifts they believe will intensify their search for superior, senior management talent—as the global business trends that will most influence corporate performance in the future.
But their over-the-horizon view of things to come also reflects their rather insightful perspectives about where global business is going, and what you should consider as you try to find your optimum place in it. You'll be well served by considering the predictions of these especially well-connected headhunters:
•Dennis Carey, a Philadelphia-based senior client partner with Korn/Ferry, says, "Public policy on trade issues and the global flow and cost of capital" will sort the winners from the losers—and invariably shape the search for successful leaders—for years to come.
•Louisa Wong-Rousseau, group managing director of Hong Kong-based Bó Lè Associates, says: "Diversity and generation gaps" will bring the most pressure on global companies.
•Edward Kelley, the London-based chairman and CEO of Edward W. Kelley & Partners, predicts that the global business trend that will most influence corporate performance is getting the strategy right for the key emerging markets of India and China.
•Trina Gordon, chairman of Boyden World Corporation, from the firm's Chicago offices, counters however that as pressing as many of these global issues are, some of the biggest challenges ahead go to the core of individual businesses—and leadership—around the world. "The importance of safeguarding corporate values and purpose will define and differentiate your company with customers, employees, and competitors," Gordon predicts. "The accelerating pace of global change will necessitate consistently driving progress without losing sight of those values."
As a BusinessWeek reader, you're invited to use the accompanying slideshow and recruiter profiles to begin to identify the most influential headhunters and plot your most direct route and potential referrals to them. If you're deeply experienced and expertly skilled, you may just identify the person who can help take your career to the next level, and in so doing forge a relationship with those who control access to the best and most important executive jobs in the world.
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