AESC Turns 50 - Executive Search Industry Forecast, Growth Amid Storms

Future Forecast: Growth Amid the Storms
executive search beginning recovery

Executive search consultants interviewed and surveyed for this article see a bright, long-term future for the industry. The challenging business environment, high executive turnover, changing demographics, and increasing complexity and greater due diligence requirements of executive and board recruitment should translate into steady demand. Yet despite—or perhaps because of—a robust market, search consultants see challenges ahead, chiefly in three areas:

Technological change: To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, reports of the death of executive search at the hands of the Internet have been exaggerated. True, data on candidates has become commoditized. But that hardly means that search will follow suit; indeed, as a consulting discipline, search cannot be commoditized.

Defining position requirements and candidate qualifications - not to mention sourcing, screening, interviewing, prepping, selecting, and persuading - require as much art as science, and more social savvy than memory. As Janet Jones-Parker, a former AESC President, stated, “High-tech presents no threat to high-touch executive search.”

Client demands: Not all potential clients grasp the value proposition and consulting component of retained executive search. The only antidotes are client education coupled with consistently outstanding client service. By definition, executive search consulting requires the services of a retained executive search consultant. Contingency and even so-called “retingency” or “container” arrangements can erode the consulting element of search and reduce it to a different service. While Internet-enhanced recruiters and some employment agencies may try to repackage themselves as search firms, they are in a different business.

Search industry services: While retained executive search firms see their core service as fruitful for decades to come, some have considered services that extend the value of their expertise and skills. Options include more sophisticated evaluation tools, perhaps extending to predictive analysis of performance, and more involvement in on-boarding newly-hired executives. Other potential enhancements include succession planning, due diligence, and even acting more as “agents” or career managers for executives, although this latter, long-discussed tactic has seen limited adoption. The debate about service expansion continues, although many practitioners see “sticking to their knitting” as the best way to continue growing.

On balance, the future of retained executive search consulting and of the AESC appears solid. The industry has weathered numerous economic downturns and has accommodated, and even profited from corporate strategies ranging from conglomeration in the 1960s to leveraged buyouts in the 1980s to outsourcing in the 2000s, as well as technological developments that include the Internet and social networking and the information access that it offers to all.

Retained executive search consulting will continue to prosper as profit and nonprofit organizations around the world, in their pursuit of success, face the need to locate, attract, and hire the best available people for leadership positions.


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