The Business Times Weekend, July 16 & 17 2011 (Saturday & Sunday)
he new landscape in which executives – and aspiring C-level talent – find themselves in today is a lot tougher than prior to 2008. But there are opportunities to be had.
Executive search activity has always been a good barometer of short to mid-term economic confidence because of the lead time involved in recruiting key top leaders.
Three clear trends are emerging in the executive search sector for the years ahead.
The first is that organisations are now a lot leaner. Before the global crisis, size mattered – how big was your revenue? How many staff did you employ globally? Now, organizations have become very lean. C-level executives cannot expect to have an army of staff supporting them. There are no longer jobs for armchair leaders.
To fit into these lean, mean organisations, C-level executives need to be able to roll up their sleeves and get involved and engaged, and be able to operate at all levels.
As organisations do not have the luxury of hiring extra back-up headcount, as was commonly done previously for succession planning, senior executives must be happy to be hired for roles that they are currently more than qualified for. Today, organisations want to hire executives who have the bench strength for the future.
Singapore has consistently been a fertile source of regional talent, but a second emerging trend is that increasingly, global experience is expected. One example is in the maritime industry, where more foreign shipping companies are looking to the east of Suez to fuel their business growth. As one of the very few countries to provide favourable tax incentives, stable fiscal policies and a good reputation as a leading arbitration centre, Singapore is emerging as a desired global centre. Examples are Rolls-Royce moving its maritime business from London to Singapore, and IM Skaugen re-locating its holding company and Norgas, its fleet management subsidiary, from Oslo to Singapore.
This is an area where Singapore C-level executives are not keeping pace with foreigners who have more impressive international credentials gained across continents, in Europe and the Americas.
The third emerging trend is that companies are taking a lot longer to hire leaders.
It has now become the norm to take up to a year from kick-starting the search process to identifying the right candidate.
Companies are a lot more fastidious about what they seek in their leaders. There are more people involved in the selection process, both internally and externally.
Companies cannot afford to hire fair weather leaders in an economic climate that is still uncertain.
To mitigate risk, companies have to walk the fine line between looking for the best available talent and hunting "purple squirrels" which do not exist. What does this mean for executives? It is clear that many high performing professionals are cautious about changing jobs.
They still feel or see the pain and the scars brought about by the 2008/2009 global economic crisis – even if they themselves were not affected, everyone knows someone who was. Glitz is no longer important; executives are looking at the fundamentals, what a company did and how it performed during the crisis. The more grounded companies fared better. Pragmatism has become a very important quality.