Insiders’ View of the world of headhunting

‘Excerpts from the life of a head-hunter’ working in the leisure/hospitality/retail sectors.
[Unfortunately such is the sensitivity of the head-hunting profession that it is rarely possible that the names of the Insiders’ clients can be divulged]
Near the scene of unexpected meetings

Unexpected meeting request

An email came from a chief executive’s PA wishing to arrange a meeting with me in September. I’ve known him for 12 years as he’s progressed through the leisure industry to now run a £100 million turnover private equity-owned business.

Covert meeting in low-key venue

Had meeting with the chief executive in a grubby and shady cafe off Leicester Square – hiding from any potentially prying eyes – to discuss the recruitment of his successor. This would allow him to help develop them as the new CEO while allowing him to gradually step back from day-to-day management. We discussed people, what capabilities and quality he’d get for his money. He seemed pleased and wanted me to meet his chairman and to discuss the assignment further in October/November.
New assignment

I begin to arrange interviews for a business development director to sit on the board of a £600 million turnover UK hospitality business. Among the candidates I put forward was a curve ball. Although HR understood my arguments for including this candidate they decided to put them ‘on hold’ for a time.

Undertake first interviews

First interviews for the business development director job are completed and there is not a clear front-runner and the curve ball is still on hold. During the ‘feedback conversation’ with the company’s chief executive (at the ungodly hour of 9:30pm on a Friday) we discussed the on hold candidate and his interest in them increased by 100%.

All quiet from the £100 million chief executive

I emailed him as I’d still not heard back from him. He eventually responded by apologising and hoped all was well with me and that I was having fun! But there was no reference to our meeting, which I then queried with him but again I did not hear anything back.

Still all quiet from the £100 million chief executive

Frustratingly I called him again and still nothing back.
Delivering a curve ball
Curve Ball gets the thumbs-up

Meanwhile the £600 million chief executive calls. He’d just finished lunch with a friend who mentioned the curve ball candidate in terms that perfectly mirrored my views. He therefore proposed meeting them immediately. To my great surprise, following the meeting his decision was to put them on the company’s board – in a different role to what they’d been interviewed for. And the business development director’s job was given to another of the candidates I’d put forward.

Call from two job candidates

Out of the blue two candidates call for advice – both in the running for the elusive £100 million chief executive assignment that I’m still in the dark about. They’ve signed NDA’s, however they wanted my thoughts on whether the role was right for them. They wanted to get the inside track, which happens regularly in my job. At this point I ring the company’s HR director to see if she knows anything about the assignment and to find out where I’d gone wrong in not been awarded the task. Her words were ‘sounds like the chief executive forgot about your September meeting’! I’ve still not spoken to him about this odd episode. It highlights that recruitment is not without its frustrations.
The ups and downs of recruitment

Whereas the £100 million chief executive’s assignment was very disappointing the other task unexpectedly threw up a great result. We filled the business development director’s position and the curve ball is now up for a final interview and is likely to be appointed to a board position role at the £600 million business in early 2013.
Sponsored column by Nigel Sapsed, director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens