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]

7:30am Monday Mar 1 – All systems go we’re told

After at least two weeks of making contact with people we know, who might – or might not be – a match for Whitbread’s potential job description, the HR executive at the company rings up and informs me that we’re to go ‘live’ on the assignment. His expectation is that we’ve done the groundwork and that we should be able to move to the presentation of CVs very quickly. (This followed a very lengthy interchange as described on my previous column).

But that’s not really how our world works. We agree that Easter will have significant impact on our ability of a shortlist as a number of the candidates might, or might not, be on holiday.


Easter stops everything…

9:00am Tuesday Apr 1 – Hit the phones

Activity begins in earnest, calling individuals directly and gaining a level of interest – or not – on the assignment. The work is ongoing throughout the week.


I receive a text from the CEO of a £100 million drinks-led business who tells me trading is extremely tough and that customers continue to demand quality for less cost and somehow he needs to convince his investors that significant sums need to be released in order to allow him to redevelop his London locations.

I remind him that he cannot do all this on his own and that at some stage he will need to rejuvenate his management team. We agree to speak on Friday evening.

9:00am Thursday Apr 3 – Switch away from focusing on chefs

We’re now in full swing chasing down people for the Whitbread assignment and it quickly becomes evident that many of our contacts are – or were – chefs at some stage in their careers.


They’re chefs, send them back

However, the client is (through the handing over of a formal assignment to us) specifically asking for individuals that are structured, organised, have strong process-orientation i.e. who are not chefs but are strongly technical and hands-on.

Chefs also prefer hot pans and produce than Excel spreadsheets, which is what this assignment requires. Because of the original lack of clarity on the role’s actual description we’ve now effectively wasted two weeks.


By lunchtime our focus has changed completely and we’re now looking for individuals that don’t know how to cook the cow but are instead well versed in the process required to take the beast from the field and put the finished product – cooked to perfection – on the plate. Stress levels are climbing.


Hanging on the Telephone

8:30pm Friday Apr 4 – Time to address the people issue

I spend an hour on the phone with the CEO of the drinks-led business as he drives home for the weekend. It becomes evident that while he has made significant headway in some areas of re-structuring and re-focusing the business, he hasn’t made some critical people changes that would have helped him along the way.

We discuss COOs, property and digital CRM marketing.

9:00am Monday Apr 7 – Seeking out non-chefs

For the next two weeks we focus on identifying non-chefs who work in food. These people could be operators or even buyers that want to use their knowledge and move into food development roles producing world class menus for their employer.

9:30am Tuesday Apr 15 – Top candidates identified

It’s nearly Easter and as usual nowadays the UK is beginning to shut down and head office teams are going on holiday. Stores and leisure firms are banking on fabulous weather and a successful few days trading. To date we’ve identified, interviewed and prepped four exciting candidates for the Whitbread assignment.

We can look forward to a few days off ahead of the presentation of the shortlist to the client after Easter.

10:00am Thursday Apr 17 – MBAs and food!

Of the shortlist of four, two of the candidates have excellent degrees and MBAs, which is unbelievable in food. Normally they would be chefs in the food environment.


Just as we’re closing down I receive a voicemail from one of our MBA superstars asking if I can call her urgently.

…To be continued…

Sponsored column by Nigel Sapsed, director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens