Executive Search#: Growing, declining or staying the same?

What does a industry do when it doesn’t know the answer to its own questions? It puts out reports like the ones that surfaced earlier this week from HSZ Media http://www.hszmedia.com/dailynews/recruiting/story.asp?param=5E5A58565A, and related report from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC.) According to HSZ run by Christopher Hunt and Scott Scanlon, executive search is growing in North America but declining globally. The AESC report says declines in North America aren’t as great. Confusing to say the least and indicative of continuing flux.

Neither HSZ nor AESC enjoys a lot of trust and confidence both for different reasons not worth unpacking right now. Top recruiters — not to be confused with those professionally managing large firms — don’t put a lot of stock in these sources. As recently as last year, long-time AESC head Peter Felix was predicting an upturn in search once the economy settled down, which may prove to be true in the next millennium despite evidence that large companies have moved a lot of the traditional function in-house. Here’s a previous take on that issue: http://povblogger.blogspot.com/2013/02/executive-search-disrupted-vs-disrupters.html

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Back to the “six inches in front of your nose” to borrow a line from Al Pacino in “Any Given Sunday.” Look for more disruption in the short run. Independent firms are enjoying niche life while the top of the house at the large firms are largely hitting their numbers. The only exception where it doesn’t add up seems to be Heidrick & Struggles, which hasn’t seen any significant top-line performance since the days leading up to the Great Recession. Nearly every other major firm, excluding Russell Reynolds, which re-defines outlier, has solidified their position in the marketplace.

Perhaps most importantly, large companies are starting to accept the slow dial back to talent as hiring improves. Granted it’s happening at a snail’s pace. Many are still holding on, fighting the pendulum tooth and nail mainly by not paying more for lateral hires. The smart ones are getting ahead of this trend and will ultimately dictate where the current headwinds ultimately turn. Or at least that’s what the theory of client-driven business holds. Changing cycles usually portend changes in management. Then again, based on stagnant executive turnover numbers over the past few years, even that normal search truth has failed to hold up. Could the next stretch re-establish that age old theory?

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