Hunting down executives

Issue Number: 
Karine Jones

Let’s get this straight from the start. The executive search industry— commonly known as headhunting—has nothing to do with either the beheading of hapless executives or a James Bond-turned-businessman approach to slave trading. In this interview, Anton Storozhenko, of executive search company Accord, tells The Leader exactly what the industry is really about.

The Leader: How do you find the right executives to target?

Mr. Storozhenko:The people we contact usually have interesting positions at a target company. We find people as a result of our industry knowledge and our research skills; there is nothing supernatural or aggressive about it.

For example, when looking for a marketing director (which is an example of the lowest level of positions that we will search for) for an FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company dealing in tobacco, household detergents, tea, coffee or any other goods sold on a mass scale, we know that there are 70- 80 major players today on the Russian market.

From these, we identify about two or three of the most relevant people from a company and contact them. This information about who works where is not very hard to find, although companies often try to keep it quiet. Such information is often published in newspapers or on the Internet, often in the form of executive interviews, so we know about them.

The Leader: Do you use the promise of better pay to lure people away from their present jobs?

Mr. Storozhenko:We rarely offer a job to someone who is unemployed, so we naturally have to offer them better compensation than they get at their present job. When deciding upon a person’s salary, we have to take into account the market price and value for that person. We then encourage the employer to add on an additional sum, which is good for motivation. The amount that is agreed upon varies, of course, according to the situation. Nevertheless, the compensation package is most of the time not the main reason why candidates leave their positions.

The Leader: How do you contact these people without their employer finding out?

Mr. Storozhenko:Generally, we phone people at work when headhunting, but we always do so in such a way that the call doesn’t bother the person. At an international company like Accord Group, it is always very important to observe high ethical standards.

We generally keep the conversation brief, leave out details and ask the person to call us back at a time that is convenient for them. When the person calls us back, we arrange to meet them. It is important to meet them, because we may be able to consider them for another project at a later date. It is against our ethical principles to be working with one candidate on several projects.

If on meeting the person we don’t think he or she is suitable professionally or personally, then we sometimes explain that that is the case straight out. We assess them according to our client’s criteria. Sometimes, the personality of the person is too aggressive; on the other hand, they might not be aggressive enough for another company.

The Leader: How many candidates do you contact?

Mr. Storozhenko:Only one person is ever offered the job, but there will have probably been five candidates on the project. We will bear the four that weren’t chosen in mind for future projects, and so we always like to separate with good relations.

The Leader: What kind of relationship do you have with your clients?

Mr. Storozhenko:We never work for candidates; we only work for clients. We are hired as consultants to decide a business problem. For example, a company might have a new strategy or a new aggressive plan for development.

We spend a long time discussing the client’s needs with them, the skills they need and their plans and strategies for the future — because we can’t begin a search until we understand the client’s problems in detail. We need to understand why they can’t get by with the personnel they already have. This is the additional value that we offer.
The Leader: How are you paid for your work?

Mr. Storozhenko:There are two ways to pay for a search. In one way, the payment is paid in three installments. The first is paid on the signing of the contract, the second on the presentation of a list of short-listed candidates and the third on the chosen candidate signing the contract.

The second method of payment is to be paid one-third of the total annual compensation the person, including any bonuses they may receive, with a minimum agreed fee of $30,000. I don’t like the option where we are paid a third of the person’s salary, because it places some potential bias on our choice of candidate. Which is why almost all (two-thirds) of our clients don’t work that way.