How to Partner with the Best Executive Search Firm for Your Business




How to Partner with the Best Executive Search Firm for Your Business

By Paul Battye

Executive search firms are an essential part of corporate life and choosing the right one with whom to partner can mean the difference between hiring a superstar and an also ran.

The war is raging but can you win the battle?

If you are like most of the CEOs I know, you are fighting a never-ending battle to ensure that your organisation is at the forefront of your industry. To thrive in today’s business world, you must anticipate change, adapt quickly and make big decisions without necessarily having all the information immediately available. When doing this you want to be surrounded by the brightest and the best talent. A key factor here is deciding upon the right executive search firm as they will go into battle for you, helping you understand, attract and retain talent. It is rare that any internal search will be as effective as using external expertise not least because you will get greater breadth of expertise, experience and objectivity from an outside agency.

The problem for most CEOs and Chief People Officers is knowing which executive search firm to partner with. Do you partner with an international executive search firm or do you choose a boutique organisation or some combination of the two?

International Search firms v Boutiques.

Much as the old saying went that “nobody got sacked for hiring IBM”, the big international executive search firms have global coverage and as such they can do searches virtually anywhere on the planet and I’m sure a few would even claim to have the width of network to do intergalactic search work! They also have strong brand recognition meaning they can typically connect with busy executives purely on the strength of their brand. The large firms also tend to have standardised processes across their various offices meaning that you get the same service irrespective of whether you do business with them in Europe or the US.

Boutiques tend to be more focused on specialist areas of expertise. This means that, while a boutique might not get the same global outreach that international search firms bring, they do tend to have a greater depth of technical knowledge and network contacts in their chosen field of expertise. This means boutiques typically have a better understanding of the talent pool in their sector and are quicker at identifying the best talent for your organisation. As boutiques are typically more focused you tend to find that the partner you appoint will be the lead consultant, meaning that you get first hand intelligence from the market rather than having it distilled through several consultants before being fed back to you. This feedback is vital in understanding how attractive (or not) your organisation is to leading talent. Finally, as boutiques don’t typically have large off-limits lists which means they aren’t heavily restricted in where they can headhunt talent from, meaning you get a wider pool of prospective talent.

The best of both worlds?

It is important that you bear certain fundamental issues in mind.

  • Does the executive search company under consideration fully understand the nature of your business, the job that is being offered and the type of person that would best fit in with the company in terms of technical ability and people fit?
  • Can your executive search company show an effective track record in your sector i.e. how many positions have they placed in the last 2-3 years with your competitors?
  • Can your executive search company scale up or down to the requirements of the role i.e. can it move at the speed you want and will the people with whom you deal be actively engaged and knowledgeable all the time as to how the search is developing?

Kennedy Executive is a network of boutique executive search firms who partner together on a global basis to bring you the best of both worlds. Our structure allows you to work with a local boutique that thinks and acts globally but understands and delivers talent in the local market.

So, which executive search firm is right for you?

Well it depends! If you are looking to recruit the next Group CEO of a Fortune 500, FTSE 100, DAX 30, CAC 40 or a NIKKEI listed business then you are probably going to want to partner with an international search firm. However, if your business operates in a specialist sector and let’s for arguments sake say Asset Management (for full disclosure I specialise in the Financial Services sector) then you’re probably going to want to appoint a boutique executive search firm that specialises in Asset Management and knows the top 400 Asset Managers in the world by asset size like the back of their hand.


Choosing the right executive search firm with whom to partner for your business will ultimately depend on the needs of your business. You should however always ensure that irrespective of whether you choose to work with an international or a specialist executive search firm that you know who will be carrying out the work, what depth of network they have in your area of expertise and the size of their off-limits policy. At the end of the day you want to recruit the A-team not the B-Team. 

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