Filling boardroom seats

Wanted: Global experience in resumes, women on boards

It’s a good time for Canadian managers working abroad to come home, as they are among the most sought after when organizations look to fill executive roles, according to several executive search firms.

Even if the positions being filled have nothing to do with global markets, employers are still keen on luring back Canadians. In their eyes, people with managing experience abroad are those with just the right mix of flexibility and openness needed in today’s market, said Jeff Hauswirth, managing director of Spencer Stuart’s Toronto office.

“How decisions are made vary from country to country, so if you can be successful in a different cultural setting, it speaks to versatility, adaptability, ability to read different situations,” said Hauswirth.

Shawn Cooper, country manager for Canada at the global search firm Russell Reynolds, reports a similar trend.

“You do have to catch the candidate at the right stage in their career. They either have young children or aging parents, because the compensation and career track opportunities can be significantly higher in the U.S. and the U.K. However, you can be a big fish in a small pond, and for some people at a certain stage in their career, that makes sense,” said Cooper.

However, the role has to have a certain global outlook to appeal to these returning Canadians, Cooper added. “Having lived abroad, they would like to know that the firm still has a global outlook or is set to compete more outside the borders. They don’t want to be in a parochial sort of setting.”

Like Hauswirth, Cooper sees continuing strong demands for financial executives and internal auditors, driven in part by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the United States that sets new governance and reporting requirements.

“It’s also a shift in the role of the CFO vis-a-vis the rest of the executive team. CFOs who are in demand are true business partners. They work closely with the business line to achieve business objectives rather than being the guardian of the budgets.”

At Heidrick and Struggles’ Toronto office, partner Alyson Soko also sees a strong demand for financial expertise on boards, also as a response to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Whereas in the past, companies made board appointments based on who knew whom or who had an interesting bio, said Soko, “now they’re analyzing their boards to see where there are gaps. It’s ‘we need to find a CFO because we’re looking for that person to chair the audit committee.’”

She’s also seeing an increased interest in gender and ethnic diversity on boards, an observation echoed by Cooper of Russell Reynolds, who sees clients asking for women in their searches for board positions.

With the exception of Soko, none of the recruiters interviewed for this article mentioned gender and ethnic diversity as a concern when businesses recruit for positions on the management team, however. What recruiters do see is a heightened awareness of the importance of cultural fit, said Cooper.

“There’s more information and track record and research showing that if you don’t have cultural fit, that person won’t stick around.”

Among the qualities most in demand, apart from global experience, is an ability to lead in a team setting, said Brad Beveridge, managing director of Knightsbridge in Toronto. With authoritarian leaders dwindling in numbers, boards of directors have demonstrated a shift in expectation, said Everson.

“What they’re really looking for are leaders who can exercise strong team leadership by aligning and engaging the senior management team to a common strategic direction. It’s defining success for the whole company rather than just themselves. It’s building a collective leadership in an organization, creating an open communication through dialogue, and enabling teams to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, conflict,” said Beveridge.

Like Cooper, Beveridge notes a “dramatic increase” in the use of psychometric assessments to determine people’s strengths, leadership styles, as well as weaknesses that they need to work on when they join an organization.

“If they go through an assessment and they determine that these are the areas they still need to work on, the client organization hiring them can provide them a roadmap from a developmental perspective,” said Beveridge.

“At the end of the day the organization can help the individual realize his or her full potential.”

In Atlantic Canada, as employers increasingly have to replace retiring executives, they’re placing more and more emphasis on three “L” qualities, said Angela MacDonald, recruitment manager at the Halifax office of Ray and Berndtson. These are likeability, loyalty, and longevity.

Attracting candidates to jobs in the region is a challenge. “We’re not only selling (people) on the opportunity but we’re selling them on the location,” said MacDonald. The result of that is the recruiter will often offer the family full “onboarding” services.

“If we’re recruiting someone from Toronto to a smaller town in Atlantic Canada, we’ll sweeten the deal and offer to help his wife find new work. At the same time we’ll be helping them find schools, find real estate agents. We’re onboarding the entire family into the community and not just the person into the company.”

In Calgary, Korn/Ferry client partner Sarah Hawitt said demands have intensified in the oil and gas sector, and high gasoline prices have only made hiring more difficult.

“With the value of oil where it is, everybody’s stock option is worth so much money that it’s hard to get people to move. They’ll be walking away with six figures minimum and leaving it on the table. So either companies have to come up with some significant signing bonuses or people are just saying, ‘You know what. I’m worth way too much on paper. I’m staying where I’m at.’”

And given the labour shortage in Alberta, employers are turning to search firms not only for executive positions but many other positions lower down. With one particular client, “we started working with them at the senior executive level, and after a while, they started asking, ‘Hey we’re having a hard time finding project managers. Can you help us out?’ And companies are having to pay organizations like ourselves for lower-to-mid-level positions that they usually wouldn’t have come to us for.”

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