Is your next exec hire working overseas?

Some Canadian firms are luring globetrotting expatriates home, and expanding recruitment globally

When it comes to filling jobs at the top of the corporate food chain, the palate of Canadian organizations has changed. Some Canadian firms have developed an appetite for overseas experience, executives who have led companies in a competitive global environment who can bring fresh ideas and new best practices to stale organizations.

Shawn Cooper, managing director and country manager in Canada for Russell Reynolds Associates in Toronto, a global executive recruiting firm, said it can be tough for Canadian companies to lure foreign executives for a variety of reasons.

“We know that because of the Canadian tax system, it’s very difficult to recruit Americans to Canada,” said Cooper.

But some organizations have found a bit of a recruitment goldmine, he said, in targeting battle-hardened expatriates from Asia, Europe and even Latin America who have a wealth of experience competing in the global market.

“They are focusing on Canadians who have worked abroad and have reached a point in their career and family planning that it may be time to come home,” said Cooper. “You can find a win-win situation there. They can come back and diversify the DNA of the organization and introduce best practices.”

But, too many firms still rely on the “old network” to funnel executives up the ladder and that isn’t going to cut it in a competitive global environment, said Sussannah Kelly, managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search and the Boyden Institute in Toronto.

“Just because you’ve known someone socially doesn’t mean you know how they perform under pressure,” said Kelly.

She said it’s not hard to find talent when recruiting the upper ranks, but many organizations simply don’t know where to look. Many don’t even consider the idea of expanding the search outside the country and fail to understand that many of the geographical barriers have been broken down. It’s not as tough to bring someone in from a foreign area because so many executives have become globetrotters, she said.

The bottom line is that many organizations need to change how they recruit executives because old tactics just aren’t effective anymore, she said.

“If we continue to do what we did in the past, we will not be successful,” she said. “We’ve had a revolution in business. Society is skeptical and so is the workplace as a result of bad leaders and bad hires that were fiscally, socially and environmentally irresponsible. And it’s led to bankrupt companies and a lot of very bad strategic decisions that could affect future generations. We’ve seen 100-year-old companies go out of business in two to three years. So character matters.”

Execs doing homework

One thing that has impressed Cooper recently is the amount of due diligence executives are doing about the companies wooing them.

Gone are the days when an inflated paycheque would be enough to lure a top performer. Now executives are focused on whether or not the job is a step up. The compensation is still paramount, but they want to know they’re working with a “Cracker Jack” team, said Cooper. They’re concerned about building a good reputation, increasing their marketability and about the cultural fit of the organization.

CFOs in demand

Demand for chief financial officers used to ebb and flow in reverse to the economy. When times were bad, organizations tended to clamour for the best CFO possible to help them weather the economic storm, said Cooper. But when times were good, firms didn’t need an all-star finance executive. A competent one would do.

But that’s not the case anymore as the ebb and flow has turned into a flood of hiring activity and headhunting. Corporate governance reform has put the financial well-being of organizations under the microscope and many are scouring the ranks looking for the best CFO money can buy.

Organizations that used to be content with a run-of-the-mill CFO now want a strategic thinker who is technically superb and capable of working as a business partner with the CEO while dealing with regulators, shareholders, stock analysts and investment fund managers, said Cooper.

That competition for a limited number of star candidates has pushed compensation higher and left some organizations scratching their heads, wondering why they can’t find an all-star caliber CFO at a reasonable price.

“If you’re looking for an A player, an A player commands a premium,” said Cooper. “There are only so many in the marketplace, so some organizations are a bit surprised at what it takes to move an A player.”

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