Heading into her fifth year as CFO of Bowne & Co., Denise Fletcher ignored most of the recruiter calls that flooded into her office. She was content with the challenges of growing the publisher through 20 acquisitions in four years. “I wasn’t thinking about a new job at all,” she says.
Then last summer, she received phone calls from two recruiters: Anne Wyser-Pratte of Heidrick & Struggles Inc. and Vincent Brennan of Korn/Ferry International. “They were not the first ones to call,” she says, “but they were very good at verbalizing the strategy of the [searching] company, and why they needed a new CFO.” The recruiters also “had enough knowledge of my company to know what I had accomplished,” she says, adding that Brennan’s familiarity with her past deal-making was one factor that convinced her to jump to MasterCard International in September.
In the war for finance talent, such knowledge wields power. Accordingly, executive search firms have begun to research individual CFOs with renewed vigor. The Big Six search firms, for example, have dedicated teams of 15 to 75 people who cull pertinent facts about CFOs’ latest deals, speeches, and attitudes toward relocation. Most of the firms report plans to add to these teams in 2001, including Heidrick & Struggles, which already has a CFO search specialist in each of its 29 North American offices.
Even the recruiters are becoming more specialized. About 90 percent of the members of Russell Reynolds Associates’s financial officers practice have industry experience in either banking or finance, says practice leader Gordon Grand III. Similarly, John Wilson, co-head of the Financial Officers Practice at Korn/Ferry International, says he draws extensively on his banking background and analyst contacts when interviewing potential candidates.
Such specialization began several years ago, recruiters say. As New Economy firms began to proliferate, they invariably needed finance chiefs to allocate incoming funds and create capital structures. Over the past year, however, the requirements have changed– CEOs and boards, say recruiters, now want finance chiefs who can put poor performance in perspective and create a better impression for analysts. But the demand has not subsided. In fact, the number of CFO searches in the first three quarters of 2000 increased 57.4 percent over the same period in 1999, according to the Association of Executive Search Consultants.
In such a market, says Walt Williams, in the Boston office of New Yorkbased TMP Worldwide, “specialization gives us a better chance of being selected for an assignment, because we have more in- depth knowledge and more segmented databases.” And the good news for CFOs, says Mark S. Marcon, a senior analyst at First Union who follows the industry, is that as firms specialize and become more efficient in completing searches, candidates get better name circulation and more job opportunities. “In the old days, you’d go on one consultant’s list, and it wouldn’t necessarily get shared around the firm,” he says.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?
Not everyone is enamored of the trend, however. Robert Newton, an investment banker in Rhode Island, is familiar with retained recruiters, having both hired them for searches and interviewed with them as a candidate. In his current job search for a position as a corporate financial officer, though, he’s found the recruiters’ “specialized” job descriptions to be an obstacle. “Recruiters often have to deliver someone who fits very specific [finance] criteria in order to justify their large fees,” he says. “There are nuances and intangibles that really make the difference, and those don’t get into the job specs.”
One of the ways Newton avoids being ignored is to develop relationships with boutique firms, which he says tend to be more generous about their time and helpful in telling rejected candidates why they didn’t get the job. There are plenty of such firms to choose from. In fact, more than 750 retained firms in the United States claim to specialize in CFO searches, “definitely up from a couple of years ago,” according to Joseph Daniel McCool, editor of Executive Recruiter News. Some of the better- known boutiques, he adds, are Cook Associates Inc. in Chicago and Leon A. Farley Associates in San Francisco.
That doesn’t mean CFOs are being wooed solely by recruiting firms that specialize in finance. For example, Dallas- based Technology Ventures, which specializes in searches for technology firms, enticed CFO Debby Hopkins to Lucent Technologies Inc. last April after only an 18-month tenure at Boeing Co. Among younger companies, “[venture capitalists] are acting like recruiters by bringing in experienced headhunters to help them,” says Brian Lee, chief market strategist at Hunt-Scanlon Advisors, which tracks the executive recruiting industry. Internet Capital Group, an incubator for start-ups, for example, convinced Edward West to leave Delta Airlines for its CFO slot. And some companies are taking matters into their own hands, bringing executive recruiting staffs in-house. Leading the trend is Motorola Inc., whose two-year-old executive search department accomplished 70 to 80 percent of the company’s searches to fill positions at the director level and above, including four finance-related searches. — Alix Nyberg
WHO KNOWS YOU
Executive recruiters who specialize in CFO searches abound.
|THE BIG SIX EXECUTIVE SEARCH FIRMS||
HEAD OF CFO SEARCHES
CFO SEARCHES PER YEAR
|Egon Zehnder International Inc.||NA||14||100 (U.S.)|
|Heidrick & Struggles Inc.||J. Rucker McCarty (Atlanta)||75||450 (global)|
|Korn/Ferry International||John Wilson (San Francisco) and Kevin Hanrahan (Chicago)||30||350400 (global)|
|Russell Reynolds Associates||Gordon Grand III (New York)||20||NA|
|Spencer Stuart||E. Peter McLean (New York) and Carolyn Eadie (London)||32||340 (global)|
|TMP Worldwide||Walt Williams (Boston)||1215||7090 (U.S.)|
|AND SIX SMALLER STANDOUTS|
|Allerton Heneghan & O’Neill||Don Heneghan (Chicago)||3||4|
|Cook Associates Inc.||Jeffrey Posselt (Chicago)||6||30|
|Leon A. Farley Associates||Leon A. Farley (San Francisco)||3||45|
|Gilbert Tweed Associates||Janet Tweed and Karen DelPrete (both in New York)||5||17|
|Rusher, Loscavio & LoPresto||Bill Rusher Jr. (San Francisco)||20||1520|
|Zay & Co. International||Thomas C. Zay Sr. (Atlanta)||6||6|
SOURCES: The companies; Executive Recruiter News
TIPS FOR BEING FOUND
1. “Take the opportunity to speak at conferences. That tips me off to who is really state of the art.” –Walt Williams
2. “Send us a résumé.”–J. Rucker McCarty, who gets 10 to 15 unsolicited résumés a day
3. “Be as visible as is practical, as far as being recognized by peer groups.”– John Wilson
4. “Pick up the phone and call us.” –E. Peter McLean
5. “Always be responsive to the possibility of new opportunities when approached–but I don’t necessarily advise that [everybody] cast their names into a hat.”–Thomas C. Zay