Companies & Industries

Scouting Emerging Business Trends


The world's most influential headhunters share unparalleled insight into emerging business trends and corporate leadership challenges

There are few people as well placed and well qualified to see emerging business trends unfold as the world's most influential executive recruiters.

Just consider the experience and perspective they gain from working with a variety of corporate clients to scope the competitive landscape, court exceptional management leaders, and shape succession plans that are both solid enough to ensure continuity but adaptable enough to compensate for challenges looming just over the horizon.

In the course of conducting research for my just-published book, Deciding Who Leads, I was reminded by a number of executive recruiters and corporate leaders that perceptions about the quality of management, future financial opportunity, and recent market momentum move the best management candidates to gravitate to the most compelling job opportunities.

Ready to Jump

Likewise, whenever a company begins to falter, the sharpest executives can read the tea leaves and usually begin to leverage their network to make their next career move before things start to get ugly. That often leads them to the executive recruiters and almost immediately to some pretty serious discussions about why they want to leave their current employer.

The cumulative effect of that one-on-one intelligence gathering about executive attitudes—either perceptions of a bright future or a looming organizational meltdown—gives executive recruiters unparalleled vision into emerging business trends and the best executive career opportunities.

Take that kind of information, multiply it by several hundred interviews with executive interviews in the course of a year, and you begin to realize that executive recruiters' attitudes are actually a leading indicator about the health of organizations, and, for that matter, the broader economy.

The caliber and performance of senior corporate management is almost always suggestive of an organization's current and future financial performance. So who better to judge the trajectory of an organization than these external leadership scouts? And who better to provide us with compelling statements about future business trends than those recruiters who help move top executives to where the best action is?

Sniffing the Breeze

The world's most influential headhunters have a particularly acute sense for the business trends that may already be shifting the strategy and management demands for their myriad corporate clients. What follows are just some of the perspectives they've shared about the single global business trend that will most influence corporate performance in the future.

Tierney Remick, global managing director of the consumer/retail market for Korn/Ferry International (KFY), says she has already witnessing a global shift in consumer influence that will reshape the economic landscape. She points to "the globalization of consumerism, specifically the growing impact of consumer and economic independence in larger developing countries that have historically followed trends as opposed to setting them. They will create new centers of influence that will need to be understood by business leaders to compete effectively on a global scale."

Marylin L. Prince, co-founder of New York asset-management specialist search firm PrinceGoldsmith, says sustainable business practices will have a tremendous impact on future corporate earnings and on the search for leadership talent for some time to come. "Industry leaders will need to embrace the moral and economic principles of sustainable business to remain competitive and build successful companies," Prince contends.

The free flow of human and intellectual capital made possible by Internet technology is the moving force that will alter the course of many businesses, says Anne Lim O'Brien, a managing director at Russell Reynolds Associates. The fluidity of those forces, she offers, "provides speed and access to talent where you want it, when you want it. New media/social networking trends feed this flow."

A Share of the Blame

Recognizing how lackluster or incompetent corporate management has hurt shareholders and led to scandal in recent years, Robert J. Brudno, managing director of Savoy Partners in Washington, offers his view of something that should influence future organizational performance.

That, he offers, is "greater professional and moral accountability from those who recruit, install, and maintain weak corporate leaders. In the case of most well-publicized meltdowns of companies, it is rare that insiders did not know that bad things were likely to occur." Certainly he's counting some misguided executive recruiters among them.

Furthermore, Brudno opines, "too many people pay no price for the damage they cause, and their enablers are rarely held to account. Fix that and watch performance soar."

One consensus view offered by many of the most influential executive recruiters revolves around the growing influence of China and India. "The ability to expand in new markets and the capacity to reposition your business in new lines of activity while your core business or expertise is either disappearing or becoming a commodity," says Marc Lamy, a Paris-based partner and managing director with Boyden, is going to shape future business performance in ways that are just beginning to be revealed.

That suggests that more business leaders, and, for that matter, more of the world's executive recruiters, are going to have to balance intense focus on the challenges directly in front of them with a broader, global view of business trends before their full impact is widely felt.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker and advisor on executive recruiting and corporate management succession best practices. He is the author of Deciding Who Leads: How Executive Recruiters Drive, Direct Disrupt the Global Search for Leadership Talent, which has been recognized as "one of the 30 best business books of 2008" by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

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