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Executive Grapevine Q&A with Michelle Carson-Williams, Founder & CEO of Holmes Noble

By Michelle Carson-Williams, Chief Executive and Founder Featured in Executive Grapevine 04/04/2016

What are the executive search challenges that you face?

The executive search industry never ceases to amaze me, the pace at which it changes and evolves. The cycles I have seen over the years and the landscape still continues to morph. I love that I work in such a competitive industry. It keeps me sharp, insightful and on my toes. I think the recession was good for our firm. I know that may sound odd, but it made me/us think differently, behave differently and adapt quickly. It has made our company agile, proactive and it gave us a whole new set of skills, a different way to engage and real steel to continually strive to be better.

The challenges now are to make sure that the stakeholders in our client companies completely grasp the importance and benefits derived through total collaboration. A true team approach has to be more than our ‘team’ at Holmes Noble. It is our team working in total alignment with the client’s team. Sounds easy, but it does require skills in our client facing team that go beyond the role of a ‘search consultant’ and move into the realms of ‘management consultant’. Advisory experience, influencing skills and the ability to constructively challenge are right up there.

The days of the lone recruiter having the ability to deliver the level of service needed by clients are fast fading. The best search firms, I include of course Holmes Noble, expend massive amounts of time, resource and money to deliver quality services. We map out the whole talent landscape for a particular role or roles as well as strategic talent/market insight projects. The additional challenge is then the actual cost to us. Holmes Noble’s costs increase and we have to make sure we continue to provide real quality value added services to our clients.

How will Holmes Noble overcome these?

First and foremost, we must invest even more in the development of our own people.

The broadening out of services to clients is important and with future talent pipeline now on the ‘corporate risk’ radar we must invest more time with our clients. The allocation of more hours to research means that the traditional costing models, certainly for some of our services, will need to change and flex to ensure that projects and assignments are resourced appropriately.

What will executive search look like in the future?

I believe executive search will, in the traditional sense, look fundamentally different, bridging gaps between search and management consulting, broadening out into advisory services, providing market information in real time. This will be in high demand by clients and unless your executive search business is ready, resourced and skilled accordingly to provide broader services, search firms will get lost in the crowd and find themselves stuck in a more transactional recruitment world. The workplace and the workforce is becoming increasingly complex and it is the responsibility of executive search professionals to ensure that they fully grasp and understand this changing and demanding landscape. The days of relying on just a single Board level relationship will not be enough to secure work, source the best leaders and deliver a more complex value added service.

Similarly, what will the CEO of the future look like?

There is some pretty obvious stuff, like the need to understand different marketing channels and the impact of social media. The CEO of the future will definitely need to be more educated around the psychology of the workforce and the wider talent agenda. The CEO has a responsibility to create shareholder value. The skill-set needed for this will remain the same – a good grip on corporate finance, overhead recovery and that ability to intuitively feel what’s right for the company. There will be some polarisation depending on the industry, greater variety of funding mechanisms, and less mobility for CEOs to move from industry to industry – and then the shareholder demographic will be different. All that aside, is what is required from the CEO going to be fundamentally different? I would say not.

Executive Grapevine