Forbes: How One Executive Search Startup Is Transforming The Way Global Tech Giants Hire Their Leaders
The executive search world boasts just a handful of global dominators – ‘the big five’ – that command more than 90% of the market. But times are changing for these large multi-disciplinary companies with their rigid and often onerous fee models that can tie in clients regardless of the outcome.
With a business model that has relationships as its core strategy, entrepreneurs Ben Graham and Jonathan Morris, founders of TritonExec, are shaking up the global executive search market.
Specialising in technology, private equity and professional services, TritonExec is among a new breed of executive search firms dispensing with tradition and rigidity and offering clients a service that goes beyond just head hunting.
Close friends since the age of five, Graham and Morris both worked in recruitment and both were keen to strike out on their own. They decided to team up and launch their own search firm, which they did from their parent’s dining room table.
In such a fiercely competitive marketplace they knew they needed big break. And they got it: a contract worth $500,000 to recruit 35 executives for Genpact, a multi-billion dollar global digital transformation, across their European operations.
“Ben had a relationship with the client, which gave us a foot in the door, but being a startup with no track record, we needed to present ourselves as bigger than we were,” says Morris.
They approached a friend who owned a marketing company, paid him £1000 and asked him to look at the top five search firms and use their styling to turn their own Word document pitch, that screamed ‘startup’ into a sexy, eye catching proposal. It did the trick and they were invited to Bucharest to meet with Genpact’s European CIO and COO.
Graham says: “The next thing we were told was that the global head of HR was flying to London, we had an opportunity to meet with him and it was our contract to lose. Afterwards, on hearing that we had indeed won the contract, our emotion was not elation, but panic at how we were going to deliver on 35 executive searches with no supporting resources!”
However, the pair had now spotted an opportunity to compete against the ‘big five’ exec search firms and their cumbersome and costly models. On the back of their success with Genpact, in 2010 they founded TritonExec.
Their strategy was simple: employ multi-year agreements with flat retained fees to negate the dips and spikes normally associated with executive search hiring. “Clients know exactly what they are spending, and can build trust knowing they were not remunerated as a percentage of their candidate’s salary,” says Morris.
Today TritonExec, which operates out of London, Atlanta and most recently New York, is luring contracts away from the global ‘big five’. A seven-figure investment to fund growth has just been raised from a financial institution, and the founders are in talks with several other parties as they look to expand their global presence.
“Our philosophy since day one has been very much, ‘land and expand’; in other words, build long-term partnerships with clients and service them on a global scale,” says Graham.
This strategy does bring challenges. Relationships are personal, and clients often want to deal with the people they trust. Scaling a business, trusting the team to deliver to the high standards set, and institutionalising the process to ensure that clients get the same consistent level of service, regardless of which TritonExec team member they are working with, globally, is a tall order.
As in other industry sectors, technology continues to underpin disruption in executive search, adding to the pressures of maintaining a competitive edge. Uber, Twitter, Facebook, Airbnb, changed the culture of how people interact and the need for real time information and instant gratification. As leaders become younger, companies increasingly do not want to wait three or four weeks for a shortlist of prospective candidates.
Morris says: “Weekly status updates are not sufficient, PowerPoint presentations are being replaced by client interface platforms, and flying candidates all over the world at the early stages of a process has been replaced by initial video screening and virtual reality interviews.”
He believes that virtual reality will become the norm for assessments and interviews, and that digital footprints will be a company’s priority when assessing talent, rather than what candidates state on their resume. With more sophisticated data available quickly, the delivery of executive search work will undoubtedly continue to evolve at a rapid rate.
“Not all large search firms are stuck in the past,” he says. “but many of the disruptors in our space are smaller businesses, embracing technology to support their process, and not just using it as a marketing tool to hook clients.”
TritonExec employs 32 people and turns over: £8 million ($11.3 million). The firm recently announced that it had secured new contracts worth £20 million ($28 million) for the next two years. They have an impressive client list, which includes Capgemini, Accenture, EY, Deloitte and Gryphon Investors, and their very first client, Genpact.
Their success is testimony to the fact that while many executive search consultants know their sectors well, some of the greatest benefits are to be found in forging deeper and more meaningful client relationships, which lead to better candidate evaluation through understanding the company inside out; their culture and their journey.