How to search candidates for CEO positions

ceo search

“There is no requirement profile for managers; each position is unique, as are the corporate culture and the situation in which the company finds itself,” explains Oliver Berger, executive search consultant at Korn Ferry Switzerland. A company in a turnaround, for example, needs a different type of executive than one in a consolidation phase. Apart from such situational criteria, the headhunters in principle agree on the necessary basic qualifications of managers.

“Leadership skills are at the top of the list,” emphasizes Christian Schaffenberger, Head of Executive Search at Mercuri Urval. Leadership? The CEO should develop a vision that he communicates so convincingly that all employees automatically follow it during implementation. And: The modern manager masters dialogue, sets clear goals and ensures a constructive team spirit. Some of the things mentioned here may sound like commonplaces. And yet, in principle, every headhunter would sign such and similar sentences. Ultimately, however, the hunters stalking the executive search area resist a blanket definition of what they are looking for.

Sincere team players

“Ultimately, we are looking for generalists who know how to manage a wide variety of specialists entrepreneurially,” emphasizes Markus Theiler, Managing Director of Jörg Lienert. The essence of this “leader” is by no means carved in stone, but is subject to constant change. “The question of the right successful leadership judges each generation differently,” Berger sends ahead. In recent years, authoritarian and patriarchal leaders have fallen heavily on the defensive. “The autocrats are increasingly driving on the sidetrack, and in return sincere team players are gaining more and more ground,” says Barbara Wieser, Managing Director of Digital Heads. She refers to the digital natives of generations Y and Z, who think more independently and are less believers in authority. “Hierarchical competence is increasingly moving into the background and personal and social competence into the foreground,” underlines Bruno Peterer, Managing Partner of Oprandi & Partner.

Accelerated technological progress also means that properties such as responsiveness and speed have recently gained in importance. Globalization is also influencing the requirements profile. “We are talking about virtual leadership qualities,” says Christian Schaffenberger. In international companies, teams scattered around half the world are increasingly being managed via virtual communication channels. As a result, the boss has to master a wide variety of moderation techniques and forms of communication. He should be able to delegate, trust the employees and have intercultural understanding. In situations of criticism and conflict, he is expected to act confidently. “The loss of authority has also led to the fact that one is critically questioned internally faster as a leader, if one lets certain abilities miss” says Markus Theiler in this connection to consider in this connection.

Reach as many people as possible

In the meantime, almost everywhere it has become clear that diversified teams perform better than homogeneous ones. The most important criterion of this diversity is a balanced gender ratio, even if hardly anyone can speak directly of women’s participation. “Board members and management conduct completely different, more balanced discussions when several women are involved,” emphasizes Berger. So in many cases today, the target is to recruit a female top executive. “Women on the board of directors has been the central issue in our industry for a number of years, and the ideal profile is that she is or was CEO or CFO of a listed company,” says headhunter Bjorn Johansson.

The industry does not agree on how easy or how difficult it is not only to find women, but also to find enough qualified top executives. “We see that there are enough suitable leaders for attractive companies in all industries,” says Markus Theiler. At Jörg Lienert, the practice of publishing all vacancies in public has proven its worth. “In this way, we also reach personalities who are not actively searching but who feel addressed by the company and the management task.

Extensive network

“Finding good managers has never been easy,” Christian Schaffenberger points out. Companies often have very specific ideas and requirements that are difficult to meet. One of the tasks of the recruiter is to differentiate between necessary and desirable criteria. At the end it is, assures Schaffenberger, a question of the correct personality, which must fit evenly 100 percent to the enterprise. Korn Ferry knows no shortage of suitable candidates. The world’s largest and leading executive search company has the largest database in global and local industry.

The executive search consultants can therefore draw on this extensive network in the respective industries and functions. “Thanks to technical support, finding managers is no longer difficult, but the challenge remains to find the right fit between manager and individual job requirements,” emphasizes Oliver Berger. Markus Theiler puts it this way: “The question is whether it matches and whether the person fits into the culture of the company.

Advertising for Zurich

This also suggests that executive search has long since become global business. “An extraordinary internationalization is underway; the Swiss passport is (unfortunately) no longer in the foreground,” observes Bjorn Johansson. In addition, the potential for capable top executives in Switzerland is actually too limited in certain sectors. “In digital business, for example, the personnel market has dried up even at the highest levels,” says Barbara Wieser. Moreover, it is nothing short of obvious for globally oriented SMEs to act globally in their search for the boss as well. After all, in most cases it is then possible to guide the desired people to Switzerland once they have been found. “Because of the high salaries, the low taxes, the good school system and the high quality of life,” says Johansson.

Oliver Berger differentiates and says: “It’s easier to find someone for a job in Zurich than in a lesser-known place.” In general, however, Switzerland is perceived as an attractive place to work and as an innovative and competitive country. Certain candidates are often skeptical at the outset, on the one hand because of the high prices and on the other because of its manageable size. This is particularly true of managers from metropolises such as New York or London. “But once they get here, they and their families like it so much that they don’t want to leave again. They appreciate the beauty of Switzerland, the short distances and the efficiency of the bureaucracy.”

Published by Dave John

Decade of work experience in leadership consulting with strong focus on talent acquisition & assessment across different industries and geographies.

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