Business at executive-recruitment companies is improving, buoyed by increasing confidence among corporate leaders and a stabilization in hiring for senior positions in the financial-services industry.
Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. and Russell Reynolds Associates say they see some increase in demand, a trend that was echoed in a recent survey of consultants by William Blair & Co., an independent investment firm. Meanwhile, sentiment among CEOs strengthened in April to the highest level in almost two years, as the Chief Executive magazine confidence index rose to 6.07 from 5.55 the prior month, based on an email survey conducted by the magazine.
Rising CEO confidence is a “key indicator” that’s helping to boost demand in the executive-recruitment industry, said Timothy Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management in New York, which manages more than $1.5 billion. “In the mid-to-later stages of an economic expansion, competition for business leadership intensifies, prompting more companies to employ search firms to attract talent.”
The first quarter brought “signs of improvement” for Heidrick & Struggles, a Chicago-based executive-search company. This included 25 percent year-over-year revenue growth at its New York office, which is “a good indication that the financial-services sector may be stabilizing,” CEO Kevin Kelly said on a May 9 conference call.
Financial services is still a “substantial end-market” for the two largest publicly traded recruiters – Heidrick & Struggles and Korn/Ferry International, said Tobey Sommer, an analyst in Atlanta at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. Its share of each companies’ revenue has fallen in the past three years to about 22 percent for Heidrick & Struggles and 16 percent for Los Angeles-based Korn/Ferry, down from 32 percent and 19 percent in early 2010, he said.
While banks have been cutting staff, they’re also pursuing new areas of business and hiring senior-level executives to lead these divisions, Ghriskey said. The six largest U.S. banks announced plans in the first quarter to eliminate about 21,000 jobs, with the most vulnerable positions in units such as mortgage foreclosures, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The 2012 presidential election and this year’s budget debates made many corporate boards hesitant to change senior management, Sommer said. While recruitment “noticeably stalled” for more than a year, it now is rebounding as some of the uncertainty has dissipated.