On April 5, 2020 and for only the fifth time in her 68 year reign the Queen of England gave a special address to the nation. The uplifting televised speech focused on the current Coronavirus Pandemic and made reference to the first time she undertook such a task; in 1940, as a teenager, and during World War Two, she made her first radio address to the evacuee children of Great Britain. Fast forward eighty years and the Queen quoted the title of Vera Lynn’s most famous song, the aptly named “We’ll meet again”.
On a daily basis we are being told that we are in unprecedented times and for my clients this is unquestionably the case. There are of course some that have decided to pause hiring activities until they have greater visibility of the effect the current economic uncertainty will have on them. However, a large number of them are proceeding as planned with their executive hiring. This is generally because of the critical nature of the hire and/or because their sector - eCommerce, gaming, security etc. is thriving in the current climate.
I have spent the last two decades working with the world’s best investors and their portfolio companies building exceptional leadership teams. In March 2001 we launched the search firm Renoir Partners and a mere eight weeks later the dotcom bubble finally burst. Seven years on, and with Renaissance Leadership in full swing, we suffered the worst economic crisis since the great depression. These events had a significant impact on the technology segment, however, we successfully grew both Renoir and then Renaissance throughout the upheaval. I see no reason why this will not be the case this time, particularly as this is event driven rather than structural and the need for great leadership becomes even more pronounced in a tough market.
The biggest difference between then and now is our, and our clients’ ability to have real face-to-face time with potential hires.
When assessing potential executive hires there are four main pillars to be considered – experience, capability, availability and chemistry. In this new world reliant on Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype assessing the first three are relatively straightforward. Ironically, the current climate means both sides can invest more time and at a slightly less frenetic pace to ensure that the background, skills and motivation fit well. Harder to ascertain though is the interaction and personality fit of the incoming executive with the existing team when all discussions are taking place through computer screens.
Picture this scenario, I am currently at the final stages of a CFO search for a phenomenal London HQed SaaS business. The client in question recently closed a substantial scale-up round from a tier one syndicate thus securing their financial security for well over two years. The current leadership team is strong but the need to bring in an exceptional CFO is unquestionable and urgent. This is a highly ambitious organisation and they are rightly focused on finding executives with previous scale-up experience. A key requirement for potential candidates is they must have run finance and operations for an International SaaS business that has broken through the $50m ARR barrier. Europe’s B2B SaaS segment has matured well over the last few years particularly as large growth rounds have become more accessible. However, the number of companies with revenues in excess of $50m ARR are still relatively few and those that have achieved a successful exit are even more rare. As a result, this search is global with a strong focus on candidates based on the West Coast.
To complicate matters further the CEO is currently socially isolating in a Central London apartment with his wife, who also has a highly demanding career, two very young children and no childcare support. Finding time in his diary for interviews is challenging; the only upside being the eight-hour time difference when assessing West Coast candidates enabling him to interview using evening slots. I am delighted to say we are now focusing on a truly stellar candidate who lives and works in the Bay Area. The individual perfectly fits my first three selection pillars and my client is now in closing mode: “what do we need to do to cover ourselves and satisfy the candidate”. Further deep dive discussions with the rest of the executive team, NDAs, information sharing, using the investors and extensive back channel referencing are all eminently achievable. However, throughout my career I have never finished an assignment without the team and the incoming executive spending time in person and generally ‘social’ time outside of the formal interview process. On top of this the CFO and his wife will be relocating to London.
The level of due diligence we, our client and the potential CFO has taken is extensive and this coupled with the desire from both sides to reach agreement means that this will result in a positive outcome and a career first for me… Of course with the USA’s well documented pandemic issues and the impact on International travel his arrival date in London is less clear.
This client and their hiring challenges are far from unique in this ‘new world’ and I am also assisting a number of others. I am currently in the final stages of hiring a US-based CTO for a London Fintech, a CRO for a Paris based SaaS business, a CEO in Germany, a VC in Israel and a CMO in Boston; as a company Renaissance Leadership is executing over twenty searches which continue throughout this challenging period. At least for the moment this is the new reality and some great companies, guided by us, are working hard to find ways to navigate these uncharted waters.
In closing her speech, the Queen said – “Better days will return. We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we’ll meet again”.