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Modern Search – Part One

Leading the modern approach to CTO and CIO recruitment

As business technology leaders have developed from operators of technology into change agents, it follows that the individuals and organisations managing the search and recruitment of CTOs and CIOs also undergoes change.  For the second of three Horizon Business Innovation podcasts on the CTO and CIO jobs landscape, three leaders in executive search, all of whom have been at the forefront of search transformation entered the studio to discuss modern search.

“I think a lot of us in this room would agree that recruitment needed to change,” Pat Lynes, founder of Sullivan & Stanley an interim recruitment specialist.  Lynes heads a startup recruitment firm having spent his career with two of the major players in recruitment.  “There are quite a few people trying to pioneer new ways of servicing our clients,” he says.

“People coming into the sector are looking at it and saying this is not good enough,” Kersty Bletso, Director of the Technology and Digital Practice at BIE Executive boldly says. “You don’t just want to work in an organisation that is getting bigger and bigger,” she says of why she left large organisations to work for a business that puts the customer first.  It is a topic Bletso, Lynes, Stacey and I have talked of many times, how the business technology leadership community is abused by some organisations who show little care for those they profit from. “There is a move towards a boutique and smaller practice where you can me more innovative,” Bletso says.

“It is reflective of the change in demand from the marketplace,” Ross Stacey, Partner of the CIO Practice at SA says. Like his peers Stacey has been at the forefront of the executive search community for over eight years. “An entirely different CIO is required; a commercially and strategically CIO and for us that means a different network and approach,” Stacey adds.

All three recruitment executives have impressive track records and it is there focus on the needs of the CTO and CIO that has enabled them to innovate and keep pace with the changing demands of the market.  “We are specialists in CIO search for a reason, because there is a lot of research that goes into it,” Bletso adds.

“Modern search is much more about being truly consultative and sitting with the board members and really understanding what they need,” Stacey says.

“It is moving away from placing individuals and instead thinking about what else I can offer my network,” says Lynes. “I have opened my community to people that choose to partner with me,” the startup leader says of a community that Horizon has had the honour of taking part in.  Connecting community members is something all three have selflessly pushed, BIE and Bletso organised briefings with the World Economic Forum for community members, whilst Stacey is always ready to connect innovation leaders.

As a result, all three report that there has been a blurring of their role and the offering to the organisations and candidates they work with. Their organisations have moved into consultation work and in turn, this is leading to new business models and changes to revenue models.

“We have all had to review payment terms and you have to assure the client that you are there to work with the client and will be there for them,” Bletso says. “Search has had a feel of cut and run in the past, but now people want to know that you are a partner.”

“I’m seeing a lot of execs want to go to challenger consulting firms and that is because no one knows what will happen in 18 months, so they want a more iterative model,” Lynes of Sullivan and Stanley says.

“This view of head hunters is of a large corner office with the oak desk who is hard to get hold of is unpallatable in the market now,” Stacey says.

“You have to demonstrate how you add value to the process. People want communications and transparency,” Stacey says of how, like technology service providers, search organisations have to be increasingly agile. “Old revenue models where people paid 66% of the fee before a short list was sent to HR is no longer acceptable, you have to show flexibility.”

“You cannot have a rigid mode,” Stacey adds. Lynes says that just as outsourcing has suffered as CIOs built in-house teams, so too are HR Directors becoming a disruptor to search providers.

“It is the speed you can move at now,” Bletso adds, “12 weeks is no longer satisfactory; so when a client says I need a CIO then you can say “I have two”’. As with any change in business model, there are those that don’t trust new methods. “We have to educate the market that we have done a lot of knowledge work up front,” she says. Lynes adds that providing teams is becoming an “on demand” service reflective of technology.

“It is not an old boys network. What you are constantly doing is meeting people and it has to be a time commitment and we need the revenue models to fit that,” Stacey says of a criticism occasionally leveled at the search industry.

“At senior level it is not about box ticking, but matchmaking,  knowing exactly what the CEO needs,” Bletso says.  “The spirit and mechanisms are the same whether it is permanent or interim,” adds Lynes.  “It is always about the chemistry,” says Stacey.

Jobs market

As reported by Horizon, 2016 was a healthy year for the CTO and CIO job market.  Will 2017 be a good year to change roles?

“Permanent roles has picked up, there was a summer lull and a leap in interim interest,” Bletso says, which she says may well have been a reaction to the UK referendum on EU membership.

“2016 was a really busy year,” Stacey says. Comparing last year to the 2007 and 2008 slow down he says no matter the economic cycle the need for a good CIO is now crucial and part of business. “It is about hiring the right technology leader for your business and a lot of the transformation roles have been shifted to permanent roles.” Lynes focuses on the interim market with his business Sullivan & Stanley and says the market is strong. “Doing nothing is too risky as change is coming,” he says of how businesses cannot afford to be without a good business technology leader. All three see the CTO role on the rise and CDO decreasing in popularity.

“If you are asking your CIO to look beyond the IT estate and deliver change beyond the enterprise , then soft skills, engagement and influence are all about someone’s ability to deliver,” Stacey says of the key skills today’s CTO and CIO needs. Bletso of BIE agrees: “Stakeholder engagement is crucial, so many CEOs are frightened of a CIO coming in and just talking technology.”

Next week in the second part of this insightful discussion with three of the leading recruiters Bletso, Lynes and Stacey delve into the issues of body-shopping and the next generation of business technology leader.  This second podcast will be available on Thursday 26th January 2017.

Kersty Bletso, Director of the Technology and Digital Practice at BIE Executive: “At senior level it is not about box ticking, but matchmaking,  knowing exactly what the CEO needs.” 






Right – Pat Lynes, founder of Sullivan & Stanley: “It is moving away from placing individuals and instead thinking about what else I can offer my network.”

Below – Ross Stacey Partner of the CIO Practice at SA “An entirely different CIO is required; a commercially and strategically CIO and for us that means a different network and approach.”

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