Interview with Peter Szabo, SpenglerFox President for North America
SpenglerFox has a few searches going on in the US market at present. But I feel it would be better to start with a general overview of what’s happening on the North American market. SpenglerFox generally manages its business through two channels: organically (i.e. using internal consultant resources) and through partner networks.
My role in this process has two aspects. On one hand, I have worked for several years as SpenglerFox’s Chief Partnership Officer and my focus has been to develop the company’s global presence. In that role I made it a priority to look for partner companies that match the SpenglerFox DNA, if you will. We were looking for search and consultancy partners to boost our Practice Group work in Life Science, Industry and the Consumer Space. My previous brief was thus to build local (and sometimes regional) partnerships in areas where SpenglerFox did not have offices. Today, I can honestly say that this work has paid off: SpenglerFox now has a truly global reach; and in the past few years we have continued to move into new regions: Central Asia, the Nordics, expansion in the
Middle East, etc.
I believe the networked or associated approach is working incredibly well for the company. The SpenglerFox internal consultant team has worked to develop long-term partnerships that today generate repeat cooperation on new projects. Part of our consultants’ brief is to nurture business partnerships and to follow up with regional partners on new project ideas and leads. As you may have guessed, the SpenglerFox partner network is my "baby". Having been involved from the very start, I’m most often the person you come to in SpenglerFox to find the right consultant from our network: this applies both to our internal team and to SpenglerFox affiliate partners. Today alone I’ve received a range of diverse requests, where one client needs support in Brazil, while another Belgian client sent a request for support on a project in the United States. So you can see our reach is truly global in nature. Clients come to us not just for local, but also for their global needs.
By moving to the United States, I have more or less become SpenglerFox’s brand ambassador for this market. I now help pave the route for existing SpenglerFox clients in Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East to access the US, or more broadly, the North American market. My main role is to help these partners get a foot in the door. On the flip side, my team also focuses on developing partnerships with the US-based headquarters of multinational companies.
SpenglerFox provides support to these businesses and also to (so far) more US-focused businesses that have an interest in expanding outside the North merican
market. For our European and Middle Eastern partners, we do the contrary: we help them with their entry into the US market.
One of my favourite aspects of this new position is that it truly builds on the work I have done for SpenglerFox up to now. During my tenure at SpenglerFox, I have worked in all regions of the world. I have passed through numerous countries and understand and know the specific business processes and cultures in markets all over the globe. I feel I can honestly say that I can in almost all cases refer the right consultant for a specific job. This stems from my experience with and research on individual markets and working, in the past, for the headquarters of North American businesses operating in the European Union and also for Asian businesses that have since expanded to the US market.
Local assignments are an important part of my work here. I work with a set of colleagues and partners on the ground. I must admit that it takes some time to learn about and understand a culture; and I feel that in the case of the US or North American market this will take more than 1-2 years.
That said, our growth model here will be similar to the global one: both organic and through partnerships. I think it’s important to mention here that SpenglerFox has taken a big step in launching on the US market. This is something that we have been discussing internally at SpenglerFox for almost a decade now. I think we’ve chosen the right time to take this step, given that the US market is recovering and bouncing back from the Great Recession.
I would also mention here that SpenglerFox is a very open-minded company and for some time signals had been coming from both sides (from US and European/Asian clients) that opening offices in the US was the next logical step. It was our past partnerships and specific project work, along with customer needs, that motivated us to do the US launch. Our network was sending us signs saying "we need you" and so we listened to it. It is also important to recognize the global business reality: Europe is stable but more or less flat in terms of business growth. Germany continues to be the motor for the EU economy. But we, at SpenglerFox, felt the US economy would bounce back sooner: that there would be more business opportunities in this arena. We wanted to jump in and be part of that expected growth and help customers bounce back from the crisis.
Looking at the US market, I would say that there are not so many NEW trends. Take, for example, the energy market: energy does not disappear, it transforms. So I would characterize the US market as "evolving". There are some industries where growth will remain flat, but in others will expand. I think one important hing that has happened over the past six months are changes in the USD/EUR exchange rate: you have a strong dollar, which won’t likely help growth in US exports.
Generally speaking though, we have a seen strong growth in service requests to SpenglerFox, i.e. compared to 2012 and 2013. Our 2014 was a bit quiet, but all
indicators so far this year suggest that 2015 will be a strong year for business. Even US government statistics offer reasons for optimism. Among them are drops in unemployment levels, where we are also starting to see growth in hires at the management level. As companies start to grow, they need skilled management to lead their teams and this is a positive sign for us.
We also continue to hear confirmation of this trend throughout our partner network as well as from competitors: everyone is overstretched at the moment and they are hiring consultants to manage the increased workflow. Today, the USA is a candidate-driven market. Openings for managerial roles are on the rise; hence, good candidates are able to be selective in their job search process; without the need to jump at the first opportunity. This creates pressure for quicker decision-making on the employer side; especially when companies are fighting for top talent.
At present, I see the oil or energy markets pushing a domestic boom. There has been a lot of talk and concern about US energy independence in recent years and this has pushed US businesses to maximize efforts to exploit domestic resources. Beyond that, I would name the Life Sciences sector as one of particular nterest. US healthcare reforms are driving growth, and new technologies needed for home care are pushing innovation and new business expansion. We also see significant growth in some new or upcoming parts of the healthcare sector (i.e. the bio science and bio similars pharma). Additionally, even in the US, people realize that a focus on prevention could noticeably improve their health; hence, there is higher demand for healthier food (organic products). This is impacting the consumer industry in a variety of ways; namely, we see significant job growth in organic food-related industries.
On the other hand, some pharma businesses are struggling due to their limited product pipelines, while in the FMCG sector fast food companies grapple with the need to reinvent themselves. It’s worth noting that we encountered these trends much earlier in Europe. However, here in the US, they have come up more rapidly. This is because access to investment capital and greater openness to risk-taking helps new ideas develop much faster on the US market.
However, again, we see here signs of evolution and disruption: it is smaller, newer players that are filling gaps for product and/or service demand. For example, then I recently spoke to one of our partners in California they reported a boom in their business. When we first met 2-3 years ago, they said the market was "stabile but stagnating." Now they are considering a move to new offices as they will soon run out of space (due to extra hires that are directly related to increasing customer demand). This particular San Diego partner told us that their current overwhelming workload is literally driving them to look for more space. They noted that they have more demand now than they did before the crisis. So we hail this as a positive sign for growth: they are a very niche company but can’t keep up with demand. If they have strong demand, this means more business for other, more established companies will follow.
I would also add on a brief mention of the manufacturing industry here. There is a visible trend of growth in domestic manufacturing. You can see that US manufacturers are growing, despite the trend toward extinction over the past 20-30 years. This is a positive sign for the market: going forward it will create more jobs. For example, you see this trend to a degree in the automotive industry, where we have noticed a recovery from the earlier crisis. And the good news is that support industries are growing from this upward trend as well.
We currently see a trend where European companies’ sister offices are being brought over and/or their existing business expanded in the US in order to make the most of the local economic rebound. This applies to a wide range of industries: from finance, pharma, industrial, energy, etc. to firms producing consumer goods. The key factor here is that they are importing knowledge from their home countries or from other regions. That said though, we find it important to help our clients understand and face the fact that the US market is, in many ways, different from the European one. You immediately notice upon arrival that processes are different than what you had perceived from the outside. One must adapt to the way it is done here. It's not easy and one needs local experts, talent, managers to facilitate that understanding. Many have struggled due to wrong strategy selection. European companies coming to the US often feel that they can copy processes and strategies from their home country or other traditional markets, but they soon realize that when doing so, success is not guaranteed. You have to make assessments and employ the right Americans to get the job done.
European management transplants do not always work out. The "cut/copy/paste" is not a winning model for the US market. You have to learn about and understand the market and adapt to local trends and needs. You need local management to help with the "translation" and transition of their HQ’s goals.
One thing I find particularly interesting (and very surprising) is how Europe has surpassed the US in the fluidness of administrative systems. EU processing times are much more transparent and fluid. I see US administrative and bureaucratic procedures continue to run into bottlenecks. The things you take for granted in Europe are now causing procedural headaches in the US – this was definitely a surprise for me. Similarly, the structure of the healthcare system also creates difficulties in processing and meeting worker needs. And educational costs (at the university level) have begun to throw a wrench into employment processes: these costs make US nationals more expensive to employ – even at entry level.
In the US market, just like anywhere else, it is the understanding of the market, local culture (this often differs from one US region to another), people's behaviour, decision-making processes and the speed and complexity of business that company executives and managers need to comprehend before making tough decisions. This applies to new investments and M&A plans; as well as expansion of existing businesses. I believe companies like SpenglerFox can provide vital support as companies travel the route to market. At SpenglerFox, a balance of local understanding, coupled with our local consultants’/partners’ long-term experience, is further supplemented by strong organisational understanding based on our team’s presence both here in the USA and in our clients’ home markets.
SpenglerFox are pleased to announce a strategic alliance with Cowley Brown Recruitment which will see both companies look to grow and expand their retained executive search business in Ireland. Cowley Brown is based in Dublin with a mix of retained and contingency search business mainly in the Irish healthcare sector and as a consequence, also in the UK and Middle East. SpenglerFox is a leading retained global Search & HR services firm, with Irish heritage, across multiple territories serving both the mature and emerging markets. This new alliance will target the retained executive search business in the Irish market with an initial focus on C-suite roles in Life Sciences and related sectors, but will also create an opportunity for Cowley Brown to engage with SpenglerFox jointly on assignments in other countries around the globe. Through this strategic alliance both companies will bring considerable added value to their respective domestic and international clients, Cowley Brown having successfully built up a considerable local footprint in Ireland and SpenglerFox having a strong international brand as a retained executive search expert, with a wide international reach for sourcing the best talent for their clients. Jens Friedrich, CEO of SpenglerFox, added ‘’Following our Management Buy Out in 2017 we have been focussing on increasing our specialised expert industry knowledge as well as expanding our geographical reach and Ireland has been a priority market on our radar. We are delighted to form this new alliance with Ken and his Team at Cowley Brown. Such an alliance will give SpenglerFox the executive search exposure in the ever improving Irish market, while also continuing to strengthen our Life Sciences practice and serving our international clients who are expanding into the Irish economy.‘’ Ken Cowley, Director of Cowley Brown, is very excited about this new alliance for his firm, and says; ‘’We feel this was the perfect time for us to strike this arrangement with the team at SpenglerFox due to the continuing growth in the Irish economy and our own growth over the last 12-18 months. We have seen an ever increasing demand from our clients for assistance in helping to fill key C-Suite roles, so we are very much looking forward to the prospect of tapping in to the resourcing strength, market-specific expertise, and the global reach that our new business colleagues at SpenglerFox will provide. Also, we feel that the values of our two organisations are highly aligned, with a massive level of enthusiasm for finding top talent and for putting our clients at the centre of everything we do.’’ Both companies feel that there continues to be significant opportunities in the Irish market, as both FDI and indigenous Irish companies continue to expand. The combined set of strengths of both teams, as well as the level and quality of existing contacts and candidate-reach, means that ambitious targets are being set by the new strategic alliance, and both companies are very much looking forward to an exciting future, collaborating on multiple assignments together, both in Ireland and internationally in the best interest of our respective clients.
The Budapest Business Journal – Book of Lists 2018/2019 is an industry guide unique to Hungary and provides company data of 2,500 of the largest companies in more than 70 fields. We are pleased to share that SpenglerFox ranked 3rd amongst Executive Search firms in Hungary. I am delighted once again by this recognition of our services to the Hungarian market. Since our Budapest office first opened in 2005 we have been continuously identifying the very best senior executive talent for our clients businesses. As we now enter the second year of our MBO in 2017 our team in Budapest is continuing to grow and our Research team strengthened to further support our client and candidates as they evolve. Jens Friedrich, CEO
Delighted to gather our entire company in Frankfurt one year post our MBO for two packed days of relationship building, learning and fun. Since our MBO in July 2017 this was the first All Staff event, there was an incredible atmosphere and energy, we certainly needed the energy to help us through the networking, workshops and of course the party! No event is ever complete without an award ceremony, so we presented our staff with more than 10 years tenure travel vouchers, we’re really proud that 50% of our Foxes have been with SpenglerFox between 5 and 14 years! Damien Stork, Chris Beedle and Dan Godsall from Chamonix Hard Cross joined us on day two to take us through their Personal Eco System program. Showing and reminding us why our environment, sleep, exercise and nutrition can help our mental performance, and find more time for that work/life balance. It was great to get the family together once again, so many friendships strengthened, already looking forward to the next. Jens Friedrich, CEO.