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 wraps up the summer with discussions on talent motivation and agility with clients in the Czech Republic On Thursday, 30 August, SpenglerFox consultants led by Michal Vajskebr met with between 20-30 of the firm’s top clients in Prague to wrap up the summer holidays with some good food and drink and exciting discussions. The event took place in the Černá labuť (Black Swan) Gallery with its splendid view of parts of Prague's Old Town and Letná Hill. The main draw for the event was two very successful and interesting speakers, who came to share their experiences in executive leadership teams throughout the region. The topic of the evening was how to inspire and motivate good talent with a focus on retention. The expert discussion panel, moderated by Michal Vajskebr, included Martin Horčička, COO at Wüstenrot and Ján Čarný, managing director at COFACE. Comments by the panelists led to some interesting discussions and delivery of insights on what attendees’ personal leadership experiences and challenges they faced in the past taught them about team-building and motivating managers to perform. Martin Horčička (Wüstenrot): Martin’s experience is specific in that he has done a lot of interim management consultancy and worked in teams where he was brought in to manage a business turn around. His biggest challenges related to building and nurturing trust among members of the teams he managed. He pointed out in his remarks that the best first step, when new to a leadership situation, is to find the commonalities that you have with your team; specifically, when working in multicultural environments. One issue that Martin pointed out is that many managers, workers, team leaders, etc. are looking for a higher purpose in their day-to-day jobs. They want to be part of something bigger. He noted that when discussing difficult operational changes with teams he led in Western Europe, there was greater comprehension and respect from his employees once he convinced them he shared their concerns and passion for the future of the company. He noted that during his time in Belgium, the workers in the team he led had a personal investment, feeling-wise, in the company they worked for and wanted to ensure its viable future. Martin pointed out that one way to involve team members and secure their commitment to business plans was to seek their input in defining the company's business strategy. On the executive leadership side, he recommended taking the time to evaluate managerial talent and measure their personal investment in or commitment to the company vision or strategy. He noted that team members are more likely to deliver better results when they know they are trusted and company leadership is willing to give them the freedom to be creative. He underscored the need for executive leaders to foster constant dialogue with their managers and team members: help your talent understand there is no shame in asking question or seeking assistance. You'll be surprised at the results you can achieve when you set talent free to be creative and engage. Ján Čárny (COFACE): in his opening remarks, Ján reiterated Martin's comments that people really should like their work. He noted that local and regional markets have evolved quite a lot since his first years working in the Czech Republic in the investment banking industry. He pointed out that during that time most business leaders in Central Europe had yet to come across the concepts of corporate vision or company mission. Ján mentioned that, for him personally, one of the key motivators for excelling at work is the challenge that a given job or assignment poses. He had worked on finance-related projects on the Czech market, but then moved on to take on regional roles in Poland and later Ukraine. He noted that managing teams in diverse markets in the CEE region was fulfilling for him, because he got to see how corporate structures function in other regional markets. He also had the opportunity to contrast leadership roles in corporate vs. more family-style businesses. Over the years and across various national teams, Ján has come to see understanding of a company's business model as being mission-critical. He is constantly speaking with managers and their team members to find out what they do and why. He noted that problems most often arise when people do not understand their role in the business. It is important that executive leadership support teams in the creative aspects of defining and implementing business plans: executives should empower their teams by saying what to do, the team then says how to do it. Remarks from the two main speakers were followed by contributions from local and regional business leaders contributing to an open discussion forum. Some key points raised included the following: it’s important for executives to assess and define what existing operational systems work and not just pursue slash-and-burn policies (what to keep vs. what to discard); executive leadership increasingly appreciates how value for the company was achieved over the mere creation of value (teams should achieve results based on honest, transparent business plans); observe your talent, especially among younger generations, and find a way to balance their need to create and achieve with the results your company needs to deliver; focus on inter-personal relationships and building trust and mutual respect among your employees (corporate life produces a lot of unforeseen and sometimes unpleasant situations; you may perhaps have to fire your colleagues but, with politeness and respect, you can nurture those relationships and build new ties in the future); foster an environment that supports openness, honesty and authenticity (even regional cultures that have a tradition of operating based on 1:1 or closed-door meetings can be rebuilt). For further information please contact Michal Vajskebr. Image : Pixabay
Even though the Middle East emerged much later than Europe and the US on the international business scene, numerous conglomerates and multinational companies have established some kind of a set-up in the region. Attracted by the promising growth potential, many multinationals have built large local and regional teams in the main cities such as Istanbul, Cairo, Dubai, Casablanca or Riyadh. Just like anywhere else on the planet, the progress of telecommunication, the increasing interconnectivity of cities by plane and the hiring of the first millennials, have shaken the established organizations to their core. Working space is expected to be friendly of modern design and even a place where you can have fun in. Permanent email and phone connectivity blurs the boundaries between home and work space. Businesses in the region are now challenging the traditional office space, where employees worked a rigid 9am to 6pm shift sitting at their desk. Video conferencing, informal meetings, and work on a project-basis require additional facilities. One of the growing trends in the Middle East, which is gaining popularity day by day, is the flexibility for employees to work from home. Some of the cities in the region, more particularly Istanbul and Cairo, face horrendous traffic. It is not unusual for employees to spend 3 to 4 hours a day commuting. It is thus no surprise that home-office flexibility becomes as important as remuneration, benefits and job content, when it comes to attracting or retaining talent. In the recent years, multinationals have started to adopt an open space set-up to reflect their values of transparency and teamwork. Directors and Managers are now invited to join their teams in an open space. Meeting rooms offer the required confidentiality for conferences and sensitive conversations. This is sometimes hard to digest in a region where a private office stands for position and status. An even more advanced form of this trend is desk-sharing. The idea came as a solution to reducing office costs, which may well be the second largest expenditure after payroll, while desks are often underutilised. Consultancy firms whose teams often spend most of their time at client sites, lead that initiative, which enabled them to improve their P&L significantly. Newly-founded businesses are early adopters of nomadic work habits. Co-working is booming in cities like Dubai, a hub for regional start-ups. Flexible desks and meeting areas are offered by well-known global players in flexible workspace solutions, however independent co-working spaces are flourishing. Even the government-managed free-zones are now offering workspace to newly registered companies. This whitepaper attempts to highlight trends on the workspace evolution in the Middle East region, and how the latter impacts on international businesses. We believe the best way to explore these trends would be through testimonies of people that have led and/or coordinated their implementation in their business environment. We selected key note speakers, each one representing one of four key markets in the region: Dubai, Egypt, Turkey and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia(KSA) and asked them the same questions for consistency. We hope that our exercise will provide you with interesting insights and perhaps some food for thought. Africa_MiddleEast_FLEXIBLE_WAYS_OF_WORKING.pdf Size: 2.98 MB
We are delighted to announce the hire of Dr Eva Wuellner, Regional Practice Group Leader, MEA - Family Businesses and Technology “Based in Dubai, Eva will support our clients in both Executive Search assignments and Human Capital Services projects (Leadership Development, Assessment Centres, HR organization…). Having worked in multinational enterprises and family groups (Unilever, Amazon, FANUC, Lindab, Wadi Group), Eva has gained a broad cultural and professional expertise while working in Germany, Luxembourg, Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Egypt and Kuwait. Along her career, Eva grew her expertise in Talent, Change and Performance Management and Recruitment/Talent Acquisition. Eva holds a Master degree in Economics from the University of Passau, Germany, and an MBA General Management from the European University of Economics and Management in Luxembourg. She earned a Doctorate of Business Administration from Surrey Business School, UK, with the doctoral thesis titled “Talent Management in Luxembourg”. Eva is a fellow of the University Forum of Human Resource Development (UFHRD) and the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM). Eva speaks German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese.” Says Cedric d'Halluin, Partner, Emerging Markets - Middle East, Africa, Russia, Turkey. “I am thrilled to join a multi-cultural team of Executive Searchers and HR professionals in a company that is grounded on high ethical values and family spirit with a strong customer-centric approach.” Says Dr Eva Wuellner, Regional Practice Group Leader, MEA - Family Businesses and Technology.