Our management consultancy columnist, Mick James, this week talks to Steve Tappin, former CEO of Edengene now Managing Partner Board and CEO practice at Heidrick & Struggles, who wants to transform the search industry.
First leading global search firm to search for best consulting talent
Consultancy is such a diverse space it’s easy to forget that it sits within a wider advisory space which contains many other disciplines. And while consultancies are often deeply involved in the most far-reaching corporate change projects, one of the most profound changes an organisation can undergo—a change in leadership—is usually outside their remit.
That task generally falls to the executive search industry, but it hasn’t always risen to the challenge. There’s clearly an opportunity for a big injection of strategic thinking, diversity and innovation into the way top appointments are made, indeed, the way the whole search industry operates. For Steve Tappin, a former consultant with a track record of building professional services practices, that opportunity was enough to take him out of the consultancy industry into a senior role at leading search firm Heidrick & Struggles.
“Big corporations can get strategy advice or use business process management but at the end of the day unless you’ve got the right people in the right seats at the top the company is not going to fly,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I went into search—to make a sustainable difference. You can literally shape an industry through the placement of the chair and the CEO.”
Tappin started his career at KPMG, quickly gaining a taste for life in the C-suite when a treasury assignment led to him working with the client FD on a company flotation. After building up the transformation practices at both KPMG and PA, he become founding CEO of Edengene, the award winning growth and innovation consultancy. Edengene worked with many FTSE 100 companies to deliver new growth for companies including BT’s move into new digital/broadband services.
“I wanted to bring together people who hadn’t been in consultancy before,” he says. “The consulting industry needed more value and a delivery focus so we brought together entrepreneurs, corporate finance professionals together with so of the best consultants, and looked for better leaders to create more diversity and raise the standards.”
The leadership theme took over for his next business, Leaders Reloaded, a coaching business targeting FTSE 100 executives, which brought him to the notice of Heidrick & Struggles. Joining as a partner, he is now managing partner of the UK board and CEO practice and on a mission to transform not just his firm but the search industry:
“What’s driving me is the desire to reinvent the professional services industry, to create better value for clients by bringing together teams of outstanding people.”
Tappin believes that the search industry can take a leap forward by introducing the kinds of processes and content management skills developed in the consulting industry.
“I want to bring together the best of search and the best of management consultancy,” he says. By combining a willingness to innovate and a deep strategic understanding of client’s businesses, he believes the role of the search consultant can radically change:
“We can become a business partner rather than just have a transactional relationship,” he says. “Already we’re starting to create new business offerings: for example we might do succession planning instead of a search. Succession planning has traditionally been done internally but we now have a leadership assessment and consultancy arm, so we can now assess the executives as well as knowing who’s out there.”
This will, Tappin believes, take the search consultant into the role of “confidante” to the chair and the CEO-a role previously reserved for a select few consultants and gurus.
Tappin believes that ex-consultants, who are comfortable both with an advisory role and dealing with senior people, are ideally equipped to help him on this journey.
“We’re looking for people with ambition, who are innovative, have strong judgement, are delivery-focused and want to be part of a team,” he says. For consultants, it’s an opportunity to place themselves at the heart of the business community:
“The degree of access to top senior people is unbelievable,” he says. “As a consultant it might take six weeks to get a meeting with a typical CEO, a search firm they will call back the next day. Over the next eight weeks I’m meeting with 50 of the FTSE 100. As a top search consultant you’re in a privileged position to advise CEOs and talk about their top people—as a management consultant you might be seen as trying to push a product.”
Search, like consultancy, has its own “Big Five” but Tappin believes that the industry is on the brink of a shakeout, and wants to see Heidrick & Struggles to move from being the leader of the pack into an unassailable position of leadership.
“Last year we had a number of big wins in the practice and we decided to stop taking on new business and build up a new and exceptional team,” he says. “People who join us now are going to be part of a pioneering group that is going to take the search industry to a new level.”
He’d also be interested in hearing from people in entrepreneurial niche companies businesses whose businesses haven’t taken off at the speed they would have liked:
“We’re trying to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to search,” he says. “I am looking for people who want to go on a bit of an adventure!”
See the latest consulting opportunities at Heidrick & Struggles.
All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of Top-Consultant.com and Consultant-News.com.
Contact Mick with your views or suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.