Good Leaders Wanted … Apply Within

A perennial question which preoccupies business leaders and their executive search partners centres on understanding how, and where, to find the leaders of today and tomorrow. Of course, there is no easy answer. Networks and an understanding of the market are built over many years, and sometimes decades. The process is not static but continuous, and needs constant curation.

We are often asked how we patiently build, nurture, and replenish our networks ensuring Clients get a successful outcome time and again. Our specialist Consultants within the Retail & Consumer Practice follow a number of parallel methods to identify the best Talent in the interim and executive markets. These can best be summarised as follows:


  • Macro level: maintaining deep knowledge of an industry, and understanding which businesses are performing well and why.
    • Often, this is not the work of a single leader, but will be the input of multiple individuals – some of whom may have moved on.
    • Between us, Norman Broadbent’s Retail & Consumer practice meets with over two thousand industry leaders a year, giving us tremendous insight.
    • It is only with a 360-degree view of this level that we can begin to understand “who has actually done what” with regards to both successful and unsuccessful initiatives.
    • Market dynamics and competitor activity will also play a big part.
    • The best leaders are not always obvious and can come from adjacent sectors.  For example, Steve Johnson, recently appointed CEO of N Brown Plc, whom we tipped as likely successor to Angela Spindler, emerged from the financial services sector. Sometimes these individuals come from abroad, like Guus Dekkers, CTO at Tesco (Dutch, ex Airbus) or Marc Vieilledent, Chief Development Officer at easyHotel (French, ex Accor), both appointed last year.
  • Mezzo level: building a good understanding of how different businesses are structured, and what the implications of this will be both for leadership skills and for a search brief.
    • For example, we are often asked to find leaders with “full P&L and functional leadership experience” for Managing Director searches.
    • This is increasingly hard to find in a world where complexity has led to the development of matrix leadership – e.g. whilst commercial leadership sits in-market, back-office functions are shared across multiple divisions: full P&L responsibility will not be found below regional President level.
    • Smaller stand-alone businesses, and/or those that operate highly autonomous business units often prove a much better talent pool for these searches.
    • Conversely, those businesses that employ a matrix structure will need leaders who know how to influence and operate successfully even where they do not have direct responsibility.
  • Micro level: forming direct relationships with leaders at an individual level.
    • We treat every search individually, creating a search strategy tailored to a client’s specific requirements at that moment in time.
    • Approaching a broad group of people: many will be known to us already, but some will be new to our business, as we will be  to them. There is a tremendous difference when approaching these two groups.
    • Consequently, nurturing a diverse, trusted pipeline within the market through industry-relevant events, eBriefings and one-to-one meetings is a critical part of not only knowing where to find the right leaders, but of being able to engage with them quickly.

With the pace of change across the retail and consumer industries accelerating, and many established businesses being acquired and/or disappearing from the market, good leaders are becoming ever harder to identify and track. The onus is on search partners and internal talent teams to deploy all methods at their disposal to ensure businesses can identify, engage, and onboard the leaders that they need to grow and evolve.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, or discuss a specific assignment, please do not hesitate to contact Lucie Shaw (Director – Retail, Consumer & Leisure Practice) on +44 (0) 20 7484 0022 or via for an initial confidential discussion.