As one of the leading executive search partners for SME’s across the UK, we spend a great deal of time working with our clients to find the best solutions for their leadership challenges. While we all have a degree of conscious and unconscious bias based on our own experience, I think it is fair to say that SME’s in general look at their counterparts within the blue-chip world with more suspicion than most.
Many conversations that we hold focus upon the perception that these individuals are unsuited to life in an SME environment due to some combination of the factors below. Knowing that often some of the very best talent in the market is housed within the blue-chip world and that many of them are keen to break into a very different working environment, we try to refute those misgivings through our own experience of working with this group on a daily basis.
Not being ‘hands on’ enough
This is the most common of all the concerns. SME leaders are required to be both operational and strategic in order to be successful. While it is true that functional leaders generally work with larger teams in blue-chip firms, the post 2008 world looks very different for them. The light has been shone on resources like never before and most businesses have cut headcount significantly. This has meant that individuals have been required to take on additional responsibilities and broaden their scope; the ivory tower positions of yesteryear are long gone.
This is often mentioned in reference to a perceived ‘corporate’ style of blue-chips that wouldn’t be well received within an SME business. While it is true that some individuals struggle to adapt to the different style of smaller businesses, many in fact thrive. Bringing in staff from bigger organisations will diversify thought within the businesses and create far more adaptable and worldly wise employees. In addition, many blue-chips have adopted a more informal working style (think the tech giants) which is being replicated across the business world and is often quite similar to the style of an SME.
Why would they want to join us?
This is often an immediate response when being faced with a blue-chip candidate. Firstly, give the candidate the opportunity to explain their rationale (far too many people get discounted at long list stage for this reason). There have never been more reasons for even the very best blue-chip talent to be attracted to an SME environment; from the constant drain of resources and the ensuing lack of development opportunities, to the bureaucracy brought about by increased regulation, to the constant meetings about meetings and the inability to get these done. In comparison, SME’s can offer a far more fluid and engaged working environment, a closer connection to the end product and crucially, the opportunity to genuinely make a difference to the performance of a business.
We truly respect the opinions of our clients, however it is our responsibility to challenge their perceptions to ensure they make the best hiring decision possible. Through the ups and downs of the post financial crisis market, we have been seen how the working habits and career aspirations of many blue-chip employees have evolved, meaning they are better placed than ever to add significant value to our SME client base.
Hal Stoddart is a Principal Consultant, he specialises in recruiting senior finance leaders across all business sectors at Berwick Partners.