Bengaluru: Executive search firm Kingsley Gate Partners did not want to run with the pack. So it decided to use technology to differentiate itself from its traditional peers and give clients real-time access to its executive search process at the touch of a button.
In an exclusive interview, Umesh Ramakrishnan, a senior partner and a member of its office of the CEO, spoke about how the executive search process has evolved globally, his firm’s plan for India, how it determines if shortlisted candidates will be good cultural fits, how it measures their emotional quotient and what gets some of them blacklisted almost immediately. Edited excerpts.
How are you different from other search firms?
The problem with the search industry is that it really hasn’t evolved. It’s a business that started in the 1950s, and essentially started out of people who knew people. Times have changed dramatically, specifically over the last 10-15 years. We saw an opening for a search business that is designed from the ground up for the digital age.
Our DNA is transparency, and how do we achieve that? We are building tools that are in the cloud and are mobile-ready. So all our work that is done in search operations, whether it is the consultant speaking with the CEO or a recruiter calling the CEO or the administrative assistant sending an invoice or the consultant sending a pitch-book, all of this requires in today’s search industry for somebody to be in the office, somebody to be in front of a computer. So we thought why don’t we make all of those operations available on the phone?
Our consultant is able to do his or her work remotely from any place. All our work is done with a client portal that lets the client interact independently of us with the data. We are not just transparent with our clients. We are transparent internally. That is not how the search industry has been built.
How do you decide if a candidate is a good cultural fit?
That’s probably the most important part of the search process. We are in the process of building a relationship with an organisational psychology firm (cannot name it) that we already are using in the background.
Are you buying this firm?
(Laughs) We are in a discussion to further our relationship. What that does is you make sure you analyse culturally along psychological lines the existing management team. This particular method ends up giving you a (numbered) fingerprint as an executive. We tie that with the actual functional attributes of the candidate. You combine those two pieces of data and then go to the third piece of data, which we do very deep referencing on, which is essentially finding out the areas of concern in the other two pieces of data with people who are not necessarily on your reference list, but people who would know about those gaps. The triangulation of those three pieces of data mitigates the risk of cultural fit exponentially.
Is that really common in your industry?
None of what I am telling you is common in our industry.
Tell me about your firm’s plans for India
This sort of a (mobile and digital executive search) solution works so much better in India, even more than the US, because of the fractured way you guys have your executives all over the place. We are just embarking on our hiring strategy in India. We have people on the ground in Mumbai. We are looking at Bangalore, we are looking at Delhi, we are looking at Chennai because, for us, hiring a consultant who is entrepreneurial in nature essentially goes down to this -- Is he a good search person? Do we trust him? Does he have a cell phone? Since we are building this firm with that digital DNA, the scalability factor is exponential.
Do you think clients are ready to work with evolved firms like yours?
What we have done is to make sure that all our interactions with them are also doable in legacy paper. For instance, our status report can, if you so desire, be printed. We have to wean them away from that. We have to retrain the clients. Our client portal is almost ready to be mobile-ready (by 1 January to be precise). When you are working with 60 years of legacy, an upstart digital DNA search firm is not something that can change client behaviour overnight.
How has executive search evolved over the years?
We are looking for individuals that can not just transform themselves but the companies that they join by having a proven track record of having done some things that are not necessarily equitable to what they are going to do. To find that, you have to employ a sharp mind and have an open mind that is able to look around the curve. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many search consultants (or executives) that think digitally.
What makes you blacklist a candidate?
Lying on the resume.
How do you measure a candidate’s Emotional Quotient?
That particular piece comes through two parts: one is through pointed questions about scenarios and then you tie that to the psychoanalysis bit that we talked about. It’s a puzzle you are trying to fill out.