Posted on Monday 11 February 2019 by Ulster Business

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Finding the right person for a job is already tough enough, but what about searching for the best executive to head up a business? John Mulgrew examines what it takes to find top bosses

Fancy earning a six-figure sum? Hitting the top end of the recruitment spectrum might be something many in business aspire to – but finding the right person for such a specific, and well-paid role isn’t as simple as sticking an ad in the paper.

“Top talent is scarce, very valued and much in-demand,” according to Justin Rush, managing director of Belfast-based Abacus Talent Group.

“This is because there is a consensus that strong leadership is critical to the success of businesses, this is especially the case due to the range and complexity of challenges all businesses are facing, such as the globalisation of services, disintermediation of providers
Brexit uncertainty – especially for those in manufacturing.”

There’s also far from a ‘one size fits all’ approach, when it comes to finding someone to take over a the helm of a company.
Salaries at the top in Northern Ireland, while certainly lower than in Dublin and in larger cities in GB, still range from in excess of £90,000, to around the £120,000, £150,000 and upwards. However, private sector salaries in other industries here can command well in excess of those pay packets.

Gordon Carson, managing director at 4c Executive – a recruitment business which specialises in finding top-level roles for businesses across Northern Ireland – says that the “market is tightening and organisations are conscious of the political and economic environment so there is some hesitancy around investment in people but there is also greater need for targeted search”.

“The uncertainty means people are wary about moving so traditional ad-led recruitment will struggle to find the right candidates whereas we are reaching out to the inactive part of the market which isn’t necessarily out looking for a job and is typically the where the most successful talent exists,” he says.

On to the topic of salaries, Gordon says they range considerably, and are “dependent on a number of factors, including the size of the company, turnover”.

“It’s a broad range for one managing director in one sector, a small family-run company or large company. Salaries for the roles we are hiring would average out at around for tend to be over £90,000 a year.”

Justin Rush says the requirements of those top-level executives in line for that seat at the boardroom table are “many and varied”. It’s not just about ensuring a healthy bank balance each month.

“There is no ‘one-size fits all’,” he says. “Small firms can be nimble and offer more attractive terms than larger firms if they have a clear and robust business plan.

“More often than not, equity buy-in options need to be on the table for those who will step into the top jobs. Larger firms will offer the typical range of bonuses and perks on top of six-figure salaries. Interestingly, SMEs are offering salaries and benefits that can compete with the corporates. Perhaps more from necessity and competitive factors.”

And while salaries are more competitive here, compared to other neighbouring economies, “that is more than countered not only by the lower cost of living but also by the standard of living in Northern Ireland”, according to Gordon Carson.

“In reality we’re in a much richer place. The challenges are that the talent market is getting tighter because of Brexit and it’s harder to find the best talent because it isn’t actively looking for a job so it’s therefore necessary to reach out to them to present to persuade them that the opportunities that are there.”

According to Justin, it’s about offering a “proposition that will focus on culture, vision, leadership style, and a clear outline of what the purpose of the business is”. “Only then will we go to market, the terms and conditions are almost assumed,” he says.
Part of the difficulty is getting executives in already well-paid and senior posts, to jump ship, and see whether things are greener on the other side.

“Trying to get top executive talent to move jobs is a big ask in today’s market,” Justin Rush says. “Uncertainty causes a ‘better the devil you know’ attitude. On top of that , there are long notice period tie ins and restrictive, while non-compete clauses in contracts are very common. It can take six to nine months to get the identified person on site.”

Meanwhile, a survey of top UK company bosses shows that they remain relatively positive when it comes to recruiting in the next year.

The majority of UK business leaders – around 61% – expect to increase headcount in 2019 fuelled by a desire to access key skills. That’s up from 54% last year, and compares with a figure of 53% among chief executives across the world, according to PwC.

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner of PwC, said: “Uncertainty is at the forefront of UK chief executives’ minds, but they know regardless of market conditions, there are always opportunities for growth.
“By investing in talent, technology and developing new business models, companies can adapt and innovate to thrive. Chief executive confidence on hiring is a very positive sign.”

According to the survey, the availability of skills is the top business concern for UK bosses, with 79%. And around 72% of UK chiefs agree that artificial intelligence (AI) will “significantly change the way they do business in the next five years”.

“However, at this point in its adoption curve only 2% of UK chief executives have introduced AI initiatives wide-scale and 36% have no plans to pursue any AI initiatives in the next three years,” it says.

Kevin Ellis said: “For the UK, chief executives’ growing uncertainty about where to expand presents an opportunity to attract new investment following Brexit. It’s time to talk up the UK’s credentials, not only as a competitive place for business, but as a fair and trusted one. We’re at a pivotal moment in economic and political history.

“Now more than ever, chief executives have the chance to reset the narrative on the role of business in society and build trust.”

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