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Industry transition – does it work, and what are the benefits?

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Eton Bridge Partners chooses to engage with functional specialists; many of whom have broad industry experience as they (and we) believe that many skills are transferrable and that alternative thought, experience and diversity can bring a refreshing tone to change. They ask the right questions to truly get under the skin of the organisations and people we work with to process efficiency, alignment across functions and projects within them, not to mention improved performance, cost reduction and altogether better stakeholder buy-in.

Ross Dawson, Procurement, Supply Chain and Operations practice lead, talked to Phil Busby, an associate of Eton Bridge Partners, about his experience in various environments, why he felt he had been able to lead successful change in unknown industries and how those transferable skills worked for his clients.  Phil has over 30 years of international Supply Chain Management experience with world-class organisations, across multiple sectors including FMCG, retail, oil and gas, biotechnology, and media.


Ross: I have seen the market get off to a surprisingly good start in 2023 given the pressures of inflation, nervousness around recession, and continued challenges in supply and demand. I have already worked with a broad range of clients over the past few months: across pharmaceuticals, business services, media, packaging, life sciences, retail, e-commerce, FMCG and Private Equity and many of the candidates I’ve placed have not worked in those specific industries before.


According to Forbes magazine, “having a working environment filled with employees of different backgrounds, skills, experiences and knowledge means that there will be an increase in innovative and creative ideas.”

Both aspects are very helpful in challenging markets. The same article also lists other benefits of diversity including; providing a range of skills, , happier employees, increased productivity, understanding a broader range of customers, more talent to choose from, and of course, higher revenue.


Phil: “Back when IBM was the largest company in the world by market cap and selling 70% of all of the computers in the world, there was a saying that ‘nobody ever got sacked for hiring somebody from IBM’. It made sense to an extent. Biggest was best, and the ‘best practice’ which propelled IBM to the top of the charts must have rubbed off on the employees, right? That was a long time ago but, however we try to structure the process, recruitment is still a risky business. Who wouldn’t want to minimise that risk and, maybe, be ready to defend themselves if the hiring didn’t quite work out as planned?


Consider the question of hiring candidates from within your industry or from your competitors. They know the drill. The language. The regulations. Stands to reason they’d make the transition quicker.

The interviewee’s career achievements are easier to assess too; you know exactly what it takes to get to a given outcome in your own industry. It’s a safer bet, isn’t it? Well, possibly. It depends how critical those early weeks are. And on just how specific the candidate’s knowledge will be to their success in the role, and how quickly it can be acquired. Even though it may involve an element of patience and some budget, many organisations profess to ‘recruit for attitude and train for knowledge’. But how many really do?

The candidates among us, unsuccessfully seeking to switch sectors, will know that this prioritisation of attitude over knowledge is less common than you might think. We know it’s harder to measure attitude than knowledge in a recruitment process, but employers, what proportion of your new hires come from outside your sector? How does it vary by functional area?


Look at the upside of hiring from outside your industry. To have become successful, your company is very good at a lot of things. Developing new products, managing  costs, providing customer service – but to grow, it has to be truly outstanding at something. To a large extent, that ‘thing’ will be related to the sector you’re in; if your industry sector works on razor-thin margins, you’ll know about budgeting and squeezing cost out of the Supply Chain – so will most of your colleagues.

Your new hire comes with a different toolbox. Be sure they’re capable of influencing change in your context, and then support them to make full use of their fresh eyes and different perspective.

My 40+ years of experience (and 7 industry sectors in 30 years of permanent roles) tells me that industry knowledge is a whole lot less significant than the skills and attitude we bring to an assignment in a new sector. As long as the hiring company is willing to listen..!”


Ross: With the perpetual turmoil in the market, now is a brilliant time to onboard change-minded subject matter experts who bring the diversity of thought to navigate your business through the next financial year.  Diversity is such a huge word. We feel passionately about ED&I at Eton Bridge Partners. Having diversity of industry background, as well as diversity connected with protected characteristics can really make a huge difference to the success of a business.


If you’re interested in hearing more about how to position yourself in different sectors, what ensures a successful hire from a different industry, or if you’d like to talk to Ross or Phil about bringing in subject matter expertise, please email Ross at or call her on 07710 884004.


* Dawn Graham has also written a “How to” switch industries piece for Forbes which reinforces the attributes people will demonstrate including agility, transferable skills, use of language among others which can be found here.