Notes from a headhunter’s desk - August 2019 782x504

Notes from a headhunter’s desk – August 2019

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the need for positivity and optimism. Even at a time like the present, when it’s relatively easy to find evidence of challenging conditions.

The British economy went backwards in the last quarter by 0.2%, Germany – the biggest economy in the EU – is also shrinking and the trade war between China and Donald Trump continues to rumble on. You could say there are signs that a perfect storm is brewing.

But although there are jitters in the economy, as a firm we remain very busy. Also, it’s important to remember that things do go in cycles.

Brexit and the US-China dispute, two of the elements at work here – both self-inflicted. If the Americans and Chinese could work together and Brexit could be sorted, ideally with a deal, things would look a bit sunnier.

Surely it’s incumbent on all of us, particularly our political leaders, not to exacerbate things – and I can’t help feel that the Brexit situation and the trade wars are doing that.

The challenge facing the high street

There have been some worrying statistics recently. More than 1,000 jobs are at risk at Karen Millen and Coast, Tesco is cutting 4,500 jobs at its Metro stores and William Hill is planning to close 700 of its shops.

It’s clear that things are still looking tough on the high street, but you can take a bit of control by regenerating and investing.

For example, the news that 50 towns have been given the opportunity to bid for a share of a £1billion Government fund has to be encouraging.

We know there’s a housing shortage; maybe unused properties in the high street can be turned into accommodation. If councils show some initiative and spend money to make their high streets attractive, that might entice more people to go there.

We have to talk about Brexit

As I’ve said before, the message from our clients is that they want certainty when it comes to Brexit. Because businesses don’t know what Brexit is going to look like, people are under-prepared.

Most of our clients want a pro-business, pro-growth, pro-enterprise Government that seeks to simplify tax and regulation rather than tinker with them.

They’d like a Government that talks to business openly and listens, takes good long-term decisions and provides certainty. For instance, I hear very few clients saying we should have a hard Brexit and leave instantly.

The majority of our clients would say we must respect the referendum result, but the idea of proroguing Parliament and sneaking Brexit in through the back door doesn’t feel right. People want a deal with certainty and a transitional period.

If there is a deal, it makes good old-fashioned common sense that people will need some time to adjust.

No business would devise a new strategy and implement it the next day; you need a period of planning and thinking of ways to make the transition as smooth as possible. We’d need that time to put in place technological solutions at places like Dover, for instance.

And then there’s Boris

Since my last notes, Britain has acquired a new Prime Minister. Yes, Boris Johnson may divide opinion, but I personally like the fact he’s come into office with an optimistic approach.

Now it’s all about delivery and let’s hope he can come up with a deal with the EU. The noises from the recent G7 summit were positive. He wants to do a deal, the majority of the public and business want a deal – let’s hope we get one.

Stokes sets a winning example

At a time when things look economically precarious on a global scale, what we need are some calm, cool heads to take some sensible long-term decisions. We want our leaders to control what they can control.

Just look at the example of Ben Stokes, who inspired England to an astonishing victory against Australia at Headingley. Stokes was up against it when the ninth wicket fell with more than 70 runs still needed for victory.

But with a combination of discipline, concentration, determination and an awful lot of strength and skill, he controlled the game and hit the winning runs. It was one of the most extraordinary sporting performances I have ever seen.

Tech continues to show the way

Among our clients, I’d say technology is still the most prosperous sector. We’re working with companies in tech, fintech, medtech and talking to people in AI and robotics too.

That sector is clearly buoyant and it will continue to grow and grow. Indeed, we’ve seen some stunning statistics in the last couple of months. Investors ploughed £5.5billion into the UK tech sector in the first seven months of this year, more than the whole of 2018. Meanwhile, the UK is now fourth in the world for scale-up tech investment, behind only the US, China and India.

We can talk about the decline in the high street, but is it not inevitable that there will always be certain industries in decline? Coal mining and shipbuilding in the UK have declined during my lifetime, while Britain’s manufacturing base has shrunk as we’ve moved to a service economy.

The picture is not wholly bleak. The UK employment rate, estimated at 76.1%, is the highest on record. Despite Brexit risks, UK wages have risen at the fastest rate for a decade with British workers’ wages rising by 3.9% over the last three months in sharp contrast to the slower economy.

An innovative, entrepreneurial company – and country – modernises, adapts and changes its products and services. The world won’t stand still, you have to move with the times.

I’ve mentioned before how Madonna reinvents herself every few years to stay current. Look at car manufacturers; they’re now having to adjust to the move to electric cars. You have to be able to modernise.

And finally…

Everyone at Eton Bridge Partners was delighted by the news that we took first place in the 2019 survey by the Institute of Interim Management, which is voted for by professional interim managers themselves.

This is a real achievement, a feather in our cap. Within each practice at Eton Bridge we have both a search and an interim arm. We’re pleased the search side is also holding up really well even in slightly uncertain times – the need for first class leadership has never been more important.