An international partnership made to last… SHV & Eton Bridge Partners

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Every now and then a partnership comes along that is made to last. Eton Bridge Partners has to date matched 13 senior leaders and counting with SHV, who consider Eton Bridge their “go-to” when it comes to international placements. And in this case study, based on our discussion with Pieter Van Holten, Group CFO at SHV Holdings, we find out why.

Globally recognised

SHV Energy sells energy worldwide, to both consumers and businesses. Having offices around the world including China, Europe, US, Brazil, and India, they are continuously growing their offering and along with it, their business locations. With worldwide operations revenue of $7bn, and employing 17,000 people, they are already globally recognised and have their eye on touching every place on the map.

Traditionally a quiet, understated company which has been known for being rather invisible, things are now changing. A move to a more driven and proactive business culture, as well as a more eco-friendly image, reflects how business practices have changed around the world.

In the past the business environment was rather stable; currently things are changing rapidly, both offering opportunities and challenges. SHV expansion ambitions have increased, energy policies require a change of direction and digitalisation offers a great opportunity.

SHV are therefore looking to attract people who can help them navigate both internal and external changes, while being able to communicate their core values as a company.


Client: SHV Energy

Placed roles:

  1. CEO – China
  2. CFO – US
  3. CFO – China
  4. CFO – Ireland
  5. CFO – Italy
  6. CFO – India
  7. Competence Centre Lead ERP – Netherlands
  8. COO – China
  9. Digital IT Director – Netherlands
  10. Enterprise IT Director – Netherlands
  11. Head of Group Safety – Netherlands
  12. Interim CIO – Netherlands
  13. Operations Director – Turkey

Date: 2016 – Date

Location: China, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, USA, India, Turkey

Thirteen roles across the globe… and counting

International placements are notoriously difficult to accomplish, and SHV are no exception. With offices around the world, finding the right candidates can be a challenge due to language barriers and cultural differences.

Whilst SHV is a global company, each of the countries operate autonomously, with business partnering head office support from finance or IT.  Each country works under the SHV brand but is in essence its own entity within their location. This means that SHV knows how important it is to get the right management. The appointment of the right CFOs and managers is crucial because they will control and communicate the practices and culture of the business in situ.

SHV must be a great place to work because they have an extremely low staff turnover. Pieter said that the company likes to take care of their staff. “It reflects our culture and serves the development of the company. If your people are motivated, they work well. It’s a nice culture to work in.”

A very specific set of challenges

Being a worldwide company makes hiring executive staff tricky, and not simply for logistical reasons.

Pieter explained that business culture can vary drastically from country to country, so even if a language barrier has been successfully navigated, by hiring a fluent language speaker for instance, if that person doesn’t also understand the business culture they are trying to reflect, they will still struggle to communicate.

For example, the CFO of Italy needs to be Italian but doesn’t need to be Italian. What I mean is that we need an Italian speaker, but one with non-Italian work experience, who can bring the north European business culture with them – bridging between cultures rather than injecting northern European DNA into a southern European country.

This delicate balance of combining local culture, company culture, and international business practices, is just one area where SHV requires a very specific kind of candidate.

For their Group CFO based in China, SHV were looking to find a European or North American candidate who also had experience of working in China, or of the Chinese culture. The right candidate would ensure that local culture is valued and respected, but also reconsider company practices where necessary.

SHV has a meticulous recruitment process which is based on their attention to detail. But while this scrupulousness contributes to their low staff turnover, it can narrow the search even further. “We know we can sometimes be a bit too specific,” Pieter says. “We also might exaggerate the number of interviews and tests that are required, and sometimes we lose candidates along the way because it takes too long. But once they’re in, they stay.”

Answering the challenge

Pieter remarked on how Eton Bridge Partners were able to answer his need for specificity, “You must have a very secret way of searching your database to find exactly the right person for the job. I have no idea how you do it! For example, in India we were looking for an experienced CFO with experience in project financing in the solar industry, and you found them! I have no idea how you did that!”

The answer lies in Eton Bridge’s collaborative approach, which stands us apart from other executive search firms.

We have managed assignments around the world, but we’re neither industry nor location specific, which means that we are able to look across a much wider network of candidates to find the exact person that our clients are looking for.

We have specialist partners in each functional practice area across; Board, Business Transformation, Finance, Human Resources, Digital & Technology, Operations, Procurement & Supply Chain, General Counsel, Legal & Company Secretariat, Sales & Marketing, with candidates around the world and with experience in all sectors and industries. This makes our network very collaborative as we can work together to find that one perfect person.

Delivering excellence with a human touch

Whilst our international reach is extensive, we make sure to retain the personal, authentic approach in the way we work which our clients have come to expect from Eton Bridge.

As mentioned in our previous case study, having one point of contact contributes to our responsive and exacting approach to search.

In a bigger agency, you have to deal with many people, with EBP I have one contact person. I can call Louise any time of the day and that’s really helpful.

In this established relationship with Louise, Pieter can see the value in Eton Bridge Partners’ ways of combining small business practices with a big business attitude. “Louise knows our organisation; she knows us and what we need. It would be 1-3 years of working with another agency for them to reach the same level of understanding.”

A consultative approach whilst keeping an eye on the competition

Pieter pointed out that while they do look to other search firms when needed, they come back to Eton Bridge Partners time and again, simply because we can’t be beaten on our ability to find those niche candidates.

Maybe we shouldn’t depend only on Eton Bridge Partners. We stay in touch with the market, and always have other people approaching us. Though so far you are ahead of the others.

This kind of feedback is invaluable to us because we’re always looking for ways to stay ahead of the competition. With great clients like SHV who constantly challenge us to grow and find new approaches to executive search, we’ll never get complacent.

Eton Bridge Partners have extensive global reach and the ability to locate the perfect candidate wherever you are in the world. Talk to us today about your hiring challenges.