Dan Hyde doesn’t fear the march of automation. In fact, he welcomes it. Dan is CEO and co-founder of executive search firm Erevena, which has a clear focus on clients with high growth ambitions. These are typically venture capital (VC)-backed companies, to which Erevena brings an understanding of the top talent needed for their success.
In this fast-moving world Dan says his firm sees itself as advisors, as well as recruiters. This is a key differentiator, as he explains: “From the late 1980s onwards, there was a move towards commoditisation. This took the search industry away from its early days when consulting firms were in the business of helping American companies globalise. They knew more about internationalisation than their US-based clients, so established advisory positions that grew into what we know as executive search.
“Nowadays, however, executive search is more often just commoditised senior recruitment, with engagements sold on robust, (mechanical) processes, or some sort of quasi compliance. This is not true executive search. We believe that, to remain relevant, executive search firms must help shape a client’s requirement in a positive way. How? By enabling and empowering search teams with the industry knowledge that clients genuinely need.
“Providing a true advisory service is the key to enduring the seismic shift wrought by automation. Without this deep knowledge and market specialisation, you won’t be around in 20 years’ time. The alternative to a knowledge-based approach is that the ‘value’ you bring will be delivered by robots.”
Dan’s firm has self-selected markets where its advisory strengths add real value. “We focus on architecting solutions to complex problems, frequently with clients who have never been involved with executive search before,” he says. “That’s because they’re often start-ups, perhaps software ventures bringing a new and disruptive product to market.”
It’s no surprise that Dan and his co-founder Jon Irvine, COO, have tended to focus on these disruptive market players. After all, they set out on their executive search journey with an ambition to use the proceeds of their search engagements to fund software ventures of their own. As the business grew, however, so did their belief in the huge value of executive search.
They began recognising patterns in terms of the skillsets needed to solve nascent problems. This insight has added another dimension to their role as strategic advisors, as Dan explains: “VC involvement in technologies that disrupt particular industries gives us a 10-year lens into the future. We’re finding that larger, more established companies are now asking us for advice on how to change the direction of their talent acquisition in light of this new technology.”
Of course, being an advisory firm demands a level of confidence (as well as market knowledge) on the part of the advisors. It’s the only way you can be seen as an equal by your client, asserts Dan. This shapes Erevena’s own approach to recruitment. “We look to hire people who really want to invest in their knowledge. We have some amazingly capable people here and we need to tell the world about them. This will be important for us as we look to grow our business.”
It’s clear that nurturing talent is important to the firm’s leadership and management style. “We know that if we want to scale, we must commit to our people,” he continues. “We focus on giving everyone the level of support they need to develop at a pace they are comfortable with. We want our people to take accountability for their own journeys through search, rather than us being a prescriptive employer. We’re as transparent as possible and are obsessive about feedback – both from each other and from our clients.”
The firm’s ownership model is another characteristic of Dan and Jon’s approach to business. Dan describes their employee ownership model as a ‘diversified long-term incentive’. They also retain their early interest in software companies, albeit as investors. “From our margins, we invest in a number of venture firms and early stage companies, distributing any profits via shareholding.” This model gives employees a better perspective on the VC market with which they work, increasing their self-confidence with clients.
Dan ponders on the challenges of supply and demand in executive search. “How do we make it easier for clients to work out if the problem they have is something we can help with?” In Silicon Valley this has been about hyper specialisation around function. In our case it’s about building a number of practices that are extremely focussed on what they do and building a narrative that knits those practice areas together. On the supply side, we are confident that we have a platform that can scale as our business grows.
When it comes to capturing and managing demand, we can see that this is something the large global firms do well. The brands that these businesses have built over 70 years are difficult for smaller firms to compete with. Our job is to use modern technology and marketing techniques to try and compete on a more equal footing. We are being thoughtful around how we achieve this; it’s very much work in progress!”