Ensuring survival in Executive Search
Executive Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Global Leaders Series

Ensuring survival in Executive Search

Tim Sheffield, Chairman of Sheffield Haworth explores how the industry's toughest challenge can be the key to survival in 2019


Remaining relevant is one of the executive search industry’s toughest challenges, according to Tim Sheffield, Chairman of Sheffield Haworth. “Clients are more sophisticated in how they acquire senior talent than ever before,” he explains. “Many have pretty impressive in-house talent acquisition teams, so our industry has to ensure it’s adding value – or what is its purpose?”

Sheffield is well placed to have a view on the industry in which he’s carved his career for almost three decades. At 26-years of age, just two years into his first job in executive search, he teamed up with Nigel Haworth to establish Sheffield Haworth.

In the ensuing years, he has observed much commoditisation of executive search and believes service providers that are becoming commoditised are now finding it a difficult market. Why? “Because companies feel they can do it better and cheaper in-house,” he says.

Sheffield’s absolute focus on remaining relevant means that his firm is evolving into a global multi-sector talent consulting firm. “We know we must demonstrate how we add value and validate the fees we charge,” he continues. “It’s important to recognise clients’ changing needs and adapt our model accordingly. Whether that’s our pricing; how we engage; or moving into new areas, such as talent advisory and consulting solutions.”

Describe your business style

"To be successful, you must be passionate about what you do, determined and organised. I'm also not afraid to take risks and to learn from experiences, both good and bad. Good leadership comes from putting others ahead of yourself. It's about supporting your people and giving them the opportunity to challenge themselves and grow."


Slow pace of digitalisation

Sheffield asserts that executive search is way behind other industries in embracing digital. “Not much has changed in recent years, with consultants using the same communications channels and technology that have been around for some time.

“There is a huge opportunity for organisations like ours to take the lead in digital services. That’s why I’m looking forward to Sheffield Haworth using the new Invenias X Client Portal to deliver market insight and analysis to clients digitally. We also recognise that a new generation of leaders will expect to interact via the latest digital means.”

These future leaders are increasingly global. Sheffield believes the industry must take a global view on where the talent is. After all, if there’s a great job in London or New York, top talent will relocate. “I have spent a lot of time in the Middle East, India and Asia where the depth of talent in technology and digitalisation is proving transformative. Our clients no longer see India as purely an outsourcing region, but as an innovation region.”


What gives you drive?

"The sense that I have a responsibility to the business; to everyone who works here. I love creating something from nothing."



A future vision
Where does Sheffield see the future value of executive search firms? “One of the holy grails is access to senior decision makers in client organisations and the networks we have with them,” he responds.

“Firms like ours can provide these senior decision makers with relevant solutions by really getting to know their business strategy and aspirations. For example, there is a growing trend for using independent consultants to deliver strategic transformation projects or to help build robust succession planning programmes to future proof the business.”

Sheffield is adamant that, despite the current political upheaval in Europe, London will remain a magnet for executive talent. “The executive search sector will keep growing as clients look to future proof their businesses by bringing on board leaders in areas such as digital and smart technology, irrespective of the political climate.”

He continues: “In the end, executive search is a people business. My ambition for Sheffield Haworth is to continue to attract and develop the right people to position us as the leading multi-sector global talent consulting company. The onus is on us to use the technology available to tap into diverse information sources that inform our decisions and enable us to offer a relevant, insightful service to our clients.”