Q&A with partner David Holmes
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What’s your background and how did you come to work at Howgate Sable?
It was my ambition to be a singer, so after completing a degree in music at Manchester University I spent a while trying to break into the circuit before it became apparent that this was never going to earn me any money! I accepted a place on the Marks & Spencer graduate training scheme and worked in the corporate team before moving into recruitment in search of something more fast-paced.
After four years recruiting in the creative industries, I moved on to handle more senior placements in HR teams before joining Howgate Sable in 2006. I’ve never looked back!
Why are you so passionate about executive search?
I love talking to people and learning about them. Executive search is all about forming relationships with clients to help them get what they need to move their business on – being successful in this industry comes down to the quality of the relationships you can forge. I feel like I’m part of my clients’ firms when I’m working with them.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your career so far?
All of them! It’s always a feeling of great satisfaction when I fill a role. The fact that I’m able to earn a living from helping other people do well in their business is really gratifying.
If you weren’t in executive search, what would you be doing?
Something musical! Or possibly running a book shop or a coffee shop. Anywhere I can chat to people.
Who would be your dream client?
Absolutely anybody. Every person and every business has an interesting story to tell, only sometimes you need to dig to find it. Having said that, it would be very interesting to search for wildly unusual roles – something like head camel keeper at the zoo perhaps – but I doubt I’d be very good at it.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge affecting the search market currently?
The search market tends to run in cycles. You have periods where clients are building up their in house teams and times when everything is outsourced, so there’s always a challenge borne from that cyclical nature.
For many years there’s been a concern that IT will destroy recruitment and search but actually that’s not been the case. LinkedIn, for example, was meant to ruin the industry but it’s actually become a valuable tool.
How do you predict the search market will change over the next decade?
I’m finding that a lot of clients are moving towards more boutique search firms, rather than larger firms. It’s a change from the past few years and reflects a desire for a more personalised service.
The biggest change, however, will come about because of Brexit, in whatever form that takes. I recruit a lot of economists and there is a level of nervousness about what the future holds. It will be interesting to see what happens and, like all industries, the search market will have to adapt.
Your specialisms are competition, regulatory and professional services. How have these industries developed during the time you’ve worked in executive search?
There are more and more of them. The regulatory environment has increased dramatically in the UK; so too has litigation. Lawyers get involved much sooner nowadays than they did 10 years ago – the sheer numbers of cases has shot through the ceiling and the number of roles has increased accordingly.
What do you consider to be some of the major issues affecting these industries at the moment and how can they be overcome? What does the future hold?
Again, Brexit will have an enormous impact on these markets. Practically all businesses have an international or European element and it’s worked exceptionally well for them to be UK-based: Britain has been a desirable place to live and work – Italian economists, for example, have come to the UK in droves – but all this is likely to change. A mass exodus of talent or a reluctance to come to the UK for work could be disastrous.
Which individual has inspired you most in your career and in what way?
In my very first recruitment job, the man who ran the company had an instinctive eye for seeing exactly how to move his business forward. I learned more from him about succeeding in business than anyone else.
What’s your claim to fame?
I don’t have one! I’m just me and happy to be doing what I do.
Which conversation do you wish you’d been a fly on the wall for?
Anything involving the big composers; that would be so very interesting to me.
What’s your elevator pitch?
It’s quite simple really: I do know my stuff and I really do care about what I do.