James Emmett, group CEO of Hanover Search Group, talks to Becky Wilson about the company’s expanding international presence and what the future holds following completion of its MBO.

Incorporated in 1996 by James Emmett as one of the original founders, the company will celebrate its 22nd anniversary this April. Following two management buyouts in 2005 and 2014, Emmett now has majority ownership alongside Stephen Phipps and Paul Groarke, UK CEO and group director respectively.

Emmett started his career in financial services sales before joining Alexander Mann in 1992, having come into contact with James Caan in the late 1980s. As Alexander Mann Associates started to focus more on the IT contract market during that time, Emmett had a vision to create a financial services boutique, and Hanover Search Group was born. Today, the company’s core strengths lie in insurance, banking, wealth and asset management infrastructure. The company is headquartered in London, but also has offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dublin and South Africa. Through a joint venture arrangement with ALS International in Asia, the company also operates in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. Employing around 50 permanent employees, the company delivers over 100 searches globally every year predominantly at the senior management and C Suite level.

The UK business is now led by Phipps, who also runs the UK wealth management team. Phipps has worked at Hanover Search Group since 2001 and has recently been announced as one of the leaders in wealth management executive search in The Spear’s 500. He is supported by an excellent management team as well as Groarke, who runs the company’s global asset management business. “It is this solid foundation that has allowed me to indulge the global expansion plans,” Emmett indicates.

International expansion

2017 was a year of change as the company focused on its international expansion. At the end of 2016, the company acquired Opus Consulting on the West Coast of America, which was run by ex-employee, Antony Pitt, now Hanover Search Group’s USA managing director. The acquisition has proved successful for the business, as Emmett explains, “I had an opportunity to buy out his business partner in late 2016 and that business has been an absolute standout success. We’ve grown sales in US wealth management by 600 per cent in the past year.” In addition, Emmett reveals that James Ridd, the company’s international managing director, has made key hires for Hanover Search Group in New York, San Francisco and Dublin.

Hanover Search Group now has a 50/50 split between UK and international business, but global expansion is something the company only began to focus on six years ago. Emmett is set on continuing to develop the US business, and reveals, “The US wealth management market is absolutely vast; it employs around 400,000 people. We’ve got a very strong brand in wealth management and the US market is very fragmented. There’s no one firm that really dominates over there and we aim to fill that space.” The company is also planning to form a stronger partnership with ALS International in Asia, with a view to opening its own office in the region through a joint venture partnership. This will then be a cornerstone to its growth strategy in the region this year.

New markets on the horizon

Looking further ahead, to 2019 and beyond, expansion remains at the heart of Hanover Search Group’s plans. In 2019, the company is looking to expand into new markets, including the Middle East and South America. Also considering the post-Brexit world, Emmett is planning to grow the company’s offering in Dublin, and considering a European hub, possibly in Frankfurt.

Reflecting on the business’ recent investment in overseas offices, Emmett explains that this is vital in order to keep up in today’s market. He reveals, “You’ve got to mirror what your client’s needs are. Our clients are multinational institutions that have a requirement to source talent globally. The world’s becoming a smaller place, and I think you’re always going to be a bit limited if you’re offering purely a domestic proposition.” He adds that it also shows commitment to local markets and enables the company to have a day-to-day relationship with clients in the region.

There is, however, more to global expansion than keeping clients and candidates happy; it also enables the company’s employees to experience life in different parts of the world. Emmett shares, “We’ve got a lot of people here that haven’t yet seen much of the world and we really like the idea of being able to give them the opportunity to go and work in different regions and cultures to experience different things.”

Company culture and values

Emmett reveals that a number of Hanover Search Group’s employees that started their career in its London office now work permanently in the US, and retaining employees over long periods of time is something he is really proud of. He explains, “50 per cent of our London office have been with the company for 10 years or more, which is quite rare for the industry.” Emmett believes part of the key to this success is the company’s culture and values, which he emphasises are “critical”. He adds, “All our staff support our core values of integrity, humility, selflessness, service and courage. We pride ourselves on an abundant and collegiate mindset where everybody is committed to work as much for each other as for the company and themselves.”

In addition to the usual staff benefits of a good remuneration package, gym membership and healthcare, Hanover Search Group also tries to operate as flexibly as possible for its staff, and also has a youth policy committee. Emmett says, “I try and stay in touch with everyone in the workforce. We have a group of young millennials that sit down with me once a month and come up with new ideas for the business and it’s really popular.” The company is also focused on diversity and inclusion, with almost 50 per cent of its staff now being women. Emmett adds, “Last year, our top two consultants here were both women, so the ladies are definitely leading the way at Hanover Search Group.”

Opportunity in challenges

As always, there are challenges on the horizon for most recruitment companies, and Hanover Search Group is no exception. Emmett, however, takes these in his stride, preferring to see them as opportunities. One of these is the latest advancements in technology, where sites such as LinkedIn have created global databases of people, which are accessible by all. Despite this, Emmett explains, “There’s still a huge appetite from clients who respect our brand. The experience and expertise of our staff in disseminating all that information and researching good talent to deliver truly exceptional talent that will make a fundamental difference to our clients. I don’t think technology or robotics is ever going to change that.”

Discussing artificial intelligence and robotics, Emmett believes that this new technology will add interesting tools to the market that will make certain parts of a recruiter’s job easier. He adds, however, “I don’t believe that robots will ever replace people, knowledge, skills or human interaction. Robots don’t have emotional intelligence and to do this job well you need that.” It is new technology like this that has been evolving the role of the recruiter and executive search since Hanover Search Group was first set up. Emmett reflects on the speed of communication now available through emails and social media, whereas once phone calls were the main medium for contacting clients and candidates.

The future for executive search

While Emmett believes the executive search industry remains much the same as it was 20 years ago, just using more sophisticated and different tools, he sees this role changing to become more consultative. He explains, “Clients now want a little bit more than just talent. We’re actively implementing new service lines that clients expect you to be able to add, but at the heart of everything else, we’re still a people business.”

Looking ahead to the completion of the management buyout at the end of 2018, Emmett reveals that this will free up additional capital for the business, which will enable Hanover Search Group to continue its expansion. In addition to looking at markets across the globe, Emmett is committed to the UK market, where the company has operated for 22 years: “We have a mature and successful business with a wealth of experience. The UK is where the real strength of our brand emanates from.” With Hanover Search Group poised for international expansion, as well as maintaining its strong UK presence, Emmett and his team are set for success in the coming years.