The Age of the Generalist Is Over, Says Odgers Berndtson Chairman

“How do you differentiate yourself in a world where technology and social media are threatening your business?” asks Carl Lovas, Chairman of Odgers Berndtson Canada. This is the question on the lips of many of the AESC’s members – global and boutique firms. Although the relevance at senior level can still be questioned, social media sites like LinkedIn create a perception that clients can identify candidates without an executive search firm, while the Global Financial crisis created an economic environment where this had to be put to the test. Some commentators have gone so far to suggest that social media marks the beginning of the end for executive search.

But while the executive search profession has faced a degree of disintermediation from these factors, firms like Odgers Berndtson in Canada are still posting record figures. Lovas explains that business was up 40% last year, making 2014 one of the most  profitable years in their history. “We’ve gone into 2015 with extraordinary momentum,” he says.

“The Age of the Generalist Is Pretty Much Over”

Odgers Berndtson is a centrally-owned global firm, with a presence in 27 countries. It believes that its local expertise provides executive search partners who are more attuned to their clients’ specific regional needs, while benefiting from the brand and reach of a global firm. Lovas explains that the firm has shifted its mindset to becoming industry, as well as geographic, specialists.   

“Executive search and the professional services sector is changing. The age of the generalist is pretty much over. Clients are no longer prepared to pay for articulate, bright people to show up and say they’ll fix the business. They expect someone to show up with in-depth knowledge and start adding value in the first minute. You do that by adding deep sector expertise. We knew we had to integrate.”

To succeed with this plan, Odgers Berndtson Canada has marked the last 14 months with numerous milestones: launching three new practice areas (a CFO practice, a board recruitment practice and a mining practice), opening two brand new offices in Western Canada and, acquiring Renaud Foster to build a presence in Ottawa, while expanding their leadership assessment and executive interim practices nationwide.

Lovas explains that implementing a strategy focused on industry and functional specialists “was like taking the brakes off – all of a sudden we started to gallop. Not only has our business increased dramatically in terms of financial results, but also the quality and level of the work we’re doing.”

This article was originally published in the fourth issue of Search Magazine, now renamed Executive Talent Magazine.