Client Centric Refinement

San Francisco has been a much-admired city for a long time. America’s spiritual home for the technology sector is perhaps best known worldwide for the explosion of consumer technology companies like Facebook, Apple and Google that have changed our lives so significantly. High profile CEOs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have placed the image of engineers in hoodies and sandals changing the world firmly in the public psyche. There are plenty of clichés about working in San Francisco that appear to differentiate it from most other major cities – whether its offices adorned with bean bags or corporate campuses where almost all lifestyle needs are met.

But with such widespread innovation occurring, are retained search firms expected to match this modernization?

“Search in the Bay Area is unique,” says Kate Bullis, Managing Partner at SEBA International. “It is an extremely strong market when it comes to opportunity, but it also a market of terrific talent, and not just in engineering. Some of the greatest innovation in sales and marketing is happening here.”

Bullis also explains that San Francisco’s technology sector learned the lessons of the dotcom crash in the early 2000s, suggesting that there is less froth now because many businesses understand that they need to make products that are essential, rather than nice-to-haves. She says this maturity led to an extra caution and agility when the Financial Crisis of 2009 occurred: “The technology sector was quick to respond and tighten the purse strings. As a result, it took some time to come back but, boy, did it!”

Is Innovation An Expectation?

It doesn’t take long for innovation in the consumer sector to change people’s expectations of enterprise services – for instance, look at how human capital management software had to very quickly integrate social media plug-ins, refreshed interfaces and mobile apps to engage users who were being turned off by outdated systems. So with so much recruiting technology available that supposedly makes finding candidates easier and faster, is there a similar level of expectation on search firms?

John Ferneborg Snr, Senior Partner at The Ferneborg Group, says: “There is no question that in the last five years everyone in the search industry has had to work a little bit harder. The pace of activity has picked up. The name of the game is communication. We are expected to stay in touch with our clients and candidates much more regularly. But the search profession is still highly regarded.”

Bullis agrees, and explains that by being in more regular contact she is able to strengthen her relationships: “In the past we used to have weekly calls where we would report on our progress to our client. Now there is much more communication in between. I don’t keep hours, but because of that I end up advising more than I would if we were just talking once a week.”

Another often-quoted trait of San Francisco’s technology companies is that employees are less willing to adhere to traditional hierarchical management structures. An argument can be made that this is a more egalitarian workforce where status is determined more by knowledge and integrity, rather than strong networking. In this environment, search firms have to work hard to remain relevant and find hooks to keep their clients engaged.

Vito Bialla, Founder and Partner at Bialla and Associates, says: “In addition to our search business we have an LLC and we manage investments. I have several clients that say they appreciate this side of our business because they know that we understand fundraising. There is an instant compatibility and they know they can call us for advice. It’s fun to be tied to clients in a closer way.”  

This article was originally published in Issue 3 of Search Magazine, now renamed Executive Talent Magazine.