Be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity

1st April 2020

By John Wakeford

It was former US President John F Kennedy who famously said that in a crisis you should be aware of the danger, but recognise the opportunity.

We are undoubtedly in the grip of a global crisis that looks set to dwarf the economic fallout from the 2008 financial crash. And we all need to take great care to follow official advice to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the danger posed by the COVID-19 virus.

But both during and after this unprecedented economic and social lockdown there will be opportunities for talented interim executives and those looking for new permanent roles.

Boardrooms need to be aware that there is a realistic risk of senior executives falling ill in the weeks and months ahead if the spread of coronavirus matches predictions from Government scientific advisers.

News of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty all contracting the deadly virus within days, having worked closely together in recent weeks, is a warning shot to us all.

Experienced interim executives could well be back in demand to support boards who similarly find their top team taken out at a crucial time.

We are already seeing a big call for candidates with working capital/cashflow/restructuring experience to support clients with crisis management agendas. Now, more than ever, there is a crucial requirement for hands-on, strategic and experienced professionals to help navigate businesses through these incredibly challenging times.

Fortunately there is an executive interim community out there well versed at supporting clients remotely and primed to take on new roles, having seen a drop in demand for their services following the announcement of planned IR35 tax reforms.

Similarly, we have been continuing to deliver permanent search assignments which have reached offer stage via video conferences. It’s great to see clients adapting to a new hiring process and focused on bringing key talent on board.

Whilst it is hard to predict the full impact of the pandemic at this stage, it is inevitable that when we emerge from the lockdown we will face a very different economy.

Many businesses will be forced to respond by implementing major restructuring exercises at executive level and will need a fresh injection of talent to fill any gaps in key skills – particularly in digital transformation, ecommerce, finance and treasury.

Our message to both clients and candidates is we remain here to support you throughout the difficult days, weeks and months ahead.

If you are an interim consultant looking for a new contract or a permanent executive concerned that your role is at risk, get in touch. We will be more than happy to review your CV and discuss the market and current opportunities.

If you are a chairman or CEO needing immediate advice about urgently needed interim support or a discussion about longer term plans for your senior team, give me a call.

Like most of us I am currently confined to my home office, but having spent the past 20 years in global executive search I am used to conducting business remotely!

I look forward to hearing from you but in the meantime, stay safe.

John Wakeford is MD of HW Interim. Contact him at johnw@hwglobalpartner.com or on +44 (0) 113 243 2004.

Technology: both disruptor and saviour…

18th March 2020

By Spencer Jinks

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic looks set to have an even more seismic impact on the global economy than the 2008 financial crash.

Dubbing the international crisis an “economic emergency”, yesterday UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an unprecedented package of support for British businesses including £330bn in state-backed loans, support for airlines and a business rates holiday.

Equivalent to 15 per cent of GDP, the measures dwarf the £137bn of public money used to stabilise the UK banking system between 2007 and 2009.

As the UK prepares for the kind of economic and social shutdown not experienced since World War Two, coronavirus will undoubtedly leave us with a very different economy. Putting something of a brave face on the grave situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson predicted economies worldwide would come “roaring back”.

And of course we will bounce back. Where from, no one knows just yet. Why? Because turbulence in the global economy has become the norm in the past decade or more.

The four years since the UK referendum decision to leave the EU have been characterised by almost constant economic and political uncertainty. We finally ‘get Brexit done’ at the end of January and what happens? Coronavirus.

But if we thought digital transformation had created a permanent state of change with disruptors challenging industry models and the furious pace of technological innovation, who knows the economic carnage a prolonged period of social distancing and self-isolation could wreak. Not to mention the potential for many thousands of personal losses to the virus itself.

One of the likely outcomes is even greater use of the very technology that is causing so much destabilisation across various industry sectors; we are in fact seeing that transition daily.

Amazon announced yesterday that they would be hiring an additional 100,000 Associates in the next 12 months, to support what they believe will be a permanent change in consumer behaviours from the traditional to online.

With face to face meetings at a premium, as many of us are forced to work remotely for the foreseeable future, video conferencing really will become the norm for any businesses not already tuned into Skype, Teams, Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Fortunately for the executive search industry, the use of technology to source, access and communicate with clients and candidates across the globe is second nature, we have in fact been operating this way for over 10 years. So the impact of having to decamp from the office and work from home will be much less than for other sectors.

Less time travelling means more time researching and preparing candidate shortlists, and even more time to support clients facing yet more upheaval in ever worrying times, working in true partnership with shared responsibility.

So following the Prime Minister’s voice of reassurance, the message from HW Global is that we are well and truly open for business.

We are passionate and totally committed to supporting our clients and candidates through the turbulent weeks and months that lie ahead, just as we have for the past 15 years.

And when this whole situation is over, we will still be there by your side to ensure that you come “roaring back”!

Spencer Jinks is CEO of HW Global Talent Partner. Contact him at spencerj@hwglobalpartner.com or +44 (0) 161 249 5170.

Growth in fixed term contracts with benefits: the new opportunity for interims

12th March 2020

By John Wakeford

With confirmation in Wednesday’s Budget that the extension of IR35 to the private sector is going ahead next month, interim consultants face a big decision.

From April 6, medium and large sized private sector firms (over 50 employees) will bear the responsibility for determining the IR35 status of all their off-payroll workers.

In sectors like financial services, major employers including high street banks have already indicated they are taking a safety first approach and ending all such contracts, amid claims HMRC’s own Checking Employment Status Tool (CEST) is still not delivering clear outcomes.

This draconian response could effectively force interims on to company payrolls, paying full income tax and National Insurance and being taxed on expenses as an employee.

There have been warnings in the trade press in recent months of a mass exodus of contractors operating through Personal Service Companies, many of whom it is claimed will either move abroad or take early retirement to avoid the new tax regime. Others may opt to go back to permanent roles or move into non executive directorships.

But the reality is that like Brexit, whatever your personal view, IR35 is here to stay and we have to adapt to the new market conditions to find solutions.

What has not changed is the need for businesses to have ready access to executive talent. This may be to help steer them through organisational change, or following the sudden departure of a senior director, or simply the requirement for a highly specialised skill set they do not have in-house.

Both clients and candidates need to show flexibility, and we are already seeing significant changes in the interim market which reflect this.

For example there has been a notable rise in the number of fixed term contracts, many of which build in a benefits package and retention bonus – which go some way to making up for the income lost through IR35.

For the interim this could offer the security of a six to 18-month contract with full holiday and sick pay and a bonus, then the flexibility to take a break before their next assignment.

A lot of businesses will take the opportunity to undertake a strategic review of their entire executive recruitment policy in the light of this significant change to interim manager engagement.

The message I would give to both clients and candidates is to be flexible in your approach.

Clients need to consider that if an interim consultant is having to swallow a sizeable cut in their daily fee due to IR35, an attractive fixed term contract of reasonable length with benefits and a retention bonus at the end could help cushion the blow.

Meanwhile candidates have to accept that IR35 is here to stay, so now is the time to look at the lucrative fixed term and permanent contracts that are out there for the right person. But clearly it would be advantageous to be immediately available – i.e. not on a six month notice period!

These are unprecedented times of economic uncertainty, with Brexit and the coronavirus looming large, but for the astute headhunter who works hard to maintain a strong network 2020 could be the year they really earn their corn.

John Wakeford is MD of HW Interim. Contact him at johnw@hwglobalpartner.com or on +44 (0) 113 243 2004.