The role of executive search firms

Can international executive search firms find suitable foreign executives for local organisations?

Many foreign executives are appointed by local organisations through international executive search firms. In particular, Type 1 FELOs (see ‘Typology’) are frequently hired after an international search for expatriate executives with the required skills and experience profile has been conducted. The medium and long-term outcomes are not necessarily very successful ones, as research on FELOs shows (see ‘Further Reading’).

Non-academic publications from leading executive search firms agree with various aspects of FELO research findings and urge organisations to prepare for future challenges (see e.g. Korn/Ferry 2009, 2012). However, these publications also indicate that executive search firms are themselves not yet prepared for the challenges to come. For example, it appears that international executive search firms in Asia (a) continue to rely primarily on ‘Western’ multinationals for revenue, (b) do not fully understand the — admittedly often unreflected — requirements of local organisations, (c) only have access to a narrow segment of FELOs and suitable FELO candidates, and (d) largely remain focused on a pool of ‘world 1.0′ executives.

In contrast, FELO research finds an emerging pool of individuals who do not fit into traditional ‘expatriate executive’ categorisations. A significant number of successful longterm FELO affiliations involves individuals that can well be described as ‘world 2.0′ executives.

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