Ethar El-Katatney

Hiring the Best

Posted in Business Today by Ethar El-Katatney on October 1, 2008

Hiring the Best

Close Up
Business Today
October 2008

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Photo Credit: Mohamed Allouba

UK-based recruitment company Antal brings its global expertise to the Egyptian market
By: Ethar El-Katatney
Word-of-mouth, e-bulletins, employment fairs and classified ads — all ways professionals search for either jobs or candidates to fill job openings. And the task, particularly in Egypt, can be daunting. But with the entrance of one of the United Kingdom’s top-10 executive search and selection firms into the local market, the search for qualified executives could become much easier.
Antal International, a UK-based firm with a network of 55 offices in at least 28 countries, established its first office in Egypt in May. As the first multinational executive search firm in a country where 41% of the 80 million inhabitants are between 15 and 30 years old and some 300,000 university students graduate every year, Antal Egypt is set to take advantage of a large market of professionals.
Connecting Seeker to Seeker
Executive and mid-level management recruitment is a global industry. According to the 3Q07 industry report produced by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), the world’s leading association for executive search firms, global executive search net revenues increased by 20% over the previous year.
“In the past four years, we have witnessed the unusual phenomenon of major forces coming to together to create an unprecedented demand for executive talent around the world,” said AESC President Peter Felix in a recent press release. “Organizations concerned about seeking out the best talent now recognize the worldwide shortage created by demographic changes [and] the expansion of emerging markets […] all contributing to a ‘perfect wave’ of demand.”
Antal has developed a four-pronged methodology designed to do just that, beginning with the executive search, a direct headhunting technique aimed at seeking out passive candidates, or those with the desired qualifications who are working with the client’s competitors. Through portfolio networking, companies benefit from Antal’s global database of candidates, while selection advertising tailors media and advertising techniques according to the type of candidate required. Antal maintains partnerships with leading online job boards and career portals like While each Antal office builds expertise according to the needs of the local market, the global Antal methodology is used across the board, and all clients, databases and information is shared.
Once a candidate is found, they are put through rigorous testing including interviews and psychometric tests, which can take between 30 and 40 working hours per person. A follow-up is conducted six months later to ensure both parties are satisfied.
Antal recruits talent for a range of industry sectors and for a variety of skill sets, with its clientele ranging from ‘Fortune 500’ companies to small and medium enterprises. Antal also offers free talent management to job candidates, including career advice, interview training and resumé workshops. It also aims to get under the surface of both companies and potential employees to find out what they really want.
“Our business is about finding out what’s in people’s hearts and minds and what they want to do in [their] business life,” says Antal Group CEO Doug Bugie. “[It’s] not about what they want on the surface, like job titles, duties, responsibilities, etc. But we get beneath the surface: What is the company’s culture? What do they really want to become? […] What is their strategy not only on paper but the mentality of the business?”
Paying an agency to recruit for an executive level position, depending on the location, position and the time it takes, can cost up to $100,000 (LE 545,000). Depending on a firm’s policy, a fixed fee can be charged in advance, or only after a successful placement is made. Antal is one of the world’s most expensive recruiting agencies, charging the employer 25–33% of the employee’s first-year income for their fees as opposed to the traditional 10–12% charged by other firms.
“Companies are paying big fees [for placements],” Bugie says. “Twenty, thirty, or $40,000 [LE 218,000] for a single placement — even here [in Egypt].”
Recruiting in an Emerging Market
Since its establishment 15 years ago, Antal International has focused its headhunting activities on emerging, or what many consider ‘high risk’ markets: countries such as Russia, China and the Czech Republic.
“In developing countries, there are a very few multinational recruitment companies who have the guts to say ‘I’m going to be a leader there,’” says Bugie. “They tend to go toward safer havens, and so that velocity is serving us very well because in the countries we’re in we truly do expect to become national leaders.” It makes sense, Bugie says, considering the large aggregate economy of developing countries, to make these regions their main focus.
The strategy has apparently worked — Antal is the number one recruitment firm in Romania, in Turkey’s top three, and the fastest growing recruiter in China. It is also the number one recruitment firm in Eastern Europe for middle management positions.
Egypt, like other emerging markets, has recently experienced a boom in the growth of new companies. During FY2006–07, nearly 6,000 new companies were established with an issued capital of LE 36.8 billion, a 235% jump from FY2000–01. And with Egypt’s large annual pool of graduates, at some 300,000, the new companies were eager to search for new talent.
Egypt is ripe for executive search firms, says Antal Egypt Managing Director Walid Abdel-Wadood. “I knew the talent [in Egypt] existed, but I ended up going into deals with companies based out of the UK and Dubai to find me good Egyptians,” says Abdel-Wadood of his time working as a human resources manager for a multinational company. “Now, I thought, is the right time. We don’t have someone reliable in the market; we don’t have headhunters with the right research skills to do the job. Egypt has an appetite for a company like Antal.”
Antal’s Giza office already has over a dozen global clients and has made numerous placements since it started work in May. Its aim here is to focus on employing mid- to senior-level managers in what Abdel-Wadood identifies as Egypt’s two most important industries: telecommunications and manufacturing.
If local candidates with the multilingual and international experience some companies require cannot be found, Antal will first seek out expatriate Egyptians to fill the positions. This way, Bugie and Abdel-Wadood say, they are working towards reversing the brain drain by bringing qualified Egyptians back to the country.
“You’ve got to able to sell people on the country. Tell them this is where the future is — don’t go to Dubai […] Tell them it’s dynamic, there’s opportunity here,” says Bugie.
A study conducted in May by AESC examining trends in executive recruitment across emerging markets found that both local talent and returning nationals will make up more senior executive roles in the next five years.
One of the concerns about this practice of bringing expatriate Egyptians back to Egypt, however, is that it may exacerbate the already existing wage gap.
“The gap between lower level employees and middle management [already exists because] local companies want to compete with multinational companies and so they are going above their wage scales [to] pay really big wages,” says Abdel-Wadood. “But it’s because of increases in high salaries [that] it’s easier to move people from outside in because packages are more attractive.”
Because Antal Egypt hires middle and senior management, and according to Abdel-Wadood, the wage gap between them is closing, the company will not be contributing to the problem. And while wage inflation is certainly a serious concern, Bugie adds, he thinks the focus should be on improving education to keep up with the demand for qualified employees, and making packages attractive enough to keep Egyptians from leaving the country.
“We want to help Egypt grow; we want to known to be as a change agent for the country that companies look to [in order] to make things happen,” says Bugie. “[A single placement of ours] is a pebble in the pond that will create ripples in society […] We have the system, the training, the attitude, the brand, the technology and the talent [to make this happen]. We want to be recognized as the top provider of talent to Egyptian business and […] we will.” bt

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