18 May 2017

Deian Hopkin

In contributing to the launch of our new website, I thought it might be an opportunity to share my reflections on the profession of executive search and management development. First, however, I should explain why I am here in the first place and why, after spending my entire career in higher education and having apparently retired, I have now joined my colleagues, Ed, Elliott and Nicki, in establishing this exciting new firm, Anderson Quigley. Part of the clue lies in the words “apparently retired”. Many academics will testify there is no such thing as complete retirement from higher education because so much of our time has been spent in a highly flexible mode, combining teaching commitments, administrative or management responsibilities with research interests and enthusiasm and with no defined hours of work or clocking on or off but an expectation that the work is a continuum. And so, even when the day-job stops, enthusiasm for subject and academic interest continues.    

The work of an executive search firm, however, may seem a little remote from education and learning.  And yet, in the case of Anderson Quigley, they are intimately linked. Our new business has grown out of the experience of professionals who have spent years successfully helping universities to identify and appoint senior managers and technical specialists. Central to that work is understanding on the one hand what universities are really seeking in their managers, and on the other how the skills, attributes and experience of candidates for these posts match the needs of universities. This is by no means a trivial task and requires developing a strong network of connections, a deep understanding of how the sector is evolving, and how the pool of talent is constituted. It also requires developing a relationship both with institutions and with individuals to find the right match of requirement and aspiration. 

Of course, I am not a professional search executive but I feel very comfortable in this environment, which is why I am involved in Anderson Quigley. I come to this profession from a different direction, as a client of executive search companies and as one who, over very many years, has been involved in seeking the right people for key positions in higher education. I have been a senior manager myself in three different institutions and an academic in three others, and this involves progressing through the entire spectrum of positions from Lecturer to Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, and everything in between and this means I have been involved in countless appointments at every level, often with the assistance of executive search companies. Over the years, I have also been pleased to assist other universities in their appointments, from Deans and Heads of Department, to Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Deputies and Vice-Chancellors. I have also been involved in the governance of universities and, I might add, further education corporations including the Learning and Skills Council and, for a time, the Chairmanship of the Student Loans Company.    

Perhaps equally important, I have been asked on countless occasions to give informal advice to those who aspire to positions of this kind and even though I am no longer directly involved in leading a university, I am constantly asked for references for every kind of management position. It would be rather perverse to start talking about success rates for my references! However, I would just say that I have provided eight in the last two months alone and I am pleased to say that, so far, three of these have been for the ultimately successful candidate… though I am not sure what that tells you!

Inevitably all these activities have prompted me to reflect on the process of appointment, from the early stages of role definition, to the development of criteria for selection which is the prime reason for being involved in establishing Anderson Quigley. We want to develop approaches to these critical stages to ensure that a university or college gets the person they really wanted for the post and, by the same token, that candidates get the job they really want or thought they were applying for. This requires clarity of objectives on both sides, a real appreciation of the requirements of the post and a willingness to undertake a thorough evaluation of candidates. This may seem obvious, but too often some of these stages are not always fully undertaken, with potential disappointment on both sides.

In the final analysis, a successful executive search exercise will have two satisfied clients, institution and individual. But there is a third client; the unsuccessful applicant who needs the most helpful feedback and advice, even if this advice sometimes encourages a different direction of travel or the acquisition of additional skills or experience. This a difficult, but essential, part of the exercise and one which is often overlooked or ignored in the aftermath of a successful appointment. After all today’s unsuccessful candidate may well be tomorrow’s triumphant appointee. 

Executive search is both a science and an art and, one might even suggest, a political craft. And that is what appeals to me above all, which is why I am pleased to be here.