AESC President and CEO Karen Greenbaum heard a comment she’ll never forget. It came from an audience member during a panel discussion last year at the AESC Client Conference in Mumbai, India. “He raised his hand and said, ‘this business hasn’t changed in twenty years.’” The speaker said, “If I compared a proposal today with one that was written 20 years ago, they would be identical. This business hasn’t changed in any way, shape or form.” Greenbaum thought to herself, “that’s not true… is it?”
Greenbaum decided to explore the evolution of executive search, from its postwar beginnings to the present day. What she found is a vibrant, competitive, and deeply relevant profession not simply keeping pace with the global market for talent, but delivering sophisticated advisory work, elevating leadership worldwide.
Executive search has always been part of an advisory relationship, but when did the service evolve into a profession? In the mid-1940s, businesses in the US and Europe began to adapt to postwar prosperity. This led to the rise of competition for experienced executives, and a willingness to look for those leaders beyond the company walls and across international borders. That growing demand was the catalyst for the emerging executive search profession. Originally a function of management consulting, executive search became a thriving profession for consultants and a competitive advantage for clients. By the 1960s and 70s the need for experienced executives outpaced companies’ ability to fill those positions internally, and a more open market for talent expanded the demand for executive search. Today, executive search is a $12 billion industry.
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