Offsite manufacturing and building products – Recruit from within or be brave and attract from outside?

Throughout my seven years with Collingwood I have found myself guiding many clients on this subject.  This article is aimed at the wider building materials market, but two recent meetings with offsite manufacturers looking to build new plants initiated the opening of my laptop. 

All too often I have been taking a brief for an executive appointment in whichever business discipline within building products where the client is rigid on industry exposure.  To this I often respond – why? 

Granted, some disciplines dictate a firm, credible background in construction materials.  These tend to be within the following disciplines:

  • Sales Director.  Clearly knowledge of the supply chain, with a well networked “book of contacts” is immediately valuable to a business.  Likewise it would be hard to gain instant respect from a sales team if the new person has to learn the market and product.
  • Managing Director.  This comes with a caveat.  As with the above, if this person needs to ooze authority within a specific market then bringing someone in from a foreign industry is likely to end in failure.  This said, last year I placed two operationally orientated MD’s in the construction products market and both excelled at interview above those I headhunted from our industry.
  • Technical Directors.  Pretty self-explanatory. 

However, to my mind, numerous positions do suit the wider approach to bringing in talent from outside.  This is true at both directorship and managerial level.  To expand:

  • Operations Directors.  There are a number of occasions where I have educated clients as to the value of widening the headhunt.  Yes, any research piece will include those competitors and allied businesses, but that greatly limits gaining maximum return from the client’s investment.  For example, why does the incoming Ops Director have to have suspended ceiling knowledge?  What does “competitor A” have by way of an advantage in terms of their manufacturing processes that you are so desperate to grab hold of?  In this example would it not be beneficial to open the search up to include other manufacturing techniques that employ a continual processing line?  This opens up food, beverage and chemicals to name but three all providing some real best practice and fresh perspective to you. 
  • Modular / offsite housing manufacturing. So you’re investing in a new modular housing plant.  This is a narrow field to headhunt into.  Assembly driven industries (automotive and aerospace by way of examples) not only open up your options but the quality of individuals within these offer huge value (without getting too obsessed by the Toyota lean principles).  Once embedded, this person is likely to bring specialists across from the ex-employer too, something that will be limited within offsite.  People from outside the industry are grabbed by a true-to-life story and challenge.  As long as this is consistently fed from the headhunting partner, together with the company during interviews, there is no reason why your start up operation should not appeal to someone in a humdrum, matrix managed and bureaucratic manufacturer from elsewhere, where they feel opportunities are limited, decision making ludicrous and their influencing abilities limited. 
  • Marketing Director.  I have worked on a number of senior marketing roles of late and, to a client, meetings start off with “find someone from our industry”.  All but one has ended up coming from another industry.  Why?  Building Products is a limited pool in which to research and approach.  Not to say that talent does not exist, as clearly it does, but I often find that companies do not invest in senior marketing staff and they often offload the strategic element to an outsourced agency to deal with.  Additionally, I often find marketing strategy is held by the Sales & Marketing Director who, invariably, has a strong leaning towards sales. As businesses look to diversify and differentiate from their competition, having a strong marketing person at the top is continuing to be a necessity.  Securing someone who not only has exposure into a diverse set of markets (to include B2C) but has a structured approach to analysing market conditions offers so much more, in my opinion, to someone who understands aluminium fixings and the installer market.
  • Finance Directors.  The days of the dry, spreadsheet led FD are long behind us.  Today’s Finance Director is an agile beast who often takes ownership for M&A activity, IT (CRM procurement and integration) and sometimes HR in smaller building product businesses.  Again, getting to grips with a complex supply chain needs to be learnt quickly, but why limit your search to building products?

 I hope this gives you a fresh perspective (or hopefully further verifies your thinking) on recruiting a new person to build on your businesses success.  To reiterate, any comprehensive research led headhunt should include your industry / specific product range, but gain the best talent available, especially if the position dictates a fixed location.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss the subject further. Mark Goldsmith, Senior Consultant on 00 44 1829 732374.

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