Pitfalls to Watch Out for When Involving Your Foreign Parent Company/Board in a Senior UK Appointment

The following article is broad, with some sweeping statements and is my opinion based on years of headhunting. It is intended to guide, not offend in anyway. There, I’ve said it. This isn’t a reflection on any client I’ve worked with, it is more based on my broader experience.  

Attracting and securing the best a given market has to offer is a tricky business for prospective employers. I often find myself advising business leaders on the best approach to courting headhunted candidates (for an overview click here).

Developing this I, and my colleagues at Collingwood, often find ourselves handholding a foreign board in this courting process. Without this guiding, ultimately, a lot of highly employable candidates would be turned off. This will no doubt resonate with a number of my MD contacts within building products who, with head in hands, await the backlash at final interview stage when foreign board members are flown over to rubber stamp an offer.

So, from my experience, what do those UK decision makers have to be wary of before involving foreign boards? Here’s a snapshot based on my experience:

Notice periods

Notice periods are key in aligning expectations of start dates and ROI from a new recruit. In central Europe senior staff are often on six month notice periods and, to further compound this misery, their contracts often dictate six months from the end of the current month. Conversely, US contracts often dictate only two weeks’ notice are required. I have witnessed this being a stumbling block on more than one occasion, with US boards aiming to get a senior UK recruit started within a month’s window.

Final offers

Due to the entrepreneurial nature of the US market, offers are often thrown around like confetti, or can often be perceived in this nature by us more conservative, sensitive UK workers. All too often the “courting” or priming process is lost on US boards. Especially the case when working with headhunted candidates, boards need to be wary of not flying in, interviewing five candidates inside one day and then throwing out an offer to the best person of the day. Considering the below point, this approach will more times than not end in pain, a wasted journey, or the company not securing the best talent.

Final interviews

Of late, I have worked with a number of clients with foreign-located boards. At final interview stage, by-and-large, candidates have experienced a less than favourable experience. I largely put this down to the busy schedules of the interviewers, and cultural differences to interviewing. Having been through a lengthy interview with myself, they have then often gone through one (if not two) interviews with the UK leader (to include presentation), and then psychometric assessments. To then have to hold a 40-minute interrogation with a cold, unemotional board member, who is plainly not interested in the softer side to the prospective employee, is criminal. Planning for this final stage is key and needs to be clearly communicated between the UK interviewer, the headhunter and foreign board. 

Working practices

Broad statement I appreciate, but many seasoned European workers are sceptical of working with US-owned businesses due to fundamental differences in working practices. There can be a perceived arrogance to US directors expecting others to drop everything to satisfy their time differences, agendas etc. Furthermore, working in the US, employees are often expected to accept secondments and promotions with open arms; irrespective of family and location restrictions. Family arrangements, in my experience, are rarely taken into consideration. A large portion of this, I believe, can be attributed to the lower taxes paid in the US. A peer in the US will earn more than their UK counterpart, due to taxes. The c.15-25% difference in wages can often mean other family members do not need to work. This, in turn, means there is often more flexibility to families upping sticks within a heartbeat. Of course, this is not often the case in the UK / Central Europe.

Holidays and other fringe benefits

US companies do not understand the UK/European culture of taking “vacations”. We, at Collingwood, have witnessed several times US-owned companies offering miserly holiday entitlements, or mooting that workers do not take compassionate time off, or take a week-long holiday. This is a major turn off to prospective employees and the UK leader, or Head of HR, need to be acutely aware of its impact.

This is only a snapshot of my experiences. I would love to hear from my readership on your experiences as interviewees or how they counter problems with their boards.