We missed out on the job – but there’s always next time.

Sportspeople Recruitment has just commenced working on our 220th CEO assignment – an off-market process via our executive search division. In filling these CEO and thousands of other entry-middle management roles, we’ve been the trusted first choice partner of employers & Boards of all size and profile.

For many of these roles Sportspeople Recruitment was appointed to manage the search process based on the strength and success of earlier work with the employer. Occasionally and more commonly for C-suite (executive level managers) we are invited to submit a services quote in a competitive bid against other agencies, with the decision resting with a Nominations Committee or a Chairperson.

Sportspeople Recruitment was runner up recently in our pitch to assist in a high-profile NSO CEO search. We would have liked the work but it wasn’t to be. That’s OK, as it happens occasionally and we are happy in the knowledge we continue to fill more roles than all the other specialists combined. However, the reasons offered seem to imply our messaging had been off-mark or, as it was later explained to me, perhaps an outcome of the self-interest myths other agencies continue to promulgate.

We have always acknowledged and respected employers have a choice in selecting a recruitment & search partner. Sportspeople Recruitment was first in market here in Australia & New Zealand and as far as we can tell, possibly one of the first sport specialists in the world. Over the past 25 years we’ve seen recruitment agencies come and go and expect that to be a continuing trend, particularly after the events of the past 12 months where the viability of many remains shaky at best.

I’d like to share the feedback we received and our response.

Firstly I was advised the decision to use the other agency came down to a global office network as the employer wanted to embark on a global search. The underlying assertion is of course, that by having offices “around the globe” the other agency was able to better attract talent. This is of course the first myth, given we live in a highly connected world where contact with and access to talent is simply a click-away. Our talent network has been curated over many years and we have candidates inside & outside the sport sector from all parts of the world. Sportspeople Recruitment was an early adopter of video-interviews as we have been working internationally since 2000. To attract talent in 2021 there is no need to have bricks & mortar offices spread around the globe as we can contact, talk and negotiate with virtually anyone, anywhere at any time.

When we established the business 25 years ago we wanted to be the first recruiter in the sport sector in Australia and NZ and then continue to build a trusted and respected brand offering a suite of meaningful services for employers of all scale and profile. We also wanted to help job seekers connect with employers and built a Candidate Management Policy upon which we continue to base our practices. We certainly did not need “International” or “Global” in our name and have no interest in being encumbered by old-school bricks & mortar offices in New York, London or Paris. And above all else, we certainly didn’t want to be a subsidiary of or owned by an overseas company.

That’s why our tagline is simply … Global Talent – Local Solutions – Since 1996.

I went on to mention a number of recent “global search processes” for other high-profile CEOs where the end result shortlist and appointment was in fact exclusively “local”, including in a couple of instances the appointment of the Acting CEO.

Maybe these quick facts did resonate with the Chair, so the second reason for Sportspeople Recruitment not progressing was related to an absence of talent within the sport management profession. The Chair indicated the Board had taken a hard look at the talent of the sector and felt it was second rate, with a preference to seek a new CEO from outside the sport sector entirely.

My thought bubble popped up. There’s a real question mark on success of the progressive corporatisation of NSO Boards over the past decade and I’m not so sure it has produced the desired outcome. Indeed, in a recent self-commissioned report, the sport which was led by this very same Chair has been found to have a significant disconnect with its membership & stakeholder group. I’ve previously shared my view there is great merit in having a skilled based Board, but in doing so avoiding the exclusive recruitment of Directors with zero prior exposure to the sport itself. The democratic nature of sport organisations is at odds to those more accustomed to bureaucratic and centralised control. Recruitment 101 is recruit on merit, keep an open mind and reach as widely as possible.

On the specific matter of an absence of talent within the sport management profession, my response was that perhaps they have simply been looking in the wrong place. They may be blinkered by their exclusive approach focussing on a CEO with corporate or specifically non-sport experiences as the panacea to their problems, in particular remedying the member/stakeholder disconnect. Embarking on a search or recruitment process with the fixed mindset only candidates with a corporate background should be considered, is as counterproductive as a process where only those with a sport management background should be considered.

The most productive search or recruitment process focuses on merit across the key functional experiences and skills. For all Sportspeople Recruitment’s C-suite work we keep an open-mind and consider candidates from outside of sport & those presently working in sport. Our Talent Network comprises active & passive candidates in & outside the sport sector. In fact close to 50% of all our CEO appointments have been candidates previously working outside the sport sector.

The bottom line was that I felt the Chair was misinformed and naive to malign the quality of the Australian & New Zealand sport management profession.  Despite the long hours worked, the comparatively low remuneration, the high level of accountability and more than often the extreme public scrutiny of leadership roles in sport, in my humble opinion the sector is flush with talent.

All of us at Sportspeople Recruitment believe attracting new talent from outside the sector is needed to strengthen the sport management profession, just as rewarding existing talent is needed to encourage growth and retention of the profession. For CEO roles and other C-suite positions, we have a reputation of not only recognising and championing emerging talent, but also encouraging employers to think outside the box. That’s why you’ll see the Sportspeople Recruitment Alumni includes leaders at all stages of their career, working for the A-Z of sport organisations in Australia & New Zealand.

At the end of the day we didn’t get the job. But like a candidate that applies for a role with us, we can rest easy knowing we gave it a red hot crack. Maybe, just maybe, next time they’re looking for a recruitment partner they’ll be better informed and not unduly swayed by misinformation.

One can only live in hope right?

Robert McMurtrie
Managing Director
People Recruitment Group
Incorporating Sportspeople Recruitment and People Recruitment

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