Two Decades of Excellence


As EMA Partners, the global executive search firm, turns twenty, William J Yacullo, Chairman, traces its growth path and vision for the future in a rapidly changing world;

EMA Partners has been in existence since 1988, and currently meets senior executive search and recruitment needs of clients in over 50 offices on six continents. How has the organization grown in these two decades and what were the major challenges on this growth path?

In 1988, two executive search groups, one United States based and the other UK based, agreed to work together to better serve their international clients; this was the genesis of EMA Partners International. At that time, there were ten partner firms. Most of the Partners knew each other personally and had interacted professionally. Today, just as the business world has changed in that globalization is a fact, so has our structure. The organization now has over fifty offices and has expanded dramatically into most major business capitals in the world as well as emerging markets.

Our annual Global Meetings now take on a significant presence and give Partners the opportunity to be together, face-to-face, to discuss major trends in executive recruiting and how best to support our clients worldwide through, for instance, harnessing best practices. In addition, we are constantly reviewing how best we can help each other and continue to grow our business. However, relationships are still the core of our business.


A new leadership team was elected for EMA Partners in November 2007. What is the current management structure, and how would you define its goals? How far have these been achieved in the seven or eight months that the new team has been in place? Have any new offices been opened worldwide in this time?

The objective of the changed management structure is quite simple - to improve what we do globally in order to maintain our position as a leading Global Executive Search organisation. In order to do this, we have developed an Executive Team in which each member has specific functional responsibilities, enabling us, for instance, to continue to improve our professional standards, our communications, both internal and external, and to increase and develop both our geographical and industry sector presence. I chair this team and since we restructured we have taken considerable steps forward in achieving our goals. However, I would say that it is always "a work in progress" - we have many initiatives which we intend to undertake in the coming months.

In the past year, new Partners have been added in Prague, Oslo, Kuala Lumpur and Reykjavik. This extends the global reach of EMA Partners and enables us to better serve our client needs. We intend to add additional partners in North and South America, the EMEA region and Asia Pacific.

What would you say are the core strengths of the organization?
The core strength of our organization continues to be serving client needs on a global basis with strong local expertise. We have learned how to work together well to serve the clients and our ability to put together seamless nonhierarchical global teams is a big advantage.

The success of EMA Partners International will always be related to the successful completion of searches at the local level. In the past decade, many searches have taken on more of an international flavor and some  have been joint ventures between partners; However, we cannot underestimate the value of the expertise and professionalism of each individual partner. This has become evident in joint searches this year for several large pharmaceutical and consumer goods companies, as well as a global project for a large, Swedish organization with holdings throughout the world.

As a global organization with local expertise, could you explain how the process of executive search takes place in the various markets, from the identification to the follow-up stage?
Quite frankly, the processes of executive search do not vary that much throughout the world. What is key is that the basic process of understanding the client's needs, understanding the client's culture, and understanding the type of executive who would fit in and add to the continued growth of the client is undertaken carefully and diligently. One of the benefits of our new structure is that we have culled the best practices
from our various partners and assembled them into a process that all partners now use for any international recruitment.

The follow-up is important in working with the client throughout the search process from the identification of candidates, through the interview process, to the offer, then following up over a period of time to make sure that there were no surprises in the individual's on-boarding. We do not consider the search successful just by placing individuals, but rather through their long-term contributions to the organization that we judge success.

That describes the process. But the success of a search depends so much on the professional abilities and market knowledge of the consultants involved; and we are always conscious that we must recruit the best to our organization.

In a rapidly changing world, how has the role of an executive search firm changed?
Are there things that EMA Partners is doing differently today in order to meet its goals as compared to 20 years ago? Please elaborate. I think executive search has taken on a broader role, not only in succession planning, but in the identification of individuals to lead organizations through the new millennium. In order to do this, EMA Partners is making sure that any new partner brought on has the professional expertise and broad management perspective to be a true advisor/consultant to the organizations they serve. We have established a mentoring program for Partners in emerging markets where the search process is evolving. This is working well and will continue to be monitored.

Increasingly, clients have needs where the nationality of the candidate is irrelevant but the international skills are of paramount importance. This, combined with the shortage of individuals who are true multinational executives, has led to an increase in the number of searches on a multi-country/continent basis. We handle this by identifying and appointing a project manager to ensure an effective interface between the client and the individual EMA Partners office.

What are the various industry sectors to which EMA Partners caters? What are the different challenges that these industries involve? How, if at all, have the new technology- based industries changed the paradigm?
As the world changes, so must we. We strive to be a broad-based organization that can serve clients in most industries. Examples of changes are web-based and other technology businesses, the new era in financial
services, as well as movement in biotech and pharma. We also have found that the academic and not-for profit worlds have changed dramatically in the last several years by bringing in top-quality management.

Obviously, the other area that has impacted us is the small, start-up companies that are looking for executives that have not only the technical expertise in emerging industries, but also the ability to grow organizations and develop a strong client base, often globally. What we have also seen is the demand being generated for executives with international expertise in the fast growing economies such as India, China, Brazil, and the Middle East, which has changed the dynamics of the recruitment model that existed previously.

During the executive search process, what are the qualities that you would look for?
The executive search process, in many ways, has not changed. We look for people who have the leadership ability to understand complex organizations and have the charisma to inspire and empower their people. These individuals have the moral make-up to take on tough decisions, impeccable personal characteristics (which we always verify through references and background checks), and the ability to listen to others within the organization. Oftentimes, people in the organization are hesitant to bring on individuals that they consider threats to them or who have some gifts that they don't have. The real leaders do and are secure in their own abilities to lead an organization by attracting the best and brightest team.

As multinationals turn their attention to growth economies like India and China, what in your view do these countries need to do in order to attract and nurture the best talent?
The economies throughout Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe have changed in the past several years and will continue to change. In these emerging economies, companies must be sure to not only attract and bring in top-notch talent, but understand that they may have to pay continually escalating compensation packages to attract people from different parts of the world. Many of these executives are used to taking risks in the organization and empowering people to think for themselves, move forward and take risks themselves in their positions.

On theother hand, the people within these organizations must possess the confidence to engage in a dialog with the leaders of the organization on business decisions. As I said, clearly to attract the best talent, salaries need to be competitive. However, there must also be an understanding of the domestic issues that are involved in retention of talent, which range from the working environment, advancement prospects, recognition, and of course, loyalty throughout the organization.

Could you tell us something about best practices in the HR industry today?
The HR industry is continuing to move toward a more strategic role and this is reflected in the different ways we now address the industry - Talent Management, Human Capital, etc. Thus we see an increase in processes such as pay for performance, the retention of key people and how benchmarking can help identify areas of improvement and measurement in moving forward the human capital of the firm. Also, global factors have influenced the practice of aligning pay levels to the external market, as well as moving more of the compensation to riskbased compensation.

Certainly the lifestyle issues that vary by culture are also factors that HR must be aware of.

What are EMA Partners' goals for the future and what is being done to achieve these? Where do you see the organization headed five years from now?
EMA Partners International will continue to grow and enhance its enviable reputation for excellent client service. It will grow with the idea of fulfilling specific needs within our markets. We have spoken before about our ability to attract the type of people to our business who understand the new technologies and emerging economies.

We will add partners on a regular basis, but only those partners that we can actively monitor and work with in order to integrate them into our business. We have found that local ownership provides responsible service based on client needs.
New partners are only elected after extensive due diligence on everyone's part.

Obviously, we are actively working on adding partners in the Asia Pacific region including China, South Korea and Vietnam, among others, and may have some solutions this year. We are also working on North and South America to fill certain niches due to the retirement of some partners. Five years from now, I would expect that we will have more than 150 consultants in over 50 countries spanning six continents. We have to look to attract younger people with enough experience and expertise to our business.

We will continue to work diligently on this and are also looking for leaders within our organization to bring us to that level.

William J. Yacullo, EMA Partners Chicago, is Global Chairman of the organization


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