In 2007, Simon La Fosse left the recruitment company he helped to build to start La Fosse Associates, a co-owned technology recruitment firm operating at all levels on a permanent, contract, interim and executive search basis. Ten years later, the company has grown to 150 employees, opened multiple offices and won numerous awards – in 2017, it was named as one of the top 50 Fastest Growing Recruitment Companies in the UK (Recruiter Fast 50) and was ranked as Top 15 Best Company to Work For in the UK (The Sunday Times) for the last four years. We caught up with Simon to look back on the last ten years, and what could come in the future.
search-consult: How has the Executive Search industry changed in the last ten years?
Simon La Fosse: I don’t think it has changed much, to be honest with you. More people are coming into the industry with a good attitude, but some of the big old companies are still quite complacent. Overall, I feel that the industry is changing for the better. I think it’s becoming much more aware of its responsibilities to candidates, and that it needs to be more flexible to what the client wants as opposed to simply delivering a product.
s-c: What are your views on the rise of in-house executive search?
SLF: I think it should be of concern for the search firms that are not very good, because it challenges them, and because the searches that go to in-house teams tend to be for easier to fill positions. We get the more challenging search work that demands a more rigorous methodology, a more comprehensive network that an in-house team can necessarily have. So if you are good at what you do, it’s not an issue. If you are not so good, then I would be worried for you.
s-c: Looking back at the last ten years, what are you most proud of at La Fosse Associates?
SLF: I think maintaining our culture as we’ve grown. We define our culture as one that tries to do the right thing for people, whether they’re candidates, clients, or colleagues. We should be very proud of maintaining that very consistently from the day we started until today.
s-c: La Fosse Associates has been recognised for the last four years as one the fifteen best companies to work for in the UK. How is your business model different to others in the Search industry?
SLF: Our business model is more the exception than the norm at the moment. However, we’re seeing that businesses that have started more recently than us also get it, they understand that it makes sense to treat everybody well. The goodwill and the brand that you build are so valuable in terms of referred business, and people are just happy to engage with you.
One of our longer term purposes is to play a role in leading by example, to help the recruitment industry to treat people better. And the most effective way to do that is to say that it’s been quite successful for us, and others can draw their own conclusions from that. We don’t just think it’s the right way to behave, we think it’s the most effective business model out there as well. It helps with motivation and productivity.
About twenty years ago, Jack Welch, the CEO of GE, said in an interview that what was important was not making things, that there was only one thing that mattered and that was their people. And he wasn’t just saying that; everything that GE did was about investing in their people and being a good place for them to be. There are so many examples of this being a very effective business model – for instance, look at John Lewis. You get a very different reception when you go there, compared to when you go to Tesco or somewhere else. And that’s because they treat their people well - part of it is co-ownership, which we do also. And all of these things help you build a business in the short term but also help you through the tough times as well.
Having said that, I think the longer we stand out quite different from the rest of the industry, the better it is for us in terms of being able to win business and, as far as we think anyway, position ourselves better in the search industry.
s-c: What has been the impact of technology in the last ten years?
SLF: For me, it’s not so much about technology directly impacting us, it’s how you use good technology to your advantage. For us, with an executive search system like FileFinder, the critical thing is to use it well and make sure that we record everything as well as we should. We’re not by any means perfect at that, but I think we’ve learned more than anything that there is no shortcut to that.
In the future, I think that there will be new challenges to the way we are doing business that is driven by technology. There are disruptive models that we have yet to see fully the impact of, and I think that is around a more effective matching of the marketplace in terms of the jobs out there and the candidates that are interested in those jobs.
I think we are now at the start of that journey, and the question that comes next is: does that displace us? And I don’t think it does; I have yet to see a technology or business model in recruitment that doesn’t involve people at some point in the process.
So, a better matching system would certainly cut out a lot of the manual work, but if we can pass that on to our clients in terms of cost savings, then our model becomes a more effective one for clients to use.
s-c: Where is the industry going next, and what should technology do to support that new direction?
SLF: I think it's clear that tech is starting to enable more of the process to be automated. So any tech provider needs to be at the forefront of this if they want to become or remain a major player. A.I. and machine learning are easy phrases to throw around but I believe both will have a significant impact on our industry in the next few years.
We're also finding that clients are increasingly interested in the value we can add from a human capital consulting perspective. So any technology that supports our efforts in this space will not only make us more effective but should also offer us a competitive advantage.
Lastly, as we increasingly find ourselves working remotely or internationally, cloud-based solutions that offer good security, reliability, and a common interface are pretty essential.