How often do you look outside of your own sector when recruiting for business-critical senior hires?
It might seem like an obvious lateral shift, especially given how tight skills can be within the transport and infrastructure sectors. But many companies are reluctant to explore markets outside of their own.
When it comes to making key senior hires, it goes without saying that you want to make the best possible decision for the company. Often vital senior roles within the transport and infrastructure sectors can be highly specialised and specific to the industry. A specialist transport advisory consultancy for example wouldn’t hire a water specialist to advise their clients on airport transactions.
On some occasions however, it can be useful to look further afield when considering senior appointments. There are many leadership roles where the skillset is transferable between sectors, and in some cases other sectors will be more advanced in that function or skillset.
And this has never been more relevant than in the current business climate. Whereas many markets are thriving, there are equally as many that are feeling the toll of the pandemic and are unfortunately having to consider redundancies.
This is an opportunity for those with hiring needs to look further afield. By bringing in a new perspective you can benefit from, fresh ideas, a much bigger talent pool and ultimately a competitive edge.
So, if you were to consider candidates from outside of your own industries, where should you be looking?
1. CEO’s & MD’s
When bringing in a new leader, you don’t necessarily want someone who has 30 years’ experience doing what you do. You need to consider what your business objectives are. If you are trying to achieve something that no one in your sector has cracked yet, looking to another sector for a leader which has the successful experience of overcoming that challenge could be the better option.
If you are looking to expand internationally, then you may want someone with experience growing a business overseas. If you need to find efficiencies and reduce operational costs, then look for someone who has successfully achieved this before.
Leadership skills are transferable no matter what sector you are in. What isn’t as easily aligned within a sector is strategic goals and company cultures.
2. Health & Safety
Good areas to look for Health & Safety leaders are high hazard industries. The Oil & Gas sector is renowned for being advanced in this field due to the cultural changes and new ways of working that were made in the late 1980’s following several high profile accidents. Likewise, people with experience in Nuclear will likely have an understanding of building and maintain safety culture that other sectors won’t.
3. Supply Chain & Procurement
When it comes to brining in supply chain professionals, the automotive sector has long been seen as the most sophisticated in this field. Equally, those from aerospace backgrounds will likely have a competitive edge compared to many sectors. Thinking from the automotive sector has been taken to progressive companies in construction and rail, often led by senior hires moving across from automotive.
4. Asset Management
When you are looking at the infrastructure environments, candidates can be interchangeable between the water, roads, rail and aviation sectors with regards to asset management.
While each undoubtedly have their own nuances, they are all regulated industries with five-year asset control periods. This means that candidates coming from any of these backgrounds will understand the way the regulatory periods work and how asset strategies need to be developed accordingly.
Military engineering backgrounds especially those from REME are also good areas to explore. Particularly if you are recruiting for a remote location – competitors may not be local to the area, but an army base might be. Ex Captains, Colonels and Commanders may bring excellent leadership skills and a structured approach, whilst being quite affordable given their scale of previous leadership experience.
5. Customer Experience
It’s no secret that the rail and wider transport sector is generally considered to be behind many business to consumer sectors in this function. This is a sweeping statement, of course some companies perform a lot better than others, but on the whole the rail sector has a way to go.
Hospitality, retail, airlines and other business to consumer markets are well known for their customer service. So looking to these areas could provide you with knowledge that your competitors don’t have.
6. Business Development & Bids
More and more frequently, our clients are looking for candidates who are experienced and trained in solution selling. This is something that you don’t see all that often within the infrastructure sectors. Frequently business development directors are moved into this role from other functions because they show an affinity for account and relationship management but have no formal training.
Government outsourcing is a sector that invests heavily in sales and bids training programmes such as SPIN selling, Shipley or Miller Heiman.
7. Project Management
Project Management requires a balance of people that understand the environment you are working in, and people that have experience managing that specific construction methodology, regardless of the environment.
For example, a tunnelling project is a tunnelling project. Thames Tideway recruited heavily from Crossrail despite the tunnels being used for two completely different purposes.
A big rail systems project will need people who understand rail systems, but for the leadership of the programme, a candidate with experience in allied sectors with big complex systems such as defence could offer something different.
Most frequently, we see project management people frequently switching between rail and roads or between water and airports. This is most likely because rail and roads project clients tend to be public sector, whereas water companies and airports are privately owned in the UK and so client cultures and business environments have synergies.
8. Human Resources
When bringing on board HR professionals, the most important factor to consider is the structure and staff population. What sort of people will this person look after and develop?
If you have lots of front-line operational staff in a heavily unionised environment, then manufacturing or public services could be possible options.
For an engineering or technical consultancies, then other professional services backgrounds could be more relevant to you than looking at contractors or clients within your sector.
Commercial management experience within construction is often highly transferable between sectors.
The experience a candidate has of the suite of contracts your client and sectors uses (e.g. NEC3), could more important than knowledge of the sector specifically.
The commercial model is also important, for example if you are part of a large alliance then it may be important that someone has previous experience of making an alliance model work.
Similarly to CEO’s, for Finance Director’s you want to consider what your business challenge is and then look for people who have experience dealing with this challenge, rather than a lengthy career in your sector.
Another consideration might be ownership structure. If you are a PLC, then plc experience at group level is likely a must.