Warren Harvey: Asset Management Recruiting at a Top 25 Firm

Warren Harvey heads the Asset Management group at WorldBridge Partners (www.worldbridgepartners.com), member of Management Recruiters International and a top 25 executive recruiting firm covering many industries.

Tell us how you got to be in recruiting, and why you’ve stayed in it.

I’ve been recruiting for about 20 years, 18 of that here. I was working with a great firm prior to this, Goldman Sachs, but the hours at the time were rather demanding, north of 90 hours per week.

Part of the thought was, if I’m going to work this hard at something, what can I do that would be as close as possible, if you will, to Warren Harvey, Inc. Ultimately I spoke to the recruiter that placed me at Goldman, learned a little bit more about the industry, and decided to give it a try. Turned out to be a good try — I enjoy what I do very much.

Building companies is one of the top rewards. Nothing for me feels better than to have a group, or department, or even a company, start up and bring in some key executives and support staff. It’s nice to hear the performance stories a year later, three years later. You see them written up in Institutional Investor, or the Journal, or something along those lines. It’s just great, and it affords you the opportunity to meet some extraordinarily bright people with great depth, great ideas. You get an education every day on the job.

And your firm?

WorldBridge Partners is a national search firm with 8 offices across the country…soon to be more. WorldBridge is unique in that we’re a client-centric firm that works on a retained basis, or a contingency basis, as well as custom crafted structures to best meet client objectives, and partner with them throughout the process. At the end of the day, most of our work is done on some type of retained arrangement. The real key is getting to know our clients very well. We take extraordinary measures to meet with key executives and the hiring team to fully understand the drivers for any search, the company culture, mission and goals. We’re all about partnering with our clients, and tend to serve as an extension of them.

While WorldBridge Partners is a company in and of itself, we are also a part of Management Recruiters International (MRI) which is a very large International search firm. This has come in very useful for me when conducting searches in Europe and Asia. The MRI connection can also be a tremendous benefit when a very large national recruiting team needs to be assembled to accommodate a significant project for a client.

Tell us about your searches.

The hedge fund industry is somewhat young, if you will. It’s getting a lot more play with the institutional marketplace, so you’re seeing a lot more assets coming in. For the most part, the relatively established players have exhausted most of their “old boy network” back at the firms they left prior to setting up their own firm. So they are reaching out to recruiters more.

The majority of my hedge fund clients are stand alones, firms where they might have a single product, or a number of different strategies run. I have done some work with a couple of the large players that have a hedge fund group within their asset management group. Most of the hedge fund work I’ve done runs the New York to Boston corridor. I’ve done work in Chicago and out on the West Coast, just the same.

Searches that I’ve been involved in have been diverse — portfolio managers to set up a hedge fund subsidiary in market neutral strategies, traders, risk managers, structured credit specialists, heads of marketing, marketing assistants, analysts. It’s pretty much across the board. I’ve done a few positions in operations as well. I’ve worked with quants, but not the real IT side. I work with folks that can develop models, but I wouldn’t consider them the tech programmers.

I understand we’re focusing on hedge funds; that said, my work is not limited to hedge funds. I do run the investment management practice here, and traditional asset managers do make up a good part of my work.

What are your top sources of candidates?

A network that I’ve built over the years. We do look at some of the trade magazines — Institutional Investor, P&I, Alpha Magazine, Hedge Fund Weekly, Hedge World. I’m not a huge poster on the large job boards. When I first tried, I found myself overwhelmed with the number of responses, and they weren’t always as targeted as I would have preferred.

Most of my work is done through my network and cold calling. The idea is to find people that aren’t necessarily actively looking. That’s not to say that if someone has made a decision to leave their current firm, or has already done so, that I won’t work with them. But I like to be able to cover the market and reach out to folks that are not thinking of making a move.

My MO with clients is, they tend to see less candidates but the feedback is, “Okay great. You’ve shown us four candidates, we could hire any one of them — which do you recommend.” I feel that’s bringing much more value to the client.

How has hiring changed in the last 12 months in the hedge fund industry?

Compensation for quality talent is rising rapidly. The war for talent is clearly on. There are some areas — structured credit, risk management, and trading — where very strong candidates have an opportunity to choose where they want to go. It’s good old-fashioned Economics 101, supply and demand.

What skills specifically are in really high demand now?

Folks who can write trading programs as well as risk management. As hedge funds are having an increased exposure to the institutional marketplace, they are finding the need to have risk management professionals on board — someone dedicated to that function, and able to demonstrate to institutional investors — whether it be a corporate pension plan, an endowment foundation, a public fund, the consultant community — that someone is overseeing that. It pretty much mirrors what they tended to expect on the traditional side.

With so many firms looking, I think folks are becoming a little tired of getting calls about opportunities, and there’s a little bit of a backlash.

What’s your approach when calling candidates to present an opportunity?

Candidates in my network who have known me for a number of years already know I’m not pushy by nature. I tend to form long lasting relationships, to learn the things that are important to them, what they’d like to be kept aware of, what their dream job may look like, rather than constantly trying to pitch them on a given opportunity. It’s more a function of asking for help and direction. So it’s not a very forward kind of call.

On the cold call side, I do my research. I use some folks here to help with that — gather new names and folks to leverage off of.

Overall, one of the nice things about the investment management space — both traditional and hedge funds — is that people tend to want to help, if you call and don’t play any cloak-and-dagger games. Identify yourself right up front as an executive recruiter looking for help on a given search, and people are more than happy to give you a few minutes, and give you their thoughts.

How often does a counteroffer come up?

Counteroffers are becoming not only more prevalent, but more of an accepted practice. It used to be, even as little as 10 years ago, that a counteroffer acceptance was pretty much a death knell for someone’s career. Just the same, I do feel there’s a credibility issue that’s raised when someone accepts a counteroffer.

I tend to advise just about any candidate, if the primary motivator is money, or they feel they are likely to accept a counteroffer, to approach their boss and just ask, “I’ve been getting calls from recruiters about other opportunities, and the comp structures are significantly more than what I’m currently earning. Is that a discussion you’d be willing to entertain with me?” See what kind of a response you receive without saying, “Hey I’m leaving. I’ve accepted another position.” It keeps it clean, and I think it’s a service to potential candidates.

What are the trends in compensation?

Every firm is different, every structure is different, and it also is a function of what kind of role someone is playing. Clearly more firms are going towards creating some sort of program where folks can earn sweat equity, or gain a small percentage of the firm. I think hedge funds are really subscribing to good business practices by inviting their employees to participate in the growth of the firm. It creates buy in, it creates unity and community, and if the message is communicated clearly, people feel good about going to work even if they have a small percentage.

What makes you positively want to work with someone?

I like to be very sincere in my approach with folks. I’d like to think that I provide them with opportunity to consider enhancing their career and leveraging their experience. What I like in response is generally the ability to appreciate what we do as executive recruiters, and to want to partner with us. Certainly skills fall into play, just the same. Everyone is looking for that A-player, who is the top 10, 15 percent wherever they’ve gone.

I’m calling around to folks everyday asking for assistance or some help. Those folks that constantly take the call from me, offer me their insights, offer me additional avenues for my network, are those that I’m always going to keep in mind when I have what I feel is an outstanding opportunity.

Recruiters for the most part are a resource for you, and much the same as each candidate will have their accountant, attorney, and doctor, it’s probably not a bad idea to have a recruiter as well on their list. The recruiter can provide all sorts of comparative information as to where they are in their career, and offer some advice when they’re confronted with an issue. They’ve seen the pitfalls of some strategies, and how others have worked. Often times, conflict within an organization is simply a lack of clear communication, and it’s not uncommon for us to try to broker some type of meeting of the minds, to let the parties work out their issues.

What else can someone do to proactively manage their career?

My advice to folks in smaller hedge funds, where there is not a true performance measurement system in place, is to really get a firm understanding from their superiors: What are the expectations for them? How are they going to be measured in moving forward? Get your boss to spell it out for you: “Here is what terrific success will look like a year from now.” I think it’s very basic, but it’s often overlooked. And of course, work towards that.

Anytime there’s a bump in the road, do your best to figure out which direction is best, and never be afraid to ask superiors for help. I think people sometimes get afraid to ask for fear of appearing weak, but I tend to view it as a sign of strength.

Compensation clearly drives people, but recognition, clear communication of goals and expectations, and providing an environment for people to meet goals and expectations and feel good about coming to work — those are the issues that drive change, and drive retention of employees.

What’s the most common attribute among successful candidates — and the most common flaw among candidates who are qualified on paper but don’t wind up being successful?

Going under the assumption that they have the requisite knowledge, of course — it’s about attitude, and willingness to be a part of a team. The folks I’ve seen, that have failed but are clearly very bright, let their ego get in the way. They make the position about them, and their performance more important than the overall goal of attainment for the firm. It’s those that can separate themselves for the good of the team that tend to outperform the “ball hog,” and generally tend to move forward.

What’s the most common reason a firm fails to land the candidate that it wants?

Well, my job is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Part of any recruiter’s service, to both the client company and the candidate, is that if the two sides want to make something happen, to make sure that it happens. I’m going to break it down to communication. There are times where additional information on one side or the other is needed, and it just doesn’t get conveyed in the proper way.

Do you have any advice for a firm looking to put its best foot forward to candidates?

The most successful firms will always show their best foot, but at the same time, they’re also the ones that say, “Hey, we’re not a perfect work environment. Here’s some of the challenges that we’re currently working at overcoming.” Anyone can interview with rose-colored glasses, but does it really serve the purpose at the end of the day, from a longer-term point of view? Firms with a very open, honest, high integrity approach to candidates create an environment that’s open and warm.

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