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The SpenglerFox story: How agility transformed our business

8 Sep

The SpenglerFox story: How agility transformed our business

AgilityEarly days

Back in 2011, our leadership signed up for a week’s training in Amsterdam with Verne Harnish, founder of the Gazelles Growth Institute. We travelled from all four corners of the world with the task of understanding what he meant by being a gazelle and how we could become gazelles as a company. It was a wonderful period of our lives, when headhunting was still a business run from a desktop telephone and a telephone directory, a time when Blackberry was the mobile communication device of choice for the business world, the iPhone was making giant strides, and the launch of the iPad.

For the first time, consultants could travel the world and keep in touch with clients and candidates as we moved from one meeting to the next. In short, this was the birth of mobile technology as we know it today, made possible by the rapid advancement of digital, mobile technology. In fact, I remember being the only one in our team who arrived with an iPad, and so mesmerizing it was in its ability to quickly open websites and look at online references mentioned during the training course, that half of our team rushed to the local tech shop on the way back to the airport to buy one. Suffice to say, we learnt a lot from Verne over those few days, and a lot of what we learnt then still rings true today.

We always knew we were different

At the time we were not just the new kids on the block of international headhunters, full of bright ideas and trying to make a name for ourselves, but I reckon we did not quite understand how different we really were. For a start, unlike traditional executive search firms, who operated (and still mostly do) via a network of licensed entities across the world, often with separate systems, leadership teams, shareholding structures, etc., sharing the same name and brand standards yet largely operating independently from each other, we opted for a wholly owned business structure, with a single, global CRM system, and common leadership structure spread across our office network.

Regardless of where our teams were based, we operated as one team, one business, pursuing a client base who operated across our geographic spread and whom we could serve across our office network and beyond. We did not have a “Head Office” – all our offices were individually of equal importance, and our global leadership team spread amongst them.

Accelerated growth

For the first 10 years or so, we operated mostly across emerging markets where we had a major stronghold and strategic advantage. Over the years though we realized how important it was to also position ourselves in the more mature markets and learnt to appreciate the barriers to entry into markets where our major competitors had a significant strategic advantage over us. They had established themselves in those markets over the course of many years and had strong brands. Regardless, we continued our growth strategy and invested in setting up offices in key markets and forged strong alliances with great companies who had established track records and brands in markets where we needed immediate access to.

The power of agility

Looking back, we may not have fully appreciated and understood the power of the agility with which we could mobilise teams across the world to serve a client expanding into new markets, collaborate on complex projects, bringing the best people to a given project and making the best use of our internal resources around the world, and sourcing remote talent pools. We took this for granted, and so did our clients.

It was never a question about whether we could or could not, we proved that we could every time we took on a cross-border project. We always knew that we were more agile than our competitors who simply did not have the same, fluid, wholly owned, interwoven business model we have. Our ability to cover the globe, for a single client project, with a single point of contact, has always been and still is today the most important factor discerning us from the rest.

Agility has been one of our core values since we first opened for business in 2003.

It was, and still is today, deeply engrained into the very fabric of our business and our people and entrenched into each client project we undertake. Agility allowed us to work with some amazing clients on complex and exciting executive search mandates. This allowed us to respond and adapt to changes in business cycles. Take for example the global financial crises in the years surrounding 2010. Our clients needed support in non-traditional areas such as outplacement, and we responded by acquiring businesses and hiring professionals in this subject area.

As painful as it was to bear witness to this, we were nonetheless privileged to support many of our large clients and their affected workforce across CEE with professional career transition services. We successfully transitioned as a business as well, only because agility is in our DNA. But we had no idea about was heading towards us, the event of which not just transformed our business, but the world around us.

2020 Pandemic

When COVID-19 unexpectedly reared its ugly head in 2020 and sent the whole world into lockdown as the pandemic unfolded, we, and every other business out there, were affected, and business as we knew it changed forever.

Yes, unfortunately, many businesses did not survive, and many more people lost their livelihoods. For those who persevered, the only remaining constant was profound change. As business started adapting to a new normal, they quickly realised that old business models no longer worked, and that the rule book of the new game had yet to be written. Everything changed, from the way businesses interacted with their clients, to consumers profoundly changing their needs and habits. More importantly, not only did new technologies emerge to support a radical move to digital communications and online collaboration amongst remote teams, but the relationship between employers and employees changed dramatically.

The impact on business

All of a sudden, employers were faced with the challenge of continuing their businesses with employees who were unable to go to the office, and probably may never return, and a new genre of employee preferring remote work which means a permanent change in the traditional office environment, forcing companies to seek new solutions to problems they had never foreseen.

But there were positive outcomes too. As opportunities arose for companies agile enough to adapt quickly, those companies also realised that they needed different suppliers, primarily because their traditional suppliers were unable to fulfil their rapidly changing needs and aspirations. Most multinational companies consolidated and streamlined their global business processes and moved to a more centralized HR strategy. That meant that their traditional suppliers of talent solutions, who were historically strong globally only because of the strength of their individual country operations / franchises / licensing partners, were simply unable to provide solutions at global scale as a partner to a central team.

The results speaks for themselves

Over the past two years, we have seen a rapid increase in companies turning to us for support, whether for their international go-to-market strategy, rightsizing, and/or realignment of their internal talent internationally. This required us to identify talent pools at global level, and either source talent from those pools or benchmark them against their internal people, doing so with resources based in different countries and across multiple time zones, yet managed centrally in concert with a central client team. In each case, when we asked clients why they chose SpenglerFox, the answer was unanimous: Our agility.

The future is All Agile

Looking back at the last 20 years since our company was established, little did we know and realize back then just how much the concept of agility, the word which was written in stone as one of our core values since day 1, would turn out to be that one factor that would ultimately be the key aspect differentiating us from the rest of the industry. Yes, we are quite sure there are other companies out there like us, but few have the ingenuity, will power, passion and entrepreneurial philosophy to adapt to client needs and changing market conditions, with the agility that has become synonymous with the SpenglerFox brand.

Do we get it right every time and all the time? No. Have we arrived at a place where we are satisfied with the current status quo? No. Is our brand recognized globally as the global leader in agile human capital solutions? Not yet.

We know what we have to do, and how to get there. There is a long road ahead of us, but of thing we are certain: We are all agile. 

We know what we have to do, and how to get there. There is a long road ahead for us, but of one thing we are 100% certain: We are ALL AGILE.


Welcome to a future with SpenglerFox. The Agilists.

Jacques de Jager

Head of PR & Corporate Communications


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