People, excellence, honesty and innovation are the four pillars on which Ackermann International’s DNA is built, says Managing Partner US, Begoña González-Blanch. In this interview with Rocking Talent, the Spanish executive who has lived in the United States for more than 6 years, emphasized the importance of challenging the status quo, redesigning, reinventing and that the point of gravity today is no longer on the organization, but on the candidate, among other issues.
You are a Spanish-speaking woman in a country with a different culture and a different language. You have been in the United States for more than 10 years now, but would you tell us what it was like to relocate? What were the biggest challenges you faced and in retrospect, how do you think it made you grow as a professional?
I moved to the USA 6 years ago. The moment of my arrival was difficult because, first, I did not know anyone, and, second, I was starting a company from scratch, a challenge that, if that was not enough on its own, on top of that, I was working in an unknown country. But thanks mainly to dedication, perseverance and effort, I managed to achieve my goals. I share some of the actions that helped me. For example, as soon as I arrived, I created a roadmap to make myself known and to get to know all the companies that could be potential clients. I also opted for specialization, in my case in multicultural and bilingual profiles. Our work consists, above all, in building trust, providing the highest quality service and helping our clients in their talent decisions, which are increasingly important, and in this sense, all the actions carried out in terms of specialization, differentiation, networking and also the value of my previous experience of more than 20 years in the Executive Search industry, have helped me to make a niche for myself in the market. If I look back, I see all the effort rewarded because I have been successful, professionally I feel much more complete, I have shown myself what I am capable of and I like this feeling of having overcome a challenge, a great challenge, by the way?
You have extensive experience in international executive search in 2 different continents. What are the key skills and/or competencies that clients are looking for in recent years? Do you notice changes in priorities/indispensables pre and post pandemic when looking for talent?
What is most sought after and needed is creativity, empathy, communication skills, effort and work capacity, responsibility and commitment. What we call soft skills are becoming increasingly important. In today’s highly uncertain environment, the ability of professionals to adapt and connect is critical. Knowledge is becoming obsolete at breakneck speed and this brings with it the need to keep learning all the time. We are at a time when we need to question the status quo, redesign and reinvent many of the things we are doing, and this requires maximum curiosity, creativity, critical spirit? If we think about how business models and organizations are being transformed, this leads us to consider the importance of connection and collaboration, because today no one has the answers alone or the ability to find the formula for almost any of the challenges we have on the table; we need to stay united, connected, collaborate, hence the importance of all the skills that have to do with communication, empathy, etc. In short, what we need and are looking for are those skills that allow us to adapt, grow and move forward.
As for the pre- and post-pandemic, the truth is that the main change is not coming from the companies and their demands, which have remained more or less the same, but from the professionals who have significantly changed their priorities. Many professionals are leaving their current positions and starting to look for companies and projects that, on the one hand, are more aligned in culture and values with them, and, on the other hand, offer flexibility. This is why the job market is so active now. The point of gravity no longer levitates over the organization but has shifted and moved closer to the candidate, and this directly affects talent attraction and retention strategies.
I would like to ask you about the differences you see, from your position, between the European market and the U.S. Do you consider that there are notable differences between the training and needs of both Spain and the U.S.?
I would highlight three main ones. First, the most notable difference has to do with the very nature of the market. The U.S. job market offers high opportunities and that makes candidates much more demanding.
Another of the main differences I have detected has to do with the professional profile. The U.S. professional tries to specialize and is very concerned that the functions he/she performs respond to and adhere to that specialization, while the European professional is more versatile and accepts to perform functions for which he/she may not have been hired; in this sense, he/she is more adaptable.
And as far as training is concerned, I believe that both Europeans and Americans are very well trained. In the U.S., the foreign candidate who brings knowledge of other cultures, different languages, etc., is highly valued. As a difference, we can point out that Americans, in general, do not like to think much of their own country.
Although there is still a long way to go, in recent years women have been making progress and gaining greater rights and equality. The latest “Women in Business 2022” report stated that Spain has achieved the highest number of women in senior positions with 36% and in the ranking of “S&P 500 companies” there are only 6.6% of women CEOs in the United States. Although these are significant figures, it is clear that we must continue to fight to narrow the gender gap. What actions are you promoting at Ackermann International to make this happen?
At Ackermann International, the commitment to diversity and equal opportunities is an essential part of our DNA, of our strategy and permeates all our activities. As part of our company, at Ackermann International we have parity in the Group’s management team, and countries such as, in this case, the USA, and others are led by women.
As part of our strategy, all our activities are governed by the principles of non-discrimination and equal opportunity. We are also proactively committed to ensuring that in all our processes, all the short lists we present to customers reflect diversity.
And because, as you rightly point out, there is still much to be done, we are also part of various associations and participate in numerous initiatives that promote equal opportunities and gender-neutral talent. For example, at Ackermann International we are members of the EJECON Code of Good Governance and others like it, and in my case, I am the founder and president in the USA of the WhExecutives association, whose objective is to promote gender-free talent.
In this new labor reality there is more and more turnover, remote employment, and the attraction and retention of talent is a challenge for organizations. What recommendations would you give to those managers who are in an increasingly competitive and dynamic market?
We are indeed in a highly competitive and dynamic market, so my recommendation is always: work with dedication and passion, strengthen your personal contacts and networking, always do a little more than what is expected of you, because, among other things, it will help you grow and excel, and success and new opportunities will come your way.
“The main change is coming from professionals who have significantly shifted their priorities.”
HR has gone from being a vendor in many organizations to sitting at the small table because they realized the strategic value it brings to the business. What characteristics would you say mark this new era of HR?
This new era has highlighted the importance of people within companies, who are the greatest asset. The results and reputation of all companies depend on their performance and happiness. Therefore, the HR function has ceased to be merely the administrative manager of payroll and conflicts and has become a key strategic lever for the sustainability of the company because without talent, without their knowledge, performance, commitment, commitment, creativity and innovation, there is no possibility of a future for any organization.
Would you tell the readers of Rocking Talent what Ackermann International’s culture and leadership is like? What is its guiding principle?
People, Excellence, Honesty and Innovation I would tell you are our pole stars. The most important thing in the Ackermann International Group is the people who are part of it and that is why we work in an environment of maximum closeness, taking great care of our employees, helping them to achieve their professional goals and, above all, caring about their overall well-being, not only from a professional point of view.
We pursue excellence, first, because it is what we owe to the clients and candidates with whom we work, to whom we have to offer the best results, and also because we believe that it is the path to development and a source of satisfaction for each of the company’s professionals.
We value and take great care of honesty, transparency and ethics, because they are fundamental pillars of our activity.
And finally, I would also like to emphasize that we are a very dynamic Group that is very committed to innovation. We are constantly looking for ways to help our clients and candidates more and better, and to grow, and this is also part of our identity and our culture.
In the end, our goal is to help our clients achieve their professional success by hiring the best talent, and to do so, we need to have the best talent within, and when we talk about the best talent we mean people who stand out for their integrity and values, who are passionate about their work, who are driven by the pursuit of excellence and who are not satisfied with what they already know how to do today, but who cultivate continuous learning.
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Begoña Gonzalez-Blanch | Ackermann International