Adventures, lessons of a headhunter

The Virginia Gazette

Why would an American lawyer with a lucrative practice in international law give it all up to become a headhunter in London?

Bruce Beringer, a graduate of William and Mary, and now, a resident of Williamsburg apparently had his reasons.

"Work in international private law and litigation often was such an attenuated process that one's sense of success was muted by the passage of time," he said in an interview with the Gazette. "It was a bit like the SALT.(Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) talks. When the opportunity to live in a city – London -- which I had frequently visited as a tourist but hade never lived in, presented itself, the temptation was too much to resist."

Beringer, remained in executive search for 30 years. He chalked up numerous achievements in what become known as the Emerging Market. One of them was the recruitment of a Chief Financial Officer for a major global consumer goods company which was returning to South Africa after having left during apartheid.

"With the brief to find a local candidate of high caliber and extrovert nature in a country where there were only 64 qualified relevant CFOs who all had career successes by keeping a low profile, was akin to being asked to find a Baptist in Saudi Arabia," he said.

"It involved learning all that there was to learn about South Africa, establishing relationships which would enable me to source relevant targets and overcoming both the candidate's reluctance to consider the opportunity and the client's blind faith in its own marketing."

Another challenge was to find suitable candidates for a Russian oligarch whose company grew from $200 million to over $2 billion is assets in less than two years. He was engaged in commercial property development in Moscow and London and elected to build only class A buildings. He needed to assemble world class management within the tumultuous environment of Russia in the 2000s.

"I found him candidates in Hong-Kong, Shanghai, Poland, Central, Eastern and Western Europe, as well as throughout the U. S. Another challenge was finding a CFO to be based on an oil production site in Siberia. His compensation was in excess of the earnings of the other 2,000 employees on the project. But he did not receive a company car, as there were no roads at the site."

To Beringer, the interest factor in each search was seldom the same. "The pleasure was in doing something which appeared nigh on impossible on its face, yet finding a solution and satisfactory resolution," he said.

Considering his connections to the college, I asked him what advice he would give to W&M students who intend to choose a career in the executive search field.

"I would discourage them from considering executive search as an entry level opportunity. Additionally very few successful head-hunters started their careers in Human Resources or Psychology. Indeed the best background for the role is Management Consulting by reason of the diversity of the areas of activity, heavy reliance on analytical and evaluative skills, good communication and listening abilities. In dealing with senior executives some gravitas or gray hair is helpful if not an imperative," he said.

While discussing career objectives with students at W&M's Cohen Center he noticed that "consulting" is a popular career objective. he told them, " 'Consulting' can take a number of forms but in search, the objective is clear and success of the effort is measured by the pragmatic "bums on the seats" as they say."

Frank Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place." The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
46°