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Case Studies

International HR Director – PE backed global technology business – Belgium

An award winning B2B technology company, providing hardware, software, consumables and consultancy to the FMCG sector, had recently been ‘carved out’ from a global US listed consumer giant by a leading European PE investor.

The global HQ and executive leadership team was transitioning from the US to Europe and the organisation was establishing itself as a standalone company.  In 2020, Tucker Stone was asked by the PE firm to find an International HR Director to drive the ambitious growth strategy and business transformation agenda, with the ambition for the successful candidate to transition into the Global CPO role within 2 years.

The business was undergoing a significant change agenda.  The challenge to ‘uncouple’ historical processes, infrastructure and culture from its former parent company alongside the significant growth of new international markets meant that all areas of the organisation were operating new business models (particularly impacted across the HR, Supply Chain, Commercial, IT and Finance functions).

It was therefore critical to find an HR Director experienced in strategic and commercial business partnering across a broad client base, gained within an industry leading B2B, with a truly global footprint.  Complexity was added by the fact that that the search area focused on a geography where there is a relatively small population of global business HQ’s and, on a talent pool where fluent Dutch, English and working French language were essential. The final complexity was that this search commenced and was completed during the Covid19 pandemic.

The Flemish speaking HR market around Zaventem remains relatively small, therefore, it was critical for us to quickly understand the market, macro-economic challenges, political and cultural nuances of our search area.  We invested as much time garnering referrals and sourcing our global HRD network as we did market mapping the region.  This approach enabled us to present a shortlist of candidates (in under 4 weeks) who not only fitted the brief but were also easily referenceable.

The successful candidate was a Belgian national, fluent in 4 languages, who had previously lived and worked in 3 European countries and, who had held progressively more senior local, regional and global HR leadership roles within 2 global B2B Consumer Goods organisations.

Total Reward Director – Global Media Company

A midsize international media company was diversifying its services and going through a commercial transformation. This change in direction meant a switch in culture and employee proposition favouring a more bonus led commercial structure. The HR Director realised her reward function was no longer fit for purpose and a new type of Reward Director was required to drive a cultural change through the business. This was also the opportunity to relinquish her RemCo responsibilities and recruit a credible operator to lead on those activities.

Whilst a strong media brand, this organisation was not seen as a leader in HR strategy or as an employer of choice in the Reward space. The opportunity itself was very exciting but needed to be marketed in a realistic way to manage expectations on both sides. Brands in the public eye can also distract candidates from the technical realities of a role due to their overwhelming desire to work for that particular company. This was certainly the case in this assignment and so the emphasis had to be on capability and technical skills. It was clear the role would suit a candidate with a passion for Reward & Recognition, not just the media sector, who was able to bring a different perspective to the function. To focus the Search on the media sector would be too narrow and unlikely to find that fresh approach.

Research was the difference in this Search. To find Reward professionals who understood a change in commercial focus our research function had to explore different sectors and companies and then approach accordingly. The successful candidate was found working abroad in an executive compensation role. He was keen to return to the UK to a broader total reward role. His experience in financial services and the pharmaceutical sector brought the new approach required and he is already breaking the reward mould and making the difference the HRD required.

Global HR Director – Global IT Service Provider

This Global IT Service Provider has been, historically, one of the world’s most decentralised businesses and in a new era of leadership, focusing on client experience, business efficiencies and high performance, a business transformation was required.  This huge challenge involves consolidating agencies and support functions.  The company’s IT function was the first of the business enabling units to undergo transformation, and is now a global service, offering a combination of in-house support, outsourced solutions and consulting services to the 100,000+ employees across the businesses.  In 2019, Tucker Stone was asked to find a Global HR Director for the IT agency of this company.

The challenge to this search brief was finding a candidate who could operate on three, completely different levels.  Each one requiring different skillsets and capabilities.

  1. HR leadership for a small, international IT services company. Reporting to the CEO, leading an HR team to provide a service to c. 500 international highly technical employees. Unlike the company’s other agencies, the IT agency is more of a professional services / technical outsourcing environment, requiring an HR leader to modernise a function which had lacked leadership & strategic capability.
  2. Organisational Design & Development experience. The IT agencies mandate was to take on more and more technical accountability for the company’s agencies.  Strong programme management & business transformation experience was required to continue the people change across 2000 IT professionals who would be affected by the augmentation of IT agencies mandate.
  3. Ability to function in a complex matrix across thousands of businesses and over 100,000 employees.  Huge influencing and stakeholder engagement experience required, at a senior level across a population of CEOs, HR Directors & IT populations.

Marrying this three-in-one mandate required identifying people who had diverse experience: hands on HR leadership in an SME, big global & complex structures & change/transformation expertise.  Research and networking were key to our success.  We approached candidates in global professional services organisations, specifically IT services/outsourcing businesses, where change and transformation is part of an organisation’s DNA.  Amongst them, we were able to identify a select few who could also roll their sleeves up and deliver in a small-company environment – for the most part, candidates with these backgrounds like structure, resource, strategy, direction – none of which was on offer at this company. To add the final element of complexity, these people needed to operate in a highly de-centralised, non-systemic environment.  Through careful cultural assessment we were able to identify a small number of candidates to fit this contradictory and unique brief, and, who technically, could do the job well.

One candidate stood head and shoulders above the rest, and after a swift and decisive interview process, was appointed 7 weeks from commencement of the Search. The candidate has subsequently been promoted to cover UK HQ as well as the IT agency and has transformed the perception of HR in just 6 months.

Interim M&A Consultant, PE backed Property Management Company

A midsize, PE backed property management business had made the conscious decision to become more acquisitive. Given all growth historically had been organic, the newly appointed HR Director recognised that there was no internal HR M&A skillset and therefore bringing an interim onboard to support this critical phase would ensure that, from a people perspective, they integrated the multiple acquisitions in the most successful way possible.

With two potential acquisitions already nearing the end of due diligence by the time the new HR Director joined, speed in identifying the right candidate was critical. In addition the HR Director was wanting the interim to provide some support to them as an unofficial Head of HR so, whilst the M&A work was the focus, the interim would also need to bring a breadth of generalist experience at a senior level and have the pace and resilience to operate across multiple workstreams at once.

The regular contact we maintain with our interim network meant that there were a handful of candidates we immediately knew would be potential solutions for the client. However, given the significant and almost overnight growth the business would experience we identified that the ideal solution for the company would be to engage someone who had operated in far larger organisations and would be able to assist with laying the blueprint for how the business might be structured longer term. The successful candidate had consulted on an interim basis for several SME’s but had also been the HR Lead for a number of acquisitions for a bank as well as leading the HR function for a FTSE 250 business. They slotted in seamlessly to the team and had an immediate impact.

Divisional HR Directors, PE baked retail company

An established, private equity backed, online retail organisation had recently acquired 2 competitors, thus enabling the business to hold market leading positions in 4 new major European territories. The Chief People Officer was leading concurrently on an HR and business transformation strategy that included implementing a new organisation wide CRM solution and operating model that drove significant synergies and, would enable all 6 European markets to operate in the future with shared product, technology and commercial models.

We were asked to lead the recruitment for 3 new divisional HR Directors to partner with the newly created leaderships teams to ensure the successful design, implementation, communication and future success of the businesses post structural change.

As with many integrations post acquisition, the key challenges that faced the new HR Directors sat around cultural alignment, ensuring trust and seamless service from newly centralised processes (and functions), plus ensuring the markets still had control of their key in-country products whilst benefiting from access to the wider group product portfolio.

We needed to find HR leaders who had significant experience of multi-cultural business integration, a strong understanding of digital consumer organisations and, the programme management skills to ensure the transformation was landed effectively, to a tight timescale and on budget. The 3 roles were recruited in 3 different Western European geographies.

When searching across multiple geographies, it is important to use both targeted search and network referrals in equal measure. One of our key differentiators as a specialist HR executive search firm is our extensive network of HR leaders gained over many decades (across multiple industry sectors) located in key global hubs.

Of the 3 successful hires, 1 was already well known to the consultant, another was a direct referral from a Group HR Director who we had worked with for over 8 years and the 3rd, whilst unknown to the consultant prior to commencing the search, was easily referenceable via 4 members of our extended network who had worked with them at various times in the last 13 years.

HR Director, Property Partnership

Following the appointment of a new Managing Partner, an international property business set out a new five year strategic growth plan which included significant investment in the corporate infrastructure. Historically the HR function had been seen as administrative and preventative and had an extremely poor reputation amongst Partners and employees alike. The Managing Partner wanted a new strategic HR function that aligned itself to the overall business objectives, with an equal and active voice on the board.

By their own admission, the Partners could not describe what good HR looked like for their organisation.Like most professional services businesses there were a lot of opinions and one of the challenges was to define a brief that everyone could agree with and crucially understand. Expectation management was also key – aspirations had to be tempered in some instances and raised in others. A candidate needed to be sourced who could balance the strategic aspiration whilst delivering an HR function from the ground up, which was inevitably going to involve a hands on approach.

Whilst it is agreed by most that HR skills are transferable across industry sectors, it became clear that working in a multi decision making environment/Partnership was crucial to the brief. Candidates were assessed against technical skill and capability but more importantly against their desire to build a function in what was often going to be an HR cynical environment, where resilience and courage would be key to success. The successful candidate came from a global professional services where she was a divisional HR Director. Frustrated by her lack of autonomy and the slow pace, this role appealed to her on a number of levels. She had worked in smaller businesses in the past and so was realistic about the delivery aspects of the role. She has now seen as the right hand of the Managing Partner, who now values HR as a strategic function and as an enabler not an inhibitor.

Interim People Director, FinTech Start Up

A small but extremely high growth challenger bank were seeking a People Director to support them on the next step of their journey but, with international expansion already underway and challenges across most elements of HR, the Exec Team couldn’t collectively agree on what the role looked like. It was decided that engaging an experienced interim who could support them on a short-term basis whilst also helping to shape the permanent role was the best solution.

Although a strong brand with driven, inspirational leaders, they disagreed on what the biggest people challenges were facing the business and found it hard to articulate what good HR looked like for them so it was integral to agree upon a handful of key deliverables that the interim would be responsible for in the short-term so that expectations were managed on both sides. The broader People Team was under resourced so someone who could provide strategic input to the CEO but also roll their sleeves up was important and, given the nature of the business, required an interim who had worked in a regulated environment previously.

Culture fit is always key but, in this very entrepreneurial and relaxed environment, it was important to source someone down-to-earth and personable but with a strong commercial acumen who could help senior leaders drive the business forward. Although there were interims known to us who had worked in similar assignments, a referral from a client introduced us to a candidate within the online gambling world who had helped them grow internationally and had even opened an office in Asia which was part of the company’s growth plans. Their introduction was not only well within the timeframe the client requested but they’re now laying the foundations for a permanent successor in the not-too-distant future.

HR Director, Private-Equity backed luxury high-street brand

A premium beauty brand, received private equity investment in order to double their salon numbers and grow, nationally.  Their first appointment was the Non-Exec Chairman, whose first recommendation was that they created an HR Director role to steer the business strategy to focus entirely on its people.  As a services business, employee development and engagement and retention has a direct correlation to customer retention and the commercial mandate for a strategic HR Director had never been more critical to the future growth and success of the newly-structured business. 

The challenge was to find an HR Director with the experience of navigating the delicate relationship between the new PE Investment Directors and the Executives. The “honeymoon period” post-investment was very much still in evidence, but some of the intended changes, and desire for growth meant that serious change was afoot and the HR Director would be key to advising the Exec and Non-Execs, as well as being part of that senior management team. Excellent stakeholder management was required, as well as serious commercial capability, to prove return on investment from all the people initiatives which were needed.  It was a brown-field site, with a huge hand-on element, so the team required someone who could be in the detail, and actually deliver as well as sit with the top teams and contribute the longer-term vision for the business.

Culture fit, as always, was key to success.  In a highly customer-facing business, a friendly, down-to-earth personality was required, with considerable resilience, commercial knowhow and a solid HR Generalist skillset.  The client knew they didn’t want anyone from their industry as they recognised that HR was not well embedded within their competitors.  The challenge, therefore, was knowing where to look for HR Directors with this mix of skills and background.  Our search focused on retail, hospitality & any other sector where customer service was the heart of the business’s success, where budgets were lean & resource are usually tight. The shortlist ticked all these boxes and the successful candidate came from the Airport Industry, running the complex mix of customer service, security & regulation under serious commercial scrutiny. They had a unique mix of corporate capability without being too rigid in their approach, and the ability (and willingness) to get things done.  

Interim Talent Acquisition Consultant, Global Engineering Company

The UK division of this international engineering business had seen a revolving door of Talent Acquisition Leads across the previous few years. The appointment of a new HR Director led to a review of the HR function and one of their first decisions was to hire an interim TA Consultant who could manage the relatively small number of hires they had at that time but also conduct a review of the function from top to bottom – talent attraction, employer branding, candidate engagement, onboarding – whilst partnering with hiring managers to better understand their frustrations with the ultimate aim of establishing a more robust and successful TA function.

Whilst providing a strategic review of a TA function and implementing new ways of working is an enjoyable project for many, it was imperative to ensure the interim was still happy to deliver the operational recruitment element and comfortably balance the demands of both workstreams at the same time. Given reporting lines, experience within a global, matrix environment was essential as was significant recruiting within a technical environment such as engineering, manufacturing, or oil & gas. In addition, the skillsets being recruited were extremely niche so it required someone who could align with the brand and attract the candidates from competitors.

Our experience of operating within the interim HR market for over 10 years meant that, despite the very specific requirement, there were 3 interim candidates we knew, all of whom had the relevant industry experience, had completed similar assignments and were either immediately available or very shortly due to complete their current assignment. More importantly for the client, we had successfully placed all 3 into roles previously and could provide first hand feedback on their success in those. The successful interim was onboarded quickly and very quickly started building out greater capability within the UK but also joining things up internationally so as to capitalise on moving exceptional talent within the organisation.

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