Herman Rutgers reviews 15 years of high-level networking

Herman Rutgers 29 August 2023
Interview

Corporate affairs more relevant than ever

The world is a fast-moving place. It is more important than ever that organisations tell a transparent and clear story. Herman Rutgers Executive & Interim Search has been in business for 15 years. In that time, the importance of corporate affairs has grown significantly. So has the need for strong leaders in the field. Time to take stock.

This is the question they are most often asked: “How is the market now?” At Herman Rutgers Executive & Interim Search, they know better than anyone what is happening in corporate affairs and communications.

In 2023 they will be celebrating 15 years of connecting top corporate affairs candidates with high profile organisations, from listed companies to the public sector. Petra Herman, Francine Rutgers, Nelieke Wismans, Marieke van Riemsdijk and Paula Verheul have all seen the market change in recent years.

Paula: ‘One important development is the growing importance of communication. It has gained a position at the top of the organisation. It has gained a broader remit. We now also talk about corporate affairs rather than corporate communications.’

Nelieke: ‘The marketing profession and corporate affairs are coming together more and more. Drastic societal developments, such as the energy revolution and wars, have put your organisation’s position in society under the spotlight. Legislation, lobbying and regulation have become primary business processes. Public affairs, which used to be subordinated to the legal department, is increasingly being invested in the corporate affairs department.

Paula: ‘In business, the corporate affairs director sits at the board table faster than the marketing director.

Petra: ‘Corporate affairs is the link between the organisation and its stakeholders, such as employees, the press, the public, customers and NGOs.

Ready for something new sooner
The attitude of professionals has also changed. People are ready for something new more quickly. There is more movement in the market.

Francine: ‘A 15-year career with one employer hardly exists anymore. During the corona, people used to stay put – wait quietly. Now things are moving again and top candidates are in high demand. One consequence is that professionals are very critical and make high demands on their future employer, including financially. And this does not always match what companies are offering…’.

Nelieke: “Because the market is very cost-driven at the moment. Clients are saying: “Yes, there is a shortage of people, but we cannot keep pulling out the purse strings”. This is at odds with a candidate who will only change jobs if there is a profit in it for them.

Paula: ‘In addition, we have long noticed that people want to move to a socially relevant environment. This creates a tension when organisations assume that candidates will be willing to compromise. But when you’re managing a team of a hundred people, for example, you’re not suddenly going to give up 25 per cent of your salary.

Herman Rutgers sees it as her job to inform and support clients.

Petra: ‘Clients are not always aware that there are many wonderful organisations to choose from. No matter how wonderful a company is, they are not the only ones fishing in the pond. It is our job to take the client with us. We have to help them, including by making the process as smooth as possible.

Marieke: “You could say it’s almost like a job interview in reverse. Nowadays, as an organisation, you have to put your best foot forward. For example, you can no longer afford to have someone talk to a lot of people unnecessarily or not give good feedback on interviews. We also help our clients with this and ensure that the process moves forward.

Personal contact
Herman Rutgers spends at least as much time and energy on contact with the candidates. The five consultants talk personally to the professionals in their network as much as possible. They follow their careers and know exactly when they can add the most value.

Paula: “We have a lot of conversations with the professionals and this is usually a kind of orientation for them. We often hear: ‘You made me think’.

Nelieke: ‘This also has to do with our honest feedback. Sometimes people come with high expectations. For example, they assume they can become a manager because they are senior.

Marieke: “The expectation is that you have to become a manager, but that is not necessary. You can also be a very good specialist.

Nelieke: ‘We advise candidates on this. About building a good interim portfolio, for example, or about training courses they can take. We also offer coaching programmes. We noticed that a growing number of professionals were calling us on a regular basis to catch up. It became clear that they needed support and coaching. In Paula we have the ideal person for this.

Paula: ‘The essence of a coaching programme is that you take back control of your life. Many coaching questions go back to the core: where did you come from? What did you get out of it? Are you taking this with you into your work? Does it get in your way or not? You can be a solid leader when you are solid yourself.

Good on your CV
These days, Francine says, a lot is expected of a leader. Since Covid, people have largely started to work from home and have less connection to the organisation they work for. There is a generation coming up that puts themselves first. As a manager, you need to keep these people with you. In addition, ‘candidates no longer take a job just because it looks good on their CV. When we started in this business, you could recruit people because of a company name or a brand. And they were willing to make concessions in terms of working conditions. That was in the early days of brands like Google. Now the attitude of the younger generation is: why do I have to be available 24 hours a day for an employer?

Petra: ‘That’s also very Dutch. The work-life balance, that’s something we Dutch stand out in Europe.

At the heart of the profession
In this environment, the role of Herman Rutgers has only become more important. That is why they are so adamant about the contribution of technology in finding candidates for key positions. Artificial intelligence will never be able to do their job, they say.

Petra: “We can do something that AI cannot: read people, sense people.

Paula: ‘The fact that the five of us can discuss a role with a client is a huge added value.

Nelieke: ‘When a role comes to us, we always brainstorm together. This also leads to candidates who are not obvious. You get names that you wouldn’t get from a job profile with job requirements.

Francine: ‘We have a wonderful database system where we keep track of everything. But by sparring with each other, we often come up with names other than those that come out of the system. That doesn’t mean the system isn’t good. But the ticks behind someone’s name are not always the most important thing. If we know from the candidates that they would be an excellent fit for an organisation, then suddenly it is not so important that someone wants to work four days or that there is no company car.

Paula: ‘… then the requirements become fluid.

Nelieke: ‘This can only work because we get involved with the organisation, the management, the team, and because we are aware of the culture-specific needs. We also know exactly where our candidates stand professionally and personally.

Paula: ‘It’s not always seen that way, but we have a very creative profession. You get a briefing where everything is between the lines and not on paper. And then you get to work.

Petra: ‘For example, people often ask for experience in a particular sector, whereas we know that some sectors are similar.

Francine: ‘Because they deal with the same type of issues, or because they are also regulated markets or listed companies. Then you can look: where are the overlaps that might be interesting?

Petra: ‘A candidate who comes from a different sector actually brings a different experience. An organisation can benefit from that. What we do is specifically colour outside the lines. There are some conditions that candidates really have to meet, but there are also criteria that seem very important to the client, of which we know there are more possibilities.

Crossing borders
Herman Rutgers is also increasingly working across borders. The international outlook has always been important, says Marieke, but the borders have become more blurred.

Nelieke: ‘The world is opening up more and more. Hybrid working is becoming the norm. Professionals are no longer strictly tied to a workplace. They can work anywhere. Especially interim professionals, whom we assign to very specific projects.

Marieke: ‘Increasingly, Dutch does not have to be the first language, but English does.

Francine: ‘We have also become more international ourselves.

Petra: ‘That was an important reason for working with a partner in England. People are based in the Netherlands, but they work with a European scope, either Emea or globally. Candidates with this experience form a small club. We wanted to have access to a larger group of top international professionals. At that time, the UK was also at the forefront of the profession, for example in internal communications. That is no longer the case.

Sharing knowledge across borders
Herman Rutgers is one of the founders of The Corporate Affairs Search Alliance (CASA). This is a collaboration of six independent corporate affairs search firms in as many countries. CASA offers clients access to the best corporate affairs and communications executives in the global marketplace and its mission is ‘making corporate affairs better’.

Nelieke: “We share candidates because talent is global. Sometimes we also do joint work for the same clients. Within the CASA network we learn a lot from each other. About the profession, about what is happening in Washington, in Paris, in Düsseldorf – it is incredibly interesting. For example, government affairs is a much bigger phenomenon in America than it is here.

Petra: ‘There are also interesting parallels. Our partners in the network are also number one or two in their markets. We recently had another meeting with all the members, where everyone gave a short presentation. It became clear that the corporate affairs function in the Netherlands is in good shape compared to other countries.

Which brings us back to Herman Rutgers’ frequently asked question: how is the market? The field of corporate affairs is more relevant than ever. Herman Rutgers is ready to continue for the next 15 years as a bridge builder between clients and candidates to maximise corporate affairs for organisations.

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