Future of recruitment in Western Europe?

Trends: Switzerland – the future of recruitment in Western Europe?

Multi-Country search capabilities are key to success for executive search companies

Whilst the proportion of foreigners in top management does not follow the internationalization of the economic activity in most European countries, the percentage of foreigners in the top management of Swiss multinational companies has increased dramatically during the last 15 years to over 50% according to some sources whilst the proportion in upper management is only slightly lower. The phenomenon has also hit SME’s where the number of foreign CEO’s is rising, notably with a great proportion of German nationals at the helm of small industrial companies. Finally, a certain number of roles (for example French nationals in procurement roles in French speaking Switzerland) have become almost exclusively populated by foreigners.

Studies on the subject are scarce, but it can be safely said that this movement has not been followed to the same extent in other European countries: it seems that the proportion of foreigners in reputedly “international” countries like Sweden or The Netherlands it is only of about 10-15% whilst it is still very difficult for a foreigner to reach top management level in a French or Spanish multinational company. 96% of the companies listed in the Swiss Market Index (SMI) have at least one foreign Board Member whilst this is true only for 28% of Swedish or Dutch companies. Furthermore, only 59% of all Swiss companies listed at the stock exchange are actually Swiss nationals (50% of SMI companies)[1].

In 2010, over 50% of the executive search assignments run by AIMS International in Switzerland have involved cross border candidate sourcing processes within several countries. The clients have been more faith in finding a perfect match for their needs in this larger pool of talent than in recruiting from the local workforce only. While this trend varies from one industry to another, it is especially strong for roles in international sales and engineering, manufacturing and supply chain management and even companies with activities focused exclusively towards the Swiss market have become more open to foreigners in upper management roles.

This Swiss “difference” can partly be explained by the smallness and cultural set-up of the country (3 national languages), its strong economic development and low unemployment rate, the important concentration of regional or global headquarters of multinational companies and last but not least, the export orientation of its economy, but it may also be one of the reasons for the country’s continued economic success in contrast to the relative morosity of its European neighbours as Swiss companies benefit from a larger pool of talent.

The supposition seems accurate that the Swiss situation is prefiguring what will happen in the rest of Europe with the continuing internationalization and the increasing importance of foreign companies and capital in the national economies combined with an ever growing need for talents with multinational experience.

The capacity to source candidates on a multi-country, pan-European or even global scale is thus to be evaluated as a very important element for long term success of all companies in their struggle for the best talent. Only Executive Search Firms which have consistently built up this ability over the last decades and developed a system of cooperation that ensures smooth handling of customer assignments regardless of territory boundaries will be able to meet their clients` needs. Global key account management processes and global industry practice teams cooperating efficiently across borders are first signals for the right set-up of international Executive Search Firms. The probability that they are able to source the best candidates wherever they may be located is higher.

[1] Heiltjes, Olie, Glunk, 2003 / Study of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland (Davoine, Dorthes, 2005)



Grégoire Depeursinge