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Sharp increase in US demand for top leaders in Africa

Sep 25, 2018
Sharp increase in US demand for top leaders in Africa

Multinational companies seeking to establish or grow their presence in Africa are in great need of qualified and experienced professionals to lead their organisations, both in South Africa and on the rest of the continent.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of Jack Hammer, the largest independent executive search firm in Africa, says in the past year there has been a 75% increase in briefs from US-based businesses seeking assistance with leadership appointments in Africa.

As a result of the increased demand for top leaders on the continent, as well as the unprecedented growth in inquiries from the United States, Jack Hammer is in the process of setting up two new offices – in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“The reason for the growth in US-based companies seeking assistance with top appointments is two-fold,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

“Firstly, there is the move by more and more companies into the attractive emerging markets in Africa. But secondly, conditions have changed dramatically, and companies can no longer just parachute in one of their senior leaders from elsewhere to come lead their teams here,” she says.

Goodman-Bhyat says they have identified specific niches where top leaders are in high demand but low supply, particularly within US-based tech and private equity businesses, with their portfolio companies or operational entities based in Africa.

Trends observed throughout Jack Hammer’s Africa partners – in Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania – indicate that it has become increasingly onerous for foreign professionals to enter local markets, which has left top companies hamstrung in their attempts to build strong teams.

“Work visa requirements have become more and more stringent, which means these companies are now forced to look locally; and while there is no doubt that there is a solid and growing talent pool in all areas of the market, one cannot expect to do a copy and paste when it comes to sourcing African leaders”, she says.

Goodman-Bhyat says that the career trajectory pattern familiar to US, European and Asian companies will look as follows: A candidate gains qualifications at a prestigious university, develops skills and expertise at a global leading brand – think Amazon, Google, Facebook, or a top consulting firm -  and then either progress to high-level management roles, or leaves to establish a start-up and gain entrepreneurial experience.

However in Africa, from where these international companies must increasingly source their leaders because of regulations, we don’t have that ecosystem and career framework, so clients will not find a replica of the career-pathing they are used to in their Western operations, she says.

“The tech markets in Africa are highly developed and competitive, but there is a mismatch between the profile of candidate multinationals think they need for the job, and the profile of candidates that are actually available and able to fill these demanding roles,” Goodman-Bhyat says.

“As a result of this demand for expert insight into the leadership landscape on the continent in the face of an urgent need for qualified and experienced leaders, we are in the process of setting up offices in the two key US markets from where Africa expansion mandates have been received,” she says.

“We will be able to grow and service clients most effectively by having a presence in the US, and it will also place us in a uniquely competitive position, given that there are no US search firms with the footprint and on-the-ground presence that we have in Africa.”

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