the full story

Making the Right Connections

With a context driven approach and offices in 57 countries around the world, Amrop are at the forefront of the executive search industry. They are at the cutting edge of a new approach to executive search in that they try to maintain contact with candidates as well as their fee-paying clients. We hear about how the next generation mind-set is changing the game for companies, and how international workers need help in settling in.

With a context driven approach and offices in 57 countries around the world, Amrop are at the forefront of the executive search industry. They started out in the late 70s as a European company, but over time have become a truly global player with representation throughout Asia and the Americas.

Amrop have redefined the game when it comes to their executive search style. Rather than simply working to find the right person for the right position, today their direction also encompasses on-going talent and career management.

As proud sponsors of the Vlerick Alumni network, Amrop organise events twice a year to help foreign students understand the formalities of working in Belgium. We met with Benoit Lison, Managing Director of Amrop Belgium and Luxembourg, to see how his company are coping with changes in the market today.

A pro-active approach

Lison does not believe in waiting for the right candidates to arrive at Amrop. Instead, he actively scans the market for the very best people. He explains, “I installed an alternative concept about ten years ago based on pro-activity with respect to the pool of candidates. The basis of the concept is that we should be in touch with the best people in different markets on a continual basis.”

“Concretely, this means that every consultant and every partner in our company is obliged to meet at least fifteen people a week. 50% of those people are there to discuss to a job opportunity. This means that 50% visiting on a weekly basis are simply coming to discuss their career - where they are now, and what their expectations are for the future. The major advantage is that because we’re speaking with them in a neutral moment, rather than a job opportunity, it means they are far more open to talk about successes and failures. And they are also able to speak about their ambitions for the future.”

“Without a doubt, the investment we make then helps us in the future. When we have assignments, we can really focus in a precise way. This is the aim of our job: to be able to spot the best suited person at a given moment for our clients. In truth, it’s all about personal relationships. When we call these people afterwards, they are far more open to discuss. It’s an on-going relationship.”

Building relationships

A lot of effort is put into building relationships at Amrop. Lison stresses the importance of stepping up and making connections with people: “Our people are obliged to make a number of phone calls every day. In our business, we are dealing with people. Before you make a call, you could ask yourself, ‘Should I contact this person?’ You could think for twenty minutes or even an hour on the pros and cons of speaking to them.” Lison does not believe this is a good use of time. He says, “We have the culture: don’t think, just act. Each time you make contact with a person, you are at the top of their mind. You have created a kind of relationship with them and can call them back. It needn’t take very much time. Even in five or ten minutes, you can establish a working relationship.”

Amrop Enjoys Change

“However, you need the supporting tools. You need a good IT system, and support is important. Since 2005, we’ve been in the cloud. It means that wherever I am in the world, I can reach my database and all my documents. I can establish contact with a candidate. Everything is digitalised; every report is in the system. We’ve been nearly paperless since 2005 and information like CVs and documents are all very well organised.”

Investing in Vlerick

Amrop is a financial partner of the Vlerick Alumni, but Lison is keen to highlight that their involvement is about more than just money. He says, “We’re one of the main sponsors of Vlerick Alumni. We don’t just hand over a sum of money, but also set up particular events. Vlerick has also gone through an interesting change over the last ten years, one that is similar to ours. When they started they were only based in Belgium. Now they’ve been able to expand their network around the world, with campuses in South Africa, Saint Petersburg, China, and so on.”

Amrop Enjoys Change

“Also, if you look at the students who went to Vlerick in the early 90s, they were mainly Belgian. Today, some of the people going to Vlerick are Belgian, but there are also many more foreigners. I think this mixing up is very important, to create an international network.”

“Vlerick has been able to develop an intensive collaboration with their alumni. When people leave, it takes time and effort to invest in their network, but it’s worth it. Vlerick has been able to organise a good working alumni organisation. They have been able to create an international network, and they have also been able to establish a balance in terms of the age of their alumni. They have older people and younger people, and you see a fruitful exchange of ideas between the ages.”

Changes in the industry

Changes in the Belgian workforce and the way companies operate have made Amrop change their tactics too. Lison describes the effects of working with a more international workforce: “The ability to work in an international environment has become one of the key requirements for our consultants. In the past, many companies in Belgium only engaged Belgian associates. Today, a lot of companies have people coming from abroad.”

“This implies a change in their company culture. When we place a Chinese person within a Brussels based company, we will have to invest more effort in the integration process. A Chinese person thinks and works in a certain way, a Belgian organisation in another, and it is essential that they become aligned.”

“When people leave an organisation during the first year, it is often not because they can’t do the position, but rather that they did not feel integrated into the company. This was also a learning process for our consultants: we need to deal with more personal topics.”

An evolving mind-set

Lison has also found that people’s attitudes towards their careers have changed. He says, “People want to have a balance between their private life and corporate life. Interestingly, some companies are facing a change in culture. In the past, they were focussed on getting certain results every quarter. Now, a lot of people are more interested in companies that are able to establish longer-term thinking. They want companies that have sound values: not only financial benefits, but also fostering people, helping them to develop, and so on. There’s a kind of duality between mobility and long-term thinking, which is very important to the new generation.”

Amrop Enjoys Change

This is already having a significant effect on Amrop’s operations. Lison confirms this, “There’s an important evolution, in the sense that in the mid-2000s, company cultures were short term and financially oriented. There was a dominance of the companies towards their employees: ‘Work hard, or you won’t get your bonus.’ There has been a tremendous change in the mind-set of the people. Companies are defining their budget and targets but, on the other side, candidates are also managing their personal lives and careers in an active way.”

“They have developed a far more project-oriented mind-set: ‘I’m working for this company, and I have an interesting project.’ When that’s not the case anymore: ‘Okay, I’ll look for another project.’ This can be within the company or in another environment. And it’s not only younger people - everyone is dealing in a more active way with career planning. This means we will probably go to a more project-oriented relationship between companies and associates. A company needs to define interesting projects to be able to retain their associates and motivate them to stay for the long run.”

Lison sees an opportunity for Amrop to pair the right candidates with these projects. He says, “This is why I established the pro-active concept. We do not only want to speak when there is an opportunity. Rather, let’s establish a relationship and later, when we have an opportunity in line with someone’s ambitions, then we can speak about it.”

A word from Vlerick

Prof. dr. Koen Dewettinck: The story of Benoit Lison nicely illustrates how Amrop has re-invented its executive search approach by seeing labour market trends as opportunities rather than limiting factors. There are three key elements highlighted in their new approach: the first is a focus on career guidance rather than on job placement, the second is the importance of relationships and the third touches on the international dimension.

These three elements have indeed also become much more prominent in our approach towards executive education and more specifically our Executive MBA programmes.

Building relationships between participants and strengthening the group dynamics has always been important in our programme design. Through intensive discussions, our students learn much from each other and develop a cross-industry view on business. During our programme and especially during the residential seminars, our participants have the opportunity to really get to know each other and to build friendships for life.  Our alumni association offers the ideal platform for our participants to leverage these relationships later on in their professional lives and to ensure life-long networking and learning.

The school has certainly become much more international during the last decade. This is illustrated by our presence in Russia and China and the ever-increasing number of international students. It is also reflected in our growing body of international faculty members and the rising number of corporate partners with whom we collaborate with to deliver high-impact education at a global scale. In our Executive MBA programme our students expand their horizons during our “BRICS-trip”, in which they gain fresh insights and forge new relationships in small interactive groups of students, faculty and international professionals in Brasil, Russia, India, China or South Africa, upon their choice and preference.

We see our MBA programme as a development journey in which knowledge transfer and competency building across every facet of business administration is complemented with leadership development and career guidance to make it a real life-changing experience. Our participants have the opportunity, through 360° feedback and peer coaching to sharpen their leadership potential and people management skills even further.  Through our continuous career guidance track we give our participants the impetus to channel their personal growth in line with their future ambitions.  For our self-funded students we also offer customized career placement services. This is where the expertise of Amrop and Vlerick Business School meet and where we are strengthening each other.

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