The Metropolis Business, January 8-9, 1994

The future in my hands: Dr Bijlani with his book that is to come out soon

SOME SAY head-hunting is an art. To some it is business. To some it is an arty business. Dr. Hiru Bijlani, an expert on international business matters, was some time ago on the panel that was asked by the Planning Commission to review a sick unit in north India. He has also developed several international business programmes, and is due to be registered as a guide for Ph.D. students at the Bombay University. Dr. Bijlani teaches at several institutes around the globe, and heads Zenith Global Consultants Private Limited. His book titled Globalisation of Business will hit the stands soon. In the following interview, Dr. Bijlani talks to Rahul Laud on a range of issues.

I believe you were instrumental I making Dr PN Singh join the Mehta group, quite a coup of sorts. How did this happen?

Yes, it was coup of sorts. As with all success stories in head-hunting, we sought the near-ideal incumbent for our client. And on the other side of the coin, we were able to identify the relevant aspects of the position from the incumbent's frame of reference… In this case, we were able to build on Singh's expertise in the field of HRD and extend those horizons, so to speak.

The Mehta group is in the process of setting up a management institute, and given Dr. Singh's inclination towards academic matters, this was an attractive proposition for him. Another area of interest was the group's business in Africa, which, for Dr. Singh, was a relatively new area. And finally, there was the challenge of being in a position to bridge the generation gap within the group itself. What we did was develop on all these ideas and the potential that they held for our incumbent in terms of professional stimulation. Of course, matters like compensation package were also taken care of.

Was Dr. Singh's head-hunt different from traditional ways? How do you see the business evolving?

Traditional head-hunters collected heads as trophies. We have, of course, come some way from the stage in the business. Contemporary head-hunters persuade professionals to move from one organisation to another, and what is important is that they do this in situations where an individual is not necessarily looking for a change, as with Dr. Singh.

Do you think this is how head-hunting is currently looked upon in India?

In rather limited circles, yes. But generally speaking, most people are yet to distinguish between staff search through advertising and a professional consultant. Head-hunting does not mean playing the role of a placement agency, with two sets of people on your books being matched in general fashion. Through this process, which is time-consuming and expensive, what a company gets in the end is the near-ideal candidate as opposed to someone who is just seeking a change.

What is the starting point of the process?

The first step for the head-hunter is to understand the organisation where he is already employed; not just its position in

the industry or its organisational structure as a whole, but particularly its culture and value systems. Also important is to be able to grasp what goes on immediately above and below the "head" to be hunted, and the potential dynamics at play. On a more nitty-gritty level, compensation package levels and opportunities for growth in an organisation are vital areas that a head-hunter should initially consider.

What happens next?

Having understood what he is looking for in the first place, the successful head-hunter then begins the process of profiling prospects with relevant backgrounds. This may involve identifying persons from the same industry where industry specialisation is a basic requisite, say in a technical area, or in production, or R&D. For position that slant more towards a staff function, one looks at appropriate incumbents in similar positions in other organisations.

How does the actual process of contact take place? Is it all hush-hush, carried out in cloak-and-dagger style?

On the basic premise that the head-hunter is no mere match-maker in a situation where both parties are in search of a partner, so to speak, discretion is certainly the better part of the task. What one is seeking to do, after all, is not only to identify the appropriate individual, but also to persuade him or her to actually consider and to finally make the move.

And the meeting continues in this manner?

Head-hunting is a delicate art. It is a tricky game that is being played, and a tricky two-way game at that. What the head-hunting consultant is doing is simultaneously assessing the incumbent and attempting to sell him the idea of a change.

What about the identify of the company involved? At what stage is this revealed?

Never in the initial stages. At this stage, the head-hunter holds the information close to himself. It would not pay to disclose this too early. One other problem one faces in India is, of course, the pressure from top people to push their proteges.

And the two parties finally meet?

Yes the consultant usually arranges an initial meeting on a neutral ground, say at the consultant's office, or at a club or restaurant, where the discussions are more general in nature. This is usually followed by a formal meeting, which, if anything, is more or less like a formal interview. Discussion at this point is specific: compensation to terms are negotiated, job descriptions are fine-tuned, and the timing is worked out.

I might add here that the whole process that has been described may take up to a year. Discretion and diplomacy is the name of the game.

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