It was the middle of March last year when all of the live searches we were leading at Growth EQ ground to a halt. Clients called the office, almost one after the other, and muttered those ill-fated words “We need to postpone the search”, writes Joe Graziano, founder and CEO of Cambridge executive search firm Growth EQ.
The feeling it left us with was not dissimilar to that of staring at the departure board at an airport only to see the list of flight departure times change to either delayed or cancelled, when all you wish for is to be on that beach or in the comfort of your own home.
After the initial lockdown announcement in March, one of my first observations was how effectively people seemed to adapt and adjust to new ways of working.
We quickly went from living our lives as normal; commuting to work and having face-to-face meetings, to using piles of books to prop up our monitors in our quote unquote home offices. We became home school teachers, our own IT support, therapists to ourselves and families and in many cases, full-time carers.
We tried and mostly found the resilience and patience within us to remain as positive as we could whilst carrying out every aspect of our lives from our homes. All whilst enduring and juggling the demands of the relentlessness of our jobs. We did this, because we had to. Let me rephrase that: we are doing this, because we have to.
As a result of us so commendably adapting to these changes, the initial nervousness and the subsequent slowdown that we experienced from our clients at Growth EQ in March last year did not continue. What we have seen, however, is that throughout the course of 2020 hiring patterns shifted significantly.
Whilst remaining extremely busy, searches we led were exclusively for roles which are deemed absolutely business critical. Principally across finance and sales leadership. This year, we are seeing a greater mix of opportunities in the pipeline, including CEO roles, marketing and technology leadership, which is exciting.
Looking closer to home, technology businesses across Cambridge accounted for 40% of our revenue last year and our experience of the local market was mixed: some businesses continued to thrive, others seemingly remained static, but very few appeared to suffer.
What we have seen since the beginning of the first lockdown is that when it comes to hiring executive talent, the transition towards remote working has been hugely advantageous to Cambridge based businesses.
Historically, this ecosystem has struggled to attract commercial leaders to complement our technical routes. However, at Growth EQ in 2020, amongst many other assignments, we placed four candidates in sales and business development leadership roles within Cambridge based businesses, where the candidates lived in completely different parts of the UK. Twelve months ago, these appointments would have been significantly less feasible, but now the geographic barriers that sit between businesses looking to hire and their ‘preferred candidate’ have mostly been removed.
As enterprises across all sectors look to build more global resilience as a result of COVID-19, comes an increased demand for advances in connectivity, machine learning and real-time data management. The adoption of these technologies is now essential for enterprises. We are already seeing greater visibility of opportunities for 2021 from businesses that provide solutions across these areas.
Furthermore, we are seeing greater number of opportunities across businesses that provide education technology; a sector that has previously experienced multiple false dawns. It has been noted that EdTech will have advanced ‘years in months’ as a result of this pandemic.
In 2020, Cambridge based startups and scale-ups have proven to do what they do best; they have adjusted to the climate and continued to develop technology that suits our ever-changing environment. Significantly, where they may have lacked the resources they were hoping last year, they have made up for it in their agility and will to succeed.
I remain excited for the future and grateful to operate within a sector fuelled by great minds and great innovation. COVID-19 will continue to impact our everyday lives and therefore our survival. And there is no better incentive for innovation than our need to survive.
• Growth EQ is an executive search firm focused on finding and attracting commercial and technical leaders that build and grow IP-rich technology companies at the growth stage.