12.15.2009

Lean Jobs: High Demand for High-Level People

The job market is strong for senior executives who can lead lean enterprise-wide transformations. And overall, lean employment in the year ahead is likely to be better than this past year.

Those are the beliefs of Matthew Ayers, vice president of executive search for Stiles Associates, a recruiting firm specializing in filling lean jobs.

“We’ve weathered the storm of 2009,” he says. “We’re very optimistic 2010 will be much stronger.”

Ayers says his firm saw companies putting searches on hold beginning around March and April of this year. But after what he describes as a slow summer, “the past month or two, it’s really lit up. Whether it’s folks looking for releasing funds in their budgets, or to capitalize on Q1, the lean world is on fire right now.”

Stiles Associates specializes in higher-level lean positions, “from the plant manager and lean deployment leaders to the CEO,” Ayers says. (And occasionally “we do have clients who ask us to build their entire lean team,” he notes.) The biggest demand, he says, is for people with the highest levels of experience.

“The folks that really know how to come in, and know policy deployment, can cascade lean across the business, the folks that have the ability to lead and orchestrate those rollouts are in big demand,” he comments.

So much so, in fact, that despite the large numbers of people looking for work, it can be challenging to find the top people. “The folks that are highly sought after, that have a reputation with them of successful transformations, are not on the market as long as you would think,” he adds.

Stiles Associates works with several private equity firms, which are seeking lean executives for the companies in their portfolios. And those companies cover a wide range of industries – pharmaceuticals, textiles, packaging, discrete manufacturing, life sciences. In addition, Ayers says, “we do a lot of work in healthcare. We have seen the interest in healthcare continue to be very strong.”

In what Ayers agrees is a change from the past, companies today seem more willing to consider candidates from outside their own industry.

“More than the majority of our clients do not have a problem looking at completely different industries. It’s all about personality and cultural fit,” he comments. “That does represent a change from the past. In the past, the majority of our clients would say ‘would you find us a head of a line and recruit specifically out of Toyota.’ We’ve been able to educate clients. They now look at other mature companies that have gone through a lean transformation.”

Ayers’ advice to employers is “really know who you’re going to be hiring. Invest the time to properly screen when referencing. Spend the time and spend the money to go out and find the proper fit.”

For candidates, he suggests, “because there are some very good folks at the middle to senior level out there on the market, continue to work your personal network. Networking is so important in this day and age.”

He adds, “Candidates at a senior level should not be posting their resumes on job boards that are too junior. Find somebody you can trust. You should be represented by a retained search firm. Do your homework on the search firms, and only work with a handful, I recommend three to five.”

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