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PEOPLE Last modified on November 14, 2009

Ticking the right boxes

Successful airports need recruitment partners to ensure they get the right people for the right job, writes Richard Lewis.

Attracting and retaining talent is one of the toughest challenges any airport CEO will face. But in today’s challenging aviation market, the role of the specialist recruiter becomes ever more critical if airports are to ride out the current global economic downturn. The talent pool is becoming increasingly limited and, put simply, an advert in a trade journal or magazine no longer works. Instead, companies are turning to the services of executive search firms, such as Marlborough, which target candidates with the specific experience.

Recruitment is a specialised skill, and by outsourcing this key area companies eliminate the ‘hit and miss’ element.

From an airport’s point of view, it is vital to find and work with a professional recruiter that they regard as a true business partner. Someone that has the client’s interests at heart and who inspires unconditional confidence and trust that he will perform to expectations. A good chemistry and interpersonal relationship with the individual comes a very close second.

It’s extremely beneficial if the headhunter is granted access to all areas of the business to witness first hand the cultural and physical environment into which prospective candidates can expect to enter.

He must be allowed to work directly and closely with the ultimate decision-maker, the CEO for instance, who in turn should be decisive, have the courage to act, empower his team to deliver strategic objectives and ensure the vision is shared by stakeholders.

The consultant becomes a de facto member of the management team and interacts regularly with the principals through frequent and open communication. It is extremely important, though, that the airport shares as much strategic information as possible with the headhunter who, in return, will respect the confidence shown.

He is a partner with an innate understanding of the complexities involved in hiring and appreciates fully how central an airport’s business culture is to the hiring process: mission, vision and values.

In this fashion, Marlborough built solid client relationships with the likes of Brussels Airport and ACI, the former leading to a dozen successive appointments over an 18-month period – each candidate attuned with the other to ensure a unified fit, both culturally and professionally, with the airport’s vision.

The consultant needs to get under the skin of the airport, finding out exactly what personal and professional qualities are required in his candidates. If they are worth their salt they will challenge preconceived ideas about the ‘ideal’ candidate match. An ineffective hire could have serious consequences all round.

We have been recruiting specifically within the aviation sector for more than 10 years, during which time we have presented numerous articles in the trade press about the lack of investment in ‘fresh blood’.

Someone once referred to the aviation sector as having a reputation for ‘breathing its own exhaust fumes’. This colourful turn of phrase depicts an industry that has struggled to attract fresh talent – the brightest and the best have frequently turned to more ‘glamorous’ industries.

I believe, perhaps controversially, that ‘true’ airport leaders are visibly in short supply. It is time we looked further afield to other industries from which to source the leaders of the future.

At the end of the day there is no reason why an airport CEO is required to know the intricate workings of a baggage belt or a snowplough. He/she is a business leader focused on delivering sustained growth through reaching performance objectives and building a team around him comprised of the very best – no compromises!

Marlborough has consistently appointed non-aviation candidates to more functional areas such as HR, finance and IT. However, this practice is becoming more prevalent at CEO and CCO levels too. And while this may raise eyebrows, the dramatic growth at Brussels, for example, challenges this perception.

This perfectly reverts back to the central point that it’s not how much you know about the subject, but how well you lead that counts.

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