BY BESTENIGAR KARA
The brain drain has increased in Turkey, and the number of Turkish C-level executives willing to reside abroad has risen recently, according to Michael Ensser, Global Chair of Egon Zehnder. “When we were in search of a CEO or CXO in the past, we evaluated Turkish candidates residing abroad. They were more disposed to return to Turkey. Now, the number of Turkish top executives willing to return is more limited,” Ensser said in an exclusive interview with TR MONITOR. To him, this trend paves the way for a talent shortage in some sectors in Turkey. “For instance, it is stated that there is a talent gap of 15,000 people in the IT sector. Moreover, a skill deficit is seen in the CEO, C-level, and senior-level positions. This situation makes our talent pool shallower compared to five to ten years ago.”
Operating in 36 countries with 64 offices and 567 consultants, the Switzerland-based global organizational consulting, management consulting, executive search, and leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder, founded in 1964, records an annual turnover of nearly EUR 1bn. Executive assessment and executive, board, and advisor search account for 70% of the company’s turnover, while the remainder consists of areas such as leader evaluation and development, coaching, training, team development, and team activities. The firm carries out studies that will contribute to companies creating more effective governance systems. It also conducts work for cultural assessment of organizations and tries to discover their actual culture and how to develop it or change it in a specific direction.
Egon Zehnder entered Turkey over 30 years ago and established an office in Istanbul in 1989. “We appreciate the growth of Turkey and our practice,” Ensser said. The firm has the highest number of consultants among its rivals and continues to grow. “Some of our competitors have exited the market over the past three years,” he noted.
To him, the Turkish market is sophisticated regarding leadership advisory. On the other hand, Istanbul is among the markets where a significant share of the firm’s business comes from non-search-related topics such as assessment, development, top team workshops, and board effectiveness reviews. “With increasing confidence in the market, we are well positioned to keep and further increase our market-leading position.”
Increasing DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) in organizations is the area that Egon Zehnder has been spearheading globally. Because increased diversity will improve decision-making processes and, consequently, the performance of organizations. “There is potential for growth in Turkey, starting from gender equality, especially in senior leadership roles, both at executive and non-executive levels, which will positively impact Leadership Advisory business in Turkey,” Ensser noted.
He also noticed that despite the regulations to appoint independent board members in Turkey for listed companies, there is room for growth in identifying and appointing competent and truly independent board members. “Strengthened governance will necessitate functioning boards equipped with competent Board Members.”
TURKISH LEADERS ARE AGILE AND RESILIENT
Egon Zehnder takes the same deep competency-based review approach in all searches globally. The firm has also started evaluating the future potential of candidates more rigorously in the past five to ten years. Its consultants collaborate on global searches; hence, a global calibration takes place regarding criteria. The company has observed a strong tendency for younger executives for senior roles in Turkey, often at the CXO suite. “It is probably due to the demographic trends in Turkey. This trend also shows the country’s dynamism,” Ensser said, noting that leadership competencies are stretched and developed through repeated experience in challenging circumstances, and therefore, some leadership competency development comes from acquiring mileage.
To him, Turkish leaders have had to navigate the most difficult waters and have proven to be agile, resilient, and determined. Moreover, Turkey exported some top talent to lead multinational organizations. Within this frame, BBVA CEO Onur Genc, Pinar Abay, the Head of all Retail Banking for ING, and The Coca-Cola Company former CEO Ahmet Muhtar Kent are among those talents.
“My colleagues in Turkey told me that Turkish leaders also have room to grow in proactive people interaction, which has an impact on influencing collaboratively and establishing trusted partnership relations as well as developing individuals and teams through seamless feedback exchange.”
TO EXPAND GLOBAL FOOTPRINT
While Egon Zehnder is passionate about bringing better leadership worldwide, it plans to expand its reach and impact globally to become the world’s preeminent leadership consulting firm. “We and many of our clients are operating in a challenging environment, but that makes it all the more important that we take it upon ourselves to find and empower the leaders the world needs to address uncertainty,” Ensser said. That is why the firm invests and will continue to invest in its team, infrastructure, and digital capabilities. It hires new advisors around the world and launches new offices. The company is considering expanding to other geographies like Azerbaijan within this frame. Egon Zehnder’s vision is to operate wherever there is a critical mass of organizations and leaders it can support to strengthen leadership for a better world. This vision also motivates the firm to expand into new countries and cities. “We believe it is equally important to help them and their teams thrive in a world of great complexity.”
Egon Zehnder has evolved beyond being a purely executive search firm, which is why it particularly focuses on expanding its leadership consulting services. According to Ensser, this is a necessary shift for the industry in which Egon Zehnder operates. “Only by cultivating visionaries and empathetic leaders can we help bring about the positive change the world needs. Ultimately, leadership consultants like us at Egon Zehnder face the same challenges as everyone else, regardless of industry or sector.”
Despite the changes in the sector, Egon Zehnder remains true to its values, prioritizing team culture over individual success. The company’s tasks are always assigned cooperatively, and remuneration is based on team performance rather than individual incentives. It is important to note that Egon Zehnder prioritizes recruiting people directly from the industry or strategy consultancies but not from the competition. As for the impact of artificial intelligence on the sector, Ensser said data remains essential but should be combined with personal contact.
Leaders experience the greatest test of all time. The beginning of the current decade saw major crises such as the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, the Gaza conflict, flooding, and destructive earthquakes. These coincide with long-term megatrends such as climate change and demographic change. As Ensser says, the challenges are constantly changing, and today’s leaders must ensure that their organizations can respond. “Otherwise, they will be lost. The strategies and behaviors of the past no longer work today,” he noted. That’s why Egon Zehnder’s role is finding the best leaders and developing them, strengthening the culture and governance of their organizations, and assessing and building their teams.
Touching on the trends to shape future leadership, Ensser stated that infiltrating geopolitics into many aspects of business and daily life will require leaders to be farsighted and imaginative. Sustainability will also be another area of intense focus. “Our role is to encourage leaders to bring more than their just brains into play: their hearts and souls. They must serve people, profit, and the planet.”
One of the core values of Egon Zehnder is to embrace diversity, according to Michael Ensser, Global Chair of Egon Zehnder. “Building an inclusive culture requires constant effort from everyone, especially those in the majority. We must constantly examine our own prejudices,” Ensser said. The company has committed to this work for many years and recently elected two dozen new partners, most of whom are women. “However, there is still more work to do, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to create an inclusive workplace,” he noted. “Our commitment to diversity and inclusion extends well beyond our organization and fuels all our work to place and develop leaders,” he added. The firm provides its clients with advice and solutions that reflect its passion for diversity and inclusion. “We challenge preconceptions and look beyond labels and stereotypes. Above all, bring different thinking and perspectives to every engagement.”
ESG SHOULD BECOME MORE IMPORTANT
Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (EGS) standards currently play a role in business, but they should become more critical, according to Michael Ensser, Global Chair of Egon Zehnder. Together with Kearney, Egon Zehnder surveyed 8,000 company employees from different generations, including baby boomers, Generation X, Y, and Z. When asked what they think is vital in a company, they put values such as transparency and inclusive management as well as certain professional life balance at the top. The extent to which a company cares about EGS and sustainability comes only after that. “We would expect young people to rank this higher,” Ensser noted.