January 2016 - Thomas Deininger, one of Germany’s leading recruitment consultants, fills top positions in industry and finance. An interview about the magnet that is FrankfurtRhineMain.
Your Frankfurt-based DEININGER CONSULTING is one of Germany’s top 10 executive search consultancies. How attractive is FrankfurtRhineMain for managers?
FrankfurtRhineMain is a remarkably appealing location for high potentials and managers and, of course, for us, too, if we want to engage in dialogue with clients from all sectors, both nationally and internationally. Once upon a time, people had reservations about Frankfurt, but that is long since history. The city is one of the most magnetic in Germany in terms of quality of life, culture, nature and logistics. It is an international hub with an impressive airport. Particularly over the past 20 years FrankfurtRhineMain has developed into an exceptional metropolitan region with a strongly international flair. This is something of which we can be proud.
What are the locations that FrankfurtRhineMain is competing with?
Of course, FrankfurtRhineMain is not alone in Germany; just look at Munich. But we do have one particular advantage over Munich – the cost of living. The rents and real estate prices there have climbed well beyond the realms of the reasonable. Those of our candidates who opt for Munich are forced to demand higher salaries for transferring there in order to make up for the additional costs they will be incurring. Of course, Munich also has excellent plus points. But the financial burden of living there should not be underestimated.
And what about Berlin, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Stuttgart and Leipzig/Dresden?
Berlin, with its many possibilities as the capital and a cultural centre, is also very attractive. But it still lacks the necessary industrial infrastructure. Currently, there appear to be only limited prospects of industry becoming established there. By contrast there are a large number of employers in the fields of public administration, federations and foundations. In recent years Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia have gained an enormous amount of ground and some eyes have turned to Stuttgart for industrial SMEs, the car and component supplier industries when looking for a new position. The reputable financial services providers should not be forgotten either. Neither should Dresden and the region around Leipzig be disregarded. Both these cities will see positive developments over the next 20 years.
To what extent are the candidates you come into contact with prepared to move?
Independent of family ties to a particular region, their willingness to move remains consistently high provided that we are talking about attractive and feasible challenges in a serious environment that promises no unforeseen negative surprises. From time to time, offers are rejected at an early stage if the candidates have not been in their current jobs for long enough or family ties argue against a change of region. Generally speaking commuting is not desirable, especially for people in top positions. It is often not only the case that family life suffers; at the same time, the company is not adequately championed at its representative offices.
You originally came from industry. How did you become a recruitment consultant?
After seven years of professional experience in industry, working in the technology sector and, more particularly, in production, I needed to broaden my knowledge base in the field of human resources to include such elements as “evaluating personality”, “recruitment”, “wage determination” and even employee participation in decision-making. An ambitious engineer cannot make use of any specialist HR knowledge he might acquire without real professional experience. The PA Consulting Group in London offered me the opportunity to get a foothold in the world of recruitment consultancy by training in the UK. I subsequently worked at the group’s German HQ in Frankfurt. At the time the main vehicle for recruitment consultants was job ads in the large dailies. However, the “yield” from this method was dwindling. So, in order to find a reasonable number of candidates, even back in 1978, the focus of my activities was increasingly on opting for direct searches. This “search technology” was a real challenge because at the time in Germany there were major restrictions on approaching people directly. Later, it proved possible to convince the legislators of the fact that brief initial contact with potential candidates at their workplaces was the way to go and the really intensive interviews about the position to be filled were moved to the candidate’s free time or evenings. This amounted to a justification for direct search, which is sometimes also called an executive search. The PA Consulting Group then offered me the opportunity to manage its business at the direct search centre in deGermany. However, in 1983 I should move abroad, which would have been tantamount to a new beginning. And so in 1981 I set up Deininger Unternehmensberatung GmbH in the same location, in the Marriott building in Frankfurt, which nowadays goes by the name of WestendGate. The existing sophisticated client base with companies and banks made this easy for me.
In what sectors are you mainly active?
The company focuses 60 percent on industry and 40 percent on financial service providers with a sophisticated range of successful banks and insurance companies. In our sector, it is important for the individual teams of consultants to be duly specialised. Our business is based on recommendations – 14 years ago an opportunity arose for us to expand our business abroad, with our first assignments in China.
Nowadays your company boasts 135 employees and 27 teams of consultants at 15 locations all over the world. How international is your business now?
Our clients’ investment patterns simply make it necessary for us to undertake high-grade executive searches at other international locations as well. And this has now inspired us to establish a large number of our own branches internationally: two offices in China, three in India, and one in Singapore. We operate in east Europe from Warsaw. Admittedly, other recruitment players are still ahead of us but we are getting there in terms of international expansion and our teams in the relevant locations boast outstanding qualifications. These collaborate extremely closely and on a permanent basis with our research centre in Germany, with its staff of 40 employees. Executive searches outside Germany for our German clients is proceeding in leaps and bounds. This means that we need to continue to invest in places such as the United States, the UK and east Europe, where our focus is on Poland and Russia. Other countries are bound to follow if we want to continue to look after our clients successfully in the long term. One current example is Iran, where we are already getting started.
Your company has its 35th anniversary in 2016. Can you summarise its history in figures?
In the 35 years that we have been in existence excellent progress has been made in terms of the professionalism of our consultant teams and the infrastructure for research and Web research, with our affiliate Eurosearch Consultants GmbH for the Internet-based recruitment business. Our database comprises more than 530,000 candidates in 51 countries and we can very rapidly offer our clients in the major industrialised countries an excellent range of candidates. The same applies to the kind of people who are potentially looking for a change. With our holistic approach each year we fill more than 500 national and international positions.
And what was your biggest coup?
There are search projects with a very idiosyncratic background history and way of developing. A number of years ago we were looking for somebody to fill a top position at Frankfurt Airport’s on-ground logistics operations. The range of possible candidates was great and our research prompted us to put somebody forward who used to work for the German Air Force. His career had progressed very well and he boasted an impressive personality structure. The decision-makers had initially thought about a candidate with an industrial background and were accordingly surprised by our suggestion. However, at the final meeting they became increasingly convinced that this gentleman might, for many reasons, be an excellent choice for the position after all. After tough negotiations on both sides our candidate was later even appointed to the management board, after exceeding everybody’s expectations. This kind of unconventional appointment can also run in a positive and successful direction.
Finally, a personal question: How would you describe your everyday working life?
The way we work makes great demands on personality and family. I have just got back from an early appointment in the Sauerland region and will be flying off to a foreign country directly after this interview. In our job you can’t ever just take things easy. No, in our field we need to demonstrate great flexibility and an increasingly international mind-set, we need to be ready to head out at the drop of a hat. Our company in particular does not delegate projects to consultant teams abroad. Instead we collaborate with the teams in our offices outside Germany. We cannot just restrict ourselves to Germany.