Executive search in the era of digital transformation
Jim Chaplin is no stranger to the world of executive search or the changes the industry has experienced over the past two decades. He has been at the forefront of the industry and has not only borne witness to the disruption that digital transformation has brought, but also built a thriving company amidst the competitive landscape. Jim is the CEO of SRI, a global search and consulting firm serving clients and candidates within the media, content, technology, and sport sectors.
With offices across four continents, SRI has evolved from its early days as a UK-based sports specialist firm to a global leader in the executive search space. “Our business started in 2001 as a specialist recruitment company. At the time we started, the sports industry was very unsophisticated. The biggest change we’ve seen in the sports world is the growing sophistication of our clients. The increased requirement to consult with them before undertaking a search is paramount to really understanding what they’re looking for and where we can add significant value to their business in the long-term. It’s an industry that’s become less transactional and more consultative as time has gone on,” he observes.
“Digital transformation has had a very significant impact on our business due to the fact that a lot of our clients have been heavily disrupted by the changes to their traditional revenue models. There’s been a pressing need to bring in new people to adapt to and deal with these changes. Additionally, in executive search, there once was an old school reliance on a black book of contacts, and the digital world has shifted that need. Now, you need to understand the industry and possess the ability to offer insight rather than it being a matter of who you know. Digital has changed that, because it’s much easier to find people—what’s harder to find is outstanding and transformative talent who are well-suited for our clients.”
“In executive search, there once was an old school reliance on a black book of contacts, and the digital world has shifted that need. Now, you need to understand the industry and possess the ability to offer insight rather than it being a matter of who you know.”
Jim Chaplin, CEO
A commitment to the industry
SRI has thrived precisely because they understand the driving needs of the industry—success is determined not only by finding the right talent, but also by a deep understanding of his clients’ respective industries, a rigorous search process, and a consultative touch.
“A lot of our business is in sports and entertainment, so we are insulated from the economic cycle in ways that other industries aren’t. Long term broadcasting and sponsorship deals plus major events mean that many of our clients have a degree of certainty over future revenues. However, the sports and media world is heavily politicized, and so the environments we’re working with are political by nature. The need to plan for a political disruption has become more important than ever” he remarks. Executive search goes beyond finding top-level talent—it’s about understanding your clients’ business and its competitors, all while deploying a detailed analysis of the global landscape.
“The single biggest issue impacting our ability to achieve our growth goals is our reliance on having really outstanding people who understand the industries in which we’re operating. Our ability to scale and growth is limited by being able to find people. In order to find the right talent, we need a depth of insight and experience and a strong commitment to servicing the industry,” Jim says.
On trends for this upcoming year, Jim continues: “The number one issue our clients will face in 2019 is around how they continue to stay ahead of the competition and adapt to this increasingly disrupted and dynamic world. If you look at traditional media or sports, they must constantly evaluate their revenue streams and innovate to ensure they’re continuing to drive top-market value and gain consumer interest and buy-in. A lot of our businesses are reliant on supporters, fans, and consumers; those consumers have loads more choices than they’ve ever had before. Our clients need to stay relevant, exciting, and at the top of their game, and it’s in our interest to help them. In sports, the competition isn’t just other teams within your sport, or other sports in general, but leisure interests as a whole.”
“The value of executive search firms in the future lies in the building out of great teams and partnering closely with senior individuals within the organizations we work with in order to assist them in navigating the change they’re facing. As a global operation, we can look at trends across different geographies and sectors, so we’re in a privileged position to help them stay relevant and ahead of the competition.”
“The number one issue our clients will face in 2019 is around how they continue to stay ahead of the competition and adapt to this increasingly disrupted and dynamic world.”
Jim Chaplin, CEO
Building the right team
For Jim, the most exciting aspect of his role is the mercurial nature of executive search. “There is no such thing as an average day for me. The beauty of our industry is our variety. I used to recruit lawyers, and there was a certain monotony to it—I often found it hard to differentiate between the law firms and enthusiastically champion the benefits of working at a different one. There was a definitive lack of variety. At SRI Executive, we’re working with everyone from startups to high-growth groups to huge brands, so there’s a massive variety in the development of their respective businesses. They’re all at different stages of their journey, at different levels of sophistication, and they operate across different geographies, so there’s never really an opportunity to be bored,” he states.
“The first three years of our business between 2010 and 2013 were very challenging. We underestimated not only the time it would take us to make money in our international offices, but also the time required to transition the business from a well-established reputation for contingent recruitment to executive search. Along the way, we had to change our people to build the right team around us. We raised money in certain stages, and it took longer than we thought it would to get ourselves in a healthy position. Cash flow was tight, and it was a tough three years until we hired the team in place to navigate those hurdles. It was a difficult period of time filled with several tough business decisions, but ultimately it makes our business stronger.”
“We still feel we have loads to do. SRI Executive has grown strongly over the last six years, but we still have lots of potential to exploit in all of our sectors and geographies. We truly feel as though we are at the end of the beginning in terms of growing this company to its fullest capacity. I draw an immense enjoyment from working with our team, and that’s what gets me up every morning and keeps me engaged and excited for what’s to come.”
Jim on the spot
Where would you like to be in five- or ten-years’ time?
“I’m always a bit hesitant on these questions, so I’ll just say that I want to continue to grow the business and build something that we’re all proud of, regardless or specifics of scale or what we are. If we keep delivering on what we’ve been doing, we have so much potential.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t in Executive Search?
“I enjoy running businesses and managing people, so I’d hopefully be able to be a part of a business that works closely with people and has the potential to grow and do good work.”
- Born: Tonbridge in Kent
- School: Tonbridge School
- University: Durham University
- First Home: Oakham, Rutland
- First Car: Maestro
- Last Holiday: Skiing in Tignes
- Charity: Rwanda Aid
- Hobbies/Relaxation: Sports, especially cricket and football
- Inspired by: Former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss
- Book: Any biography, and anything by John Grisham or Robert Harris
- Music: Keane
- Gadget: The Nutribullet
- Food: Traditional British roast beef dinner