Retained Director Search

Case Study

  • In December 2016, River Partnership were retained to search for a Director for a growing Firm of mature and experienced compliance advisory professionals.
  • The Firm were interested in finding a unique blend of skills, experience and cultural competencies to tie into their corporate culture and Firm vision as an elite provider of advice to a demanding and expanding client base.
  • The Firm were also interested in building market intelligence for future growth plans.
  • As a niche Firm, they were largely unknown in the market and wanted someone to act as an ambassador for their brand, turning people’s heads towards their Firm as a place of interest for their future career and leaving a positive mark on the industry.
  • Understanding the right talent would be scarce, they wanted to ensure that the message to market was tightly controlled so that they did not miss the opportunity to court the best options, or create an impression that a key role in the Firm was vacant and it difficult to attract people towards them.

The Brief
At the start of the engagement, we sat down with the key leaders of the Firm and designed a brief detailing:

  • What the firm were looking for in a Director – characteristics, competencies and experience.
  • The specific information relating to the Firm – the ‘story’ so far
  • The specific information relating to the role and the team – the ‘opportunity’
  • The key competitors and firms of interest
  • The brand message
  • The go to market message
  • Agreed timelines for the search and frequency of reporting. 

The Process 

  • The market universe was agreed, and maps were produced of teams within the target firms.
  • Our team approached and headhunted each person on the list starting with the highest potential.  
  • Weekly reports were sent to the client updating them on our findings and interesting market intelligence as we found it.
  • The search was completed within ten weeks. Two weeks earlier than the expected timeframe.
Competitor Findings

Through market research and referrals the River Partnership team identified 126 potential Director candidates and had conversations with a total of 107 people.

The team initially screened for each target company to have the minimum attributes as defined by the client in the job specification; further companies were identified through the process of the search which additional candidates were also found.

  • We identified the most prominent companies within the Funds Compliance Advisory market.
  • We were able to identify where top-tier candidates were most likely to come from.
  • We were able to build an accurate picture of salaries, bonus and career trajectory trends for top quartile performers.
  • We understood the key factors that would motivate retention and interest in alternative career options.
  • We built a clear picture of client base, revenue, team size and market share. 
  • We are also able to build relationships with several professionals, understanding what opportunities could be relevant and within what time frame.

Market status

  • It is clear that the funds advisory market is responding to strong client demand in this space.
  • This is borne from a combination of broad and onerous regulatory change alongside relatively unsophisticated or immature internal Compliance functions within Investment Firms, Funds, PE, VC, Broking and Trading Institutions.
  • Almost all Firms have experienced growth in the last 6 months, both in revenue and headcount. 
  • Several new Firms have been established taking the form of independent Ltd Company Contractors, formal or informal LLP’s and Associate Firms, or Privately backed businesses seeking to carve out larger market share.

Market Trends

Of the candidates we identified, 57% were not interested in moving. The top three reasons were: 

  1. They had moved to industry and did not want to return to consulting, or wanted to move into industry from consulting.
  2. They had moved into contracting or wanted to make that move.
  3. They were not interested in ‘starting again’ and leaving their current client base.

Core motivators:

Following an interview, alongside the 57% not sufficiently motivated to leave, 35% were discounted by River as not having the requisite experience, characteristics or competencies to be successful in the role.

We pulled together data from 107 conversations to identify the main motivators for our target market in considering a move:

  • Collegiate environment
  • White space to develop into
  • More responsibility and/or autonomy
  • Less politics
  • Meritocracy
  • Competent leadership
  • Appreciation from leadership
  • Sophistication and maturity of peer group      
  • Salary, bonus, compensation
  • Wide client base and network
  • Record of success (sales)
  • Compelling firm mission and vision
  • Work/life balance
  • Flexible/agile working
  • Ambition
  • Firm and leadership reputation

Industry vs Consulting:

  • After moving into industry, most candidates were unwilling to return to consulting.
  • Several consultants desired a move to industry as the only destination they would consider.
  • The main reasons cited were for perceived: Greater work/life balance, Less sales pressure and seeing projects through to the end


  • We saw the trend towards freelancing or contracting as the biggest threat to our target talent pool.
  • Candidates are continually seeking flexible working arrangements, including days from home and a 4-day week and many saw contracting as a way to achieve this.
  • With market demand increasing, particularly with regards to MiFID ii queries, financial crime, client money and general FCA assessments, health checks and GAP analysis, Contractors are broadly successful with a loyal client base.
  • Therefore the risk of reduced personal cashflow from less surety of work is regarded as small, whereas reward is higher now than it has been for some time – particularly for those who have built a solid reputation among clients.


  • Boutique firms are likely to pay more as a total compensation package.
  • Either through profit share, or a higher than average bonus
  • Base and pension contributions were higher in the larger firms.
  • There are broadly three tranches of total compensation from the people we identified. With a clear distinction between grades in most cases: junior, senior and leadership/owner.
  • Candidates are likely to have a 3 or 6 month notice period.
Reasons for retaining River

The need for this particular search arose due to:

  • Historic issues with finding the right kind of people in a highly competitive space
  • Limited time and resources to scour the market
  • An interest in building market intelligence to inform future decision making around hiring, salary benchmarking, benefits and market positioning.
  • An interest in holding Intellectual Property on competitors and future stars who could join the team.
  • Wanting to ensure that the Director had the correct cultural and leadership skills to augment the Firm’s strategic vision.
  • Wanting to ensure that the message to market was tightly controlled and positively affected the brand.

River’s search methodology is rigorous. We ensured that a tightly controlled message was taken to market. Comprehensively working through a list of high potential professionals leaving a positive impression of the Firm.

As well as identifying a solution earlier than our agreed timeframe, we provided regular, meaningful information for the Firms decision making process and future workforce plans. 

  • David Young has 13 years’ experience in Search, leading global assignments within Financial Services and Energy.
  • He has led and grown successful search teams and studied an MBA at a Business School ranked in the top ten globally.
  • He therefore exhibits a degree of understanding that sets him apart from his peers, and allows for a more credible representation of your brand.
  • David and his team immerse themselves in their market, hold extensive networks with senior leaders and provide unique co-created business value to their clients through a range of services. 

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