Jorgen Friisberg on Headhunting

18 May 2018

Jorgen Friisberg, who has specialised in executive search for more than 50 years, says that new technologies made the headhunting process more complicated.


What is needed are 35-year-olds with 30 years’ experience


  • by Greta Jankaitytė, Verslo žinios (VŽ)
  • Published by VŽ in Lithuania on 2nd of May 2018.
  • Read the Full Article on the VŽ website.


Jorgen Friisberg, founder of the international executive search company Friisberg & Partners International, tells VŽ why in Lithuania, it is easier for headhunters to attract international clients, what kinds of skills are the most coveted here, and what types of businessmen are the most difficult to work with.

Mr. Friisberg specialises in executive search for an impressive amount of time – 50 years, while he established Friisberg & Partners in 1977. Now the company is operating in different countries around Europe and the world.

Mr. Friisberg, who is Danish, started his professional activity in Copenhagen. According to him, executive search, just like any other business, is influenced by trends as well as by empty niches that emerge.

For example, he remembers that at the time when Norwegian oil industry was starting to thrive, executive search services were used to search for people from different walks of life.

“Later the demand for executive search services declined because the market was already established,” explains Mr. Friisberg.

Nowadays the greatest demand is seen in the banking and technology sectors.

“Now the most sought-after specialist profiles are the ones related to computers, modern technologies and innovations,” says Mr. Friisberg.

As regards the banking sector, this market is sustainable yet constantly changing, so headhunting services are still relevant.

“Our partners in New York work exclusively with the banking sector, and the most intense period for them starts in the beginning of December and ends at the end of January. It is so because it’s the time when people get their bonuses, and that becomes a pretext to change jobs,” explains Mr. Friisberg.


Antiques business

The most important personal quality in executives usually is the ability to change your organisation without breaking it.

“I’ve recently met a French engineer who works in the oil industry. She has a unique ability to come into an organisation of  200–300 people and change everything. And she does that in such a way that nobody even notices that something has changed”, says Mr. Friisberg. “You won’t find such people only by talking to them alone. You have to look into their histories, see what they’ve accomplished, talk to their subordinates, managers and peers.”

Mr. Friisberg notices a paradox that clients usually look for executives that would have 30 years of experience but would only be 35 years old.

“What is needed are highly experienced individuals, but they also have to have 15 to 20 years left until the end of their careers,” says Mr. Friisberg, joking that executive search is similar to an antiques business.

When Friisberg & Partners only just started operating, the company hired people whose main task was to cut career related notices from papers and catalogue them.

“At first that helped a lot because from the very beginning we had a list of people whom we could contact. These days nobody was asking directly whether you wanted to change jobs. People were posing less direct questions. For example: maybe you know someone who has the abilities required for such and such position? 5 or 6 people who told you they themselves were interested in that position was enough,” explains Mr. Friisberg.

Nowadays, because of the widespread use of the Internet and the social media, it has become much easier to find executives and to track their career changes. But that has some disadvantages as well: there is too much information. So, in order to find 5 or 6 top candidates, you practically have to go back to the old methods.


Differences between the East and the West

Mr. Friisberg says that, with regard to the executive search, the divide between the East and the West is noticeable. It is easier for Friisberg & Partners to attract international clients to Lithuania and other post-communist countries than to search for them in their home countries.

“We can’t attract some of the Danish customers, with whom we work here, in Denmark. For them, Lithuania is a new territory, they need new skills,” explains Mr. Friisberg.

The most sought-after executives in Lithuania are sales and marketing experts who can help Western companies conquer new territories, both in terms of geography and business. In mature Western markets executives have to focus on the continuity and the development of already existing businesses.

Mr. Friisberg remembers that starting business in post-Soviet markets wasn’t an easy task. “When we started working here in 1994, executive resources in most areas were equal to zero,” says Mr. Friisberg.

For this reason one needed to try out different search methods. Mr. Friisberg remembers that academics from Krakow became one of the main sources for sales and marketing managers in Poland.

“You would be surprised how many of Coca-Cola’s top sales managers are former Krakow university professors,” notices Mr. Friisberg.


Sensitive businesses

One of the services provided by Friisberg & Partners is management audit, which is comprised of an examination of  a company’s management and of giving advice on the changes required. However, clients are not always willing to hear the suggestions made by the consultants. This is particularly difficult in the politically sensitive public sector. Mr. Friisberg maintains that, for example, in the United Nations, an individual can be placed in a particular position in Paris only so that he wouldn’t be a headache in his home country.

“Similar things happen in the private sector as well, but it can rarely afford to do that financially. Whereas international organisations have so much money – and it’s simply incredible how they’re spending the taxpayers’ money,” says Mr. Friisberg.

Another sensitive area is family businesses. “The most difficult task in the search for executives is having to solve family problems. It’s not about a product or money – it’s about emotions that bind families together,” says Mr. Friisberg.

Often families want to pass their businesses on to the next generation, but that isn’t always the best idea. It’s hard to admit that your son or daughter is unfit to lead.

“In France, medium-sized family enterprises are the backbone of the country’s economy, and the problems these businesses are facing are the same ones as 50 years ago. People avoid making necessary changes here and now because of their emotional bonds,” says Mr. Friisberg.

Nijolė Kelpšaitė, partner at Friisberg & Partners office in Lithuania, says that in Lithuania, the prevailing tendency is poorly planned business transfers. There are numerous cases when parents simply pass their business on to their child who is only 25-27 years old.

“The owner of a business thinks that is enough, but usually the child is not ready. Education alone is not enough – one needs experience, best – in a different company, in a more challenging environment, in different markets,” says Ms. Kelpšaitė.


Photo: Judita Grigelytė (VŽ).