Executive Search field is defined by curiosity, patience to absorb and understand information. In other words, connecting with the stakeholders. How does it look like the Romanian HR market now, which are the benefits of being part of a global community in this field and what values needs to have a leader in 2022? All the answers and much more in an exlusive interview with David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner Romania at Signium-Stein & Partner.
C&B: As a Managing Partner of a company with more than 27 years in the HR field, taking into consideration your German origins, how can you describe the Romanian market?
David-Sebastian Stein: That`s a great question! From my perspective, looking at the macro environment, the Romanian market is transitioning from an emerging market to a mature one, and this comes with a higher degree of competition and transparency requirements. Also, we see an increasing confidence of local companies, start-ups and investment funds expanding into more developed markets and looking beyond the borders of their own country. Another encouraging trend is that we see more and more regional and even global headquarters in Romania, so we have moved from the “Eastern European country where you can find cheap labour” into a more strategic dimension.
From a leadership and people perspective, Romania has already made big steps away from a “learn by heart and repeat” mentality, towards a solution-oriented ecosystem. However, given the educational base in Romania, this behaviour is being taught at later stages and it will probably take some time until diverse thinking will broadly be appreciated.
C&B: Which are your top entrepreneurial values always keeping in mind and applying?
David-Sebastian Stein: We strongly believe that the purpose, meaning the “why” you do things, is one of the most important aspects when it comes to entrepreneurship. If you are doing things to make money, you will invest into the wrong direction and, ultimately, your business will fail. Nevertheless, if you start a business to serve society, build an unparalleled product or service, or simply have the ambition to make things better than anybody else, then the motivation is true and eventually you might have the possibility to succeed. For us, we apply the continuous improvement theory, having the ambition to improve from project to project and trying to have measurable impact on the organizations we work with, and ultimately for society. By truly caring about the influence we have over clients’ businesses, we dare to believe that we help companies achieve or challenge their visions, by providing fitting leadership solutions, enhance engagement which drives to innovation and ultimately, all of these should lead to an increased impact on society – that`s what we hope to be our contribution.
C&B: How was 2021 for Signium – Stein & Partner and with what challenges did you deal with?
David-Sebastian Stein: As we had a record year in 2020, when the pandemic started, we noticed that the economic crisis and the effects of the pandemic really hit us in 2021. Our business is strongly affected by either foreign direct investments or local M&A activities and, looking at that data, we see that the demand was correlated to those activities with an approximate delay of one year. However, we were actually happy to have some free time to follow our growth ambitions on regional level and to further enhance and expand our services. Besides this, we have a new management team in Austria and given my election into the Global Board of Signium, we also started a very ambitious plan of initiatives on global level.
Unfortunately, some of our colleagues decided to leave the company due to the pause in business in 2021 and now, that the demand incrementally increased in the beginning of 2022, we face the needs to headhunt for ourselves. :))
C&B: Which are the business objectives for the 2022?
David-Sebastian Stein: On CEE level, our ambition is to increase the team by taking into consideration expertise and diversity, to further develop the leadership and board advisory practice and expand into new markets, as initially foreseen for 2021. On global level, we are changing the leadership model from serving to agile, focusing on engaging and connecting the partners, sharing expertise and strengthening continuous learning and development initiatives.
C&B: Stein & Partner is, for some years, member of Signium. In 2021, you decided to rebrand your business and name it Signium – Stein & Partner. With what major differences came the decision?
David-Sebastian Stein: This has been a hard decision for us, as Stein & Partner is a strong brand in Romania and has been recognized over the past 27 years as one of the top-quality service providers. Nevertheless, looking at what is best for the clients, it is important to be part of a global community which ensures collective learning and development, while sharing expertise and client commitment. And besides this, it is rewarding for us to also have the possibility to support a larger community and it makes us proud that our new ideas and initiatives are being globally appreciated.
C&B: In 2021, you were elected as Signium Global Board Director. How are you feeling in this position after almost one year? What does it imply?
David-Sebastian Stein: As mentioned in the previous point, we are thrilled to see that our ideas and initiatives are being appreciated and that our development goals align with the global trends in Executive Search. This gives us additional confirmation and strength in pursuing our direction.
After one year in the role, I can say that I am satisfied with the evolution and we continue to make strategic and administrative decisions regarding the general development and coordination plan of the network.
C&B: How were the last two years for Signium – Stein & Partner in particular, and for the HR field in general, two difficult pandemic years?
David-Sebastian Stein: As mentioned earlier, we believe the pandemic has notably hit us in 2021; 2020 has been exceptionally good and we are convinced that 2022 will be another great year for us. Looking at the market, traditionally the Executive Search industry has been very much connected to economic developments. Nonetheless, we see an increasing opportunity to support companies with leadership and board advisory services, helping to design competency models and steering change processes.
C&B: What do you think makes a leader to be a great one?
David-Sebastian Stein: For me personally, being a big fan of agile leadership theories, a great leader sees the company as an ecosystem where people can evolve, develop and support each other. In this environment, the leader is responsible for creating and protecting the structure which ensures that each member of the community can unfold their full potential and has the space to contribute. However, when applying leadership strategies, you always need to take into consideration the development stage of the company, meaning if it is a start-up, a growth environment, a mature establishment or a restructuring / turnaround case. Furthermore, you need to understand the strategy and the team competency model the company requires to achieve.
What I’ve learned so far in life is that there is no right and wrong, only more or less suitable solutions given the circumstances. You can have the most brilliant ideas and theories, but you need to listen, pick up the stakeholders and wait for the right moment or educate the organization. This, by the way, applies not only for leadership strategies, but for any situation of change.
C&B: Which are the top values of a leader in 2022? Is there maybe any value which was not so important before the pandemic context which now stands out?
David-Sebastian Stein: The pandemic has shown us that we are not alone on this planet and that we need to learn how to live and integrate with nature. Therefore, I believe the trend around ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) will be the driver of new economic development and a key value of leaders to be taken into consideration. The 20th century has brought humanity a tremendous living standard and we must accelerate the development into the direction of finding harmony with nature. We are strong believers that technology can help us move into this direction, but we need to tackle all aspects of social and economic development, which includes animal breeding, energy and all members of the economic system.
C&B: Any advice for people who want to become consultants for top executive firms, like Signium – Stein & Partner? What can make them stand out?
David-Sebastian Stein: Be curious! Our job can only be done well, if you are eager to absorb, to analyse information and find genuine pleasure in supporting companies and professionals. Our industry, and professional services in general, is a very absorbing sector as it`s project based. You need to be able to easily switch between completely different topics and stakeholders and it takes a long time to do this swiftly. If you are not driven by curiosity and have the patience to absorb and understand information, or if you are not genuinely interested in serving your stakeholders, it is almost impossible to succeed in executive search.