Kyiv, Ukraine – Every year, companies in the agricultural sector show an increasing need for top managers who excel at both strategy and revenue generation. The editors of AgroPortal.ua discussed the challenges of finding top agricultural executives with Vladimir Kolomoets, Country Manager for Ukraine at the international Executive Search firm Pedersen & Partners.
Vladimir, how difficult is it to fill a vacancy for a top manager of an agricultural company, in a field where everybody knows each other?
Vladimir Kolomoets: Nowadays, it is quite difficult to fill vacancies across almost all industries, especially at the top management level. There are very few suitable candidates, and those who can show concrete results are even fewer. The process of completing a mandate for a top manager can be compared to a complex journey in an extreme location: if you do not plan your route to the final destination in advance, taking the resources and the time needed to accomplish this into account, the journey will probably not go well.
The first difficulty in finding talent is that while people think they know every prospective candidate on the market, they may not know them from the correct perspective. You might have exchanged a few words at an event and concluded that this individual is a smart person who could therefore be a good manager – but you would be mistaken! Although that person might be pleasant to talk to during the coffee break, the management of a company is a complex, nuanced daily responsibility. A core competency for all top managers is the ability to maintain focus on the ultimate goal and task for as long as necessary. A senior manager simply does not have the right to lose motivation or show weakness, because a strong leader is needed to run the company. However, this kind of dedication is not a personality trait that can be detected during day-to-day activities or brief meetings at networking events.
The second difficulty is that it is easy to believe rumours. Entrepreneurs and directors frequently meet up and share impressions about certain people, but this makes it too easy to rely on someone else’s recommendations and feelings when assessing the strengths and weaknesses of candidates in the pool.
For this reason, I always recommend looking closely at the staff within the current company; perhaps there is someone there for whom this promotion will represent an important career advancement, but who was overshadowed by the presence of the previous senior manager.
“Whenever a company is looking for a senior manager, it is fundamental to understand the tasks for which this person is needed.”
How appropriate is it to consider candidates from different industries?
VK: Whenever a company is looking for a senior manager, it is fundamental to understand the tasks for which this person is needed. We can compare a company to a living organism; it grows up, develops and ages. At that point it could overgrow, it could transform itself, it could degenerate and die. For each of these stages, a particular type of manager is needed, so it is important to understand what stage your company is passing through, and what type of manager is needed right now.
In this sector, the need to understand agribusiness specifics is different from the need to understand the company’s current stage of development. If you need a manager who will maintain processes that have already been established, with a group of highly specialised leaders as subordinates, then we could consider an executive who does not have comprehensive agribusiness experience. However, if the company needs to be built from scratch, agribusiness experience is imperative. The executive must understand what the company will specialise in, why it has a specific land fund, has the land lain fallow or was it mercilessly exploited, the exact crops grown on it in the latter case, and so on… All of this can be learned swiftly, but superficially – the in-depth understanding will be missing.
I always instruct my clients and partners that they must not forget what I term the “total flight hours”. This is a very precise term from aviation – and the key point is that no amount of talent and skill will qualify a pilot to fly a more complex airplane if he has not flown the required number of hours on the previous model.
For a vacancy in the agricultural sector, what kind of qualities should a candidate bring to the table?
VK: Most importantly, the ability to deliver short-term and long-term results based on clearly defined parameters, with the help of the team and existing resources. In agribusiness, the two defining parameters that impact the achievement of results are the weather and world prices. No senior manager in the agricultural sector is able to influence these two parameters; the best they can do is to organise the company’s work in order to prepare it for any conceivable scenario. The ability to react as quickly as possible to fast-changing circumstances is one of the most important competences in the agricultural sector.
“Unfortunately, business owners in our country believe that a young or middle-aged horse runs better, more gracefully and faster.”
Is age an influencing factor in the decision-making process in today’s hiring?
VK: Unfortunately, business owners in our country believe that a young or middle-aged horse runs better, more gracefully and faster. But I think that this trend is now changing, and 40+ executives are considered more positively.
There is a perception that a 50+ executive has a more Soviet style of thinking and approach to processes, and will be more orthodox and less flexible to changes. On the other hand, the younger generation is more impatient, and long-term effort in pursuit of a far-off goal is challenging for them. Executives in leadership roles must always combine competences, experience, knowledge and motivation – so no, I do not believe that a 28-year-old should be a top manager in agribusiness! There are some exceptions – young executives who have advanced rapidly and developed within organisations of which they are an integral part, and who live what they do.
It is necessary to remember that Ukraine has only been independent for 28 years, and Soviet paralysis during the first years of independence meant that the market economy did not start to develop until much later. For this reason, we do not yet have a sufficiently deep pool of candidates with extensive experience who have fully grown and developed in an independent country with a market economy.
What is the importance of the interview during the selection process of a top manager?
VK: The executive search process is similar to a multi-layered cake. The interview itself is only one part of a complex process. During an interview, we do not simply listen to the candidates, but ask specific questions and expect specific answers. The absence of specific answers, or the inability to answer explicitly, will indicate that this person is unsuitable for a leadership role. For example, we do not ask candidates what they have achieved. Instead, we ask them what they could not achieve, and what their biggest failures and mistakes were. If a candidate states that they had no particular failures, this reflects poorly upon their candidacy – only those who do nothing have no failures.
How do you address the candidates’ selection process – are there any guidelines, like non-verbal signs or first impressions?
VK: As an Executive Search specialist, I can tell you that the more experience we have in selecting top managers, the less we trust first impressions. All competent top managers have taught themselves to produce an outstanding first impression – they read books about it and train themselves, because they want to become public figures. These days, if you’re not a public person, you don’t really exist. These top managers try to build their professional reputation through publicity and external image, but this is just confetti. First and foremost, we try to evaluate candidates by their accomplishments. Actions always speak louder than words.
We structure our processes so that I already know quite a lot about the candidate before the meeting takes place. Our meetings are the culmination of a certain number of calls, and careful information collection. Moreover, we track careers in a passive mode: we know in advance who the top managers of the key agricultural holdings are, we watch them closely, we witness their achievements and failures.
“Actions and achievements should speak louder than words. These should be widely disseminated, not as rumours, but as examples of real achievements.”
How important is a candidate’s resume for a senior management role?
VK: To me personally, a senior executive’s resume is the last document I would ask for – after all, it is no more than a brief description of a personal career path. I would find it strange to see the resume of a person who considers himself a successful and prominent executive posted on recruitment platforms. Ideally, a person at this level would wait to be offered a job opportunity by an interesting company. As I said earlier, actions and achievements should speak louder than words. These should be widely disseminated, not as rumours, but as examples of real achievements.
“It often happens that a candidate’s professional profile makes them out to be a star, but there is nothing really there – just an infinite empty void.”
In the West, LinkedIn is a very popular professional social network for job-seekers and employers. How practical is it to “sell” yourself as a manager on this platform?
VK: It is common for foreign employers to have no office or official representative in Ukraine, and therefore no knowledge of the Ukrainian job market. Many of these employers study LinkedIn profiles as a primary step. A candidate’s social network profile should reflect their real achievements. It often happens that a candidate’s professional profile makes them out to be a star, but there is nothing really there – just an infinite empty void.
Is there any psychological wage barrier for top managers?
VK: No. We can oversimplify, and boil down a top manager’s tasks to returning the money invested by the owner, plus a profit. Accordingly, the manager’s compensation should be reasonably linked to the size of the profit, and we have specific techniques for calculating this. However, in recent years, the pay gap between top and middle management remains divisive and highly contested. This pay gap is increasing tenfold, even hundredfold – and it is a global matter.
“Executive status is not about gender or age, but daily leadership aimed at achieving clear results. And it does not matter whether these results are achieved by someone wearing a skirt or someone wearing trousers.”
Do you think that women in senior management roles are a good asset, or will these leaders take decisions emotionally, rather than rationally?
VK: A lot of men are more emotional than women – and many cool-headed and powerful women exist, who could teach men a few things in this respect. I think that gender stereotypes are a relic rooted in the past. A woman should choose her career path independently, and be assessed on an equal footing with men. Executive status is not about gender or age, but daily leadership aimed at achieving clear results. And it does not matter whether these results are achieved by someone wearing a skirt or someone wearing trousers.
What is more important – reputation on the market, or experience and expertise?
VK: Reputation is a unique defensive wall – it is built up brick-by-brick all your life, but a single rotten element can destroy it. If someone does not have a high level of professionalism, and also lacks the necessary competences, experience and values, their reputation may as well be built on sand.
What should a candidate do to be offered a top management role?
VK: Demonstrate great achievements, definitely. You should also aim to become a public figure – it’s wonderful if you have a lot of personal achievements, but does anyone else know about them except you?
Vladimir Kolomoets is a Client Partner and the Country Manager for Ukraine at Pedersen & Partners. Mr. Kolomoets has more than 15 years of extensive experience in the field, with over 300 Executive Search and recruitment assignments across all practice groups. He puts a particular emphasis on the Industrial (Heavy Industry, Mining, Metallurgy, Agribusiness), Telecommunications, Technology, and Consumer Products sectors across the CIS region. Prior to re-joining the firm, Mr. Kolomoets held senior roles with two international Executive Search firms in which he served as Partner and Client Manager. Mr. Kolomoets holds an MBA from the Kyiv National Economics University. He speaks fluent Ukrainian, Russian and English.
Pedersen & Partners is a leading international Executive Search firm. We operate 57 wholly owned offices in 53 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia & the Americas. Our values Trust, Relationship and Professionalism apply to our interaction with clients as well as executives. More information about Pedersen & Partners is available at www.pedersenandpartners.com.
If you would like to conduct an interview with a representative of Pedersen & Partners, or have other media-related requests, please contact: Diana Danu, Marketing and Communications Manager at: email@example.com