5 minutes with… Sita Kolossa, CEO of Nordbridge
The Drawdown (TDD): You set up Nordbridge in 2012. What was it that enticed you to create the executive search firm? Can you describe the roles you focus on?
Sita Kolossa (SK): When I set up Nordbridge in 2012, nearly 10 years ago now, there were very big players, such as Heidrick, Russel Reynolds, Egon Zehnder, Korn Ferry and Spencer Stuart. However, at the time, I felt a lot of the smaller firms weren’t providing the level of quality and knowledge I’d been taught to use from my time at Heidrick. I felt there was a gap in the market for a boutique executive search business like ours, which has very high standards. So, I set up Nordbridge alone, and took a huge risk which has so far paid off.
I was fortunate that 2012 was a good time to bring a smaller firm into the market which understands the business acumen of how big funds operate, while offering them a very personalised service. It’s common to get lost among templated services and staff churn when working with larger search firms. Lots of businesses aspire for quick growth, but I’d rather gradually add more specialised professionals to my team to maintain the boutique aspect.
Regarding the roles we focus on, we tend to hire for front office roles for private equity, hedge funds, family offices and corporate M&A. We recruit investment professionals for the buyers side, as well as portfolio roles such as CFO or COO. We also include corporate M&A directors, as well as family offices who need additional investment resources. Overall, we help our clients recruit roles from junior level to senior level, including partner.
(TDD): In what ways have recruitment and processes for PE changed between 2012 and now?
SK: Generally, the US market hires very differently to the European market. The US market always thinks ahead. They usually approach potential juniors before they’ve graduated from their masters degree or MBA so they can lock them in before they leave education. European funds are more seasonal. There’s generally a January cycle, a summer cycle and then a September cycle once firms have clearance on their end of year budgets.
I think due to various economic changes over the years, especially recently, a lot of people have exited private equity altogether because they value work life balance and perhaps want something a little different. So that has significantly reduced the talent pool.
More generally, I can remember some funds completing up to 16 rounds of interviews, so hiring is no easy task - it takes a long time to ensure the individual is the right culture fit for the organisation. That said, over the last decade I’d say funds have become much more structured with their recruitment processes. They make decisions faster which was never the case before, and they treat us as a headhunting partner. Our clients often ask us for advice, which in turn ensures the entire process is much more tailored to their needs.
(TDD): What recruitment methods do you use?
SK: In almost every process, a lot of our clients use psychometric tests, background tests, personality tests and case studies. We guide the candidates through each stage as it’s very hands on. Some firms will use an external provider for these types of tests, while others create their own in-house versions. And in the background, there’s a lot of referencing going on too.
(TDD): When it comes to recruiting at the GP, what have been key dealbreakers you’ve noticed for these individuals to leave their current position?
SK: I think the more senior people are, the more difficult it is to get them out of organisations. There has been a shift due to Covid, as people have revaluated their lives, thought about what works for them, what they’d like to do, and reassessed their options.
Normally, a lot of people have bonuses or carry, which they don't want to leave on the table. In these cases, an individual might say let’s stay in touch until the carry has been received.
Generally speaking, people want their next role to be a new challenge, or a better name - something appealing. If they’re already well positioned in their current role, they want a valid reason to move onto pastures new. However, from my experience, if we approach individuals with an exciting opportunity, I guarantee a lot of those people won’t say no.
PE is a people industry. It's about building relationships, so candidates as well as clients can feel they can trust us.
(TDD): What advice would you give to firms or candidates who are about to embark on a recruitment journey?
SK: Always be open, whether you’re a candidate or a firm. Make sure you know the market well and speak to everyone. There’s currently demand for lots of people in every role across financial services. So, building contacts and knowing who’s moving where will put you at a key advantage.
(TDD): What are your key focuses for the next six to 12 months?
SK: We want to ensure our existing clients stay with us and are happy, while also bringing in new and exciting clients into our roster. Gradually building out our team is something we are also working on.
We are also focusing on launching our advisory arm, Nordbridge+ this month, which is very exciting. And we’ll have lots of news to share on that over the coming weeks.