What impact is the lockdown having on recruitment for businesses, candidates and recruiters ?

Edouard Normand, who heads up our digital practice, has had the experience of recruiting for two structures whose recruitment processes started during the lockdown period. He gives us his point of view as a recruiter and also cites the views of Etienne de Verdelhan, CEO of Airfree, who entrusted him with the recruitment of their CTO:


All French professionals have been affected by the Coronavirus, with more than 9 million employees affected by short-time working and others heroically going to work to treat, protect and supply us. We are deeply grateful to them.

For the rest of us, remote working is often the only way to stay in business and most companies have put their hiring on hold. The consequences are bound to be significant for job seekers and professional recruiters. However, all is not lost and some companies are managing to recruit profiles after receiving their applications during the lockdown period itself

I myself have had the experience of recruiting for two structures whose recruitment processes began during the lockdown period. In both cases, these are strategic positions with management and customer relationship skills.


Of course this raises certain questions: how is it possible for a company to onboard someone into its workforce without even having met them physically? Why change jobs and be on probation with so little visibility?


Our job as recruiters is undergoing a major transformation because we can no longer meet all the candidates we recruit for our clients.

In the professional sphere, much of what we think and feel is revealed by our body language and the expressiveness of our faces. These create the conditions for weak signals that allow us to communicate more naturally.

Videoconferencing tools are no substitute for face-to-face interviews because many of the weak signals escape us and it is difficult for some people to be comfortable in this type of situation. For example, looking into each other’s eyes is a natural and essential human need from early childhood. These tools produce an impression of eye contact that can sometimes be misleading for the interlocutors and lead to maladaptive behaviour.

Beyond the virtues that meeting candidates brings professionally, it is more the human encounter that we all miss and which is a basic necessity for our well-being. After all, we are social animals. The more real and positive interactions we have with other human beings, the more comfortable and confident we feel in our daily lives.

That said, in the digital recruitment sphere that I represent, we have long experienced a significant and growing talent shortage: speed of profile searches and recruitment processes is a key factor in a highly competitive market.

The lockdown forces us to compensate for a temporary decline in some of our face-to-face interaction capabilities by improving our remote working capabilities, and I have seen a number of benefits to this.

We talk more about extra-professional elements that create a warmer and friendlier climate. There is more engagement on both sides and ultimately we get to know each other better in less formal exchanges. We are more natural, empathetic and less guarded with each other.


In addition, the candidates talk more concisely about their professional experiences and the time we save by talking to each other by videoconference or on the phone is reinvested, if necessary, in additional coaching and development interviews.


It is therefore also very well suited to our Athlete Thinking approach, enabling us to prepare candidates for client interviews in the same way as we prepare athletes for sports events.

There are further positive points for candidates to bear in mind:


The competition they face is different and less crowded than in normal times. Professional recruiters have more time to target companies according to their profiles. As a result of the first two points, they have the opportunity to interview for positions they might not necessarily have been eligible for two months earlier for various reasons.


Furthermore, if we take the case of companies with the capacity to recruit, very high value-added elements can be observed:

Potential candidates have had more time to question themselves about their career and are more easily accessible.  Professional recruiters have also had more time to devote to their searches because they are working on fewer searches simultaneously. As a result of the first two points and the elements mentioned earlier in this article, recruitment processes can therefore be shortened. In my case, the recruitment processes were very fast (3 weeks in both cases with 3 to 4 interviews) because all parties had more availability and the job offers were signed electronically. Recruiting now will allow companies to be better prepared for the end of the crisis and it is a strong signal that allows companies to gain visibility and make their employer brand shine.

Returning to the CTO position mentioned at the beginning of the article, the candidate and the client agreed to take up the position before the end of lockdown date, involving a distance learning element so as to enable skills transfer as soon as possible.

Etienne de Verdelhan, CEO of Airfree, which develops an online duty free solution dedicated to airlines, gives us his views on this unprecedented recruitment:

“It was a question of recruiting a CTO – a strategic role in our company. If we hadn’t been in lockdown, we would certainly have proceeded differently. For all parties involved, meeting the candidate in the flesh would have been more fitting, but it seemed to us that, in a context where there are fewer recruiters, the quality of the candidate presented by Grant Alexander was an interesting opportunity for us, and we seized it. If we had not positioned ourselves, he would probably have found a position in another company and we would not have been ready for the business growth that awaits us after the lockdown ends.”

Ultimately, although there is no doubt that meeting face to face remains ideal and key to digital recruitment, the lockdown – like all the major crises that humanity has experienced – has enabled us to put things into perspective.  We can adapt by remaining efficient while enjoying the process. This test is doubtless also an opportunity for every human being to improve and be better prepared when the health situation returns to greater stability.


Avpril 2020, Edouard Normand, Head of Digital Practice,



Recruitment and AI: what lies ahead?








Let’s face it, AI (Artificial Intelligence) is a trend. It’s a buzzword that can frighten some people without them really understanding why. So in concrete terms, what is AI?

Artificial intelligence is much more than a simple technology, it is a set of techniques simulating human cognitive processes. Already present in our daily lives (“Hello Siri!”), AI promises to have a growing impact on all sectors of the economy. While GAFA have already taken over this promising sector (estimated at $11 billion in 5 years), AI also raises many ethical questions – and recruitment is of course one of them.




When it comes to AI and recruitment, the first use case is the review of job applications. Some see this as the end of discrimination linked to human bias, and therefore a step forward in the objectivity of selection. Examples include “CV Catcher” used by SNCF and Axa, or “Vera” which has already attracted Ikea, Pepsi Co and L’Oréal. AI screens the resumes received and pre-selects the applications that it considers most relevant.

However, the AI being developed internally by the giant Amazon (which rates candidates from 1 to 5 stars, yes, just like products!) proved sexist in its choices, excluding women who applied for technical positions. Based on the company’s data from the last 10 years, it noted how few women there are in this type of position and concluded that men are “better”.

And that perfectly demonstrates the complexity of AI: it works from the data provided, and thus reproduces similar schemes with a risk of standardisation. Not very objective, nor very disruptive (another buzzword). Data processed by humans, subject to bias.




The filtering algorithms used by AI identify key competencies in candidate profiles available on networks and job boards. The promise behind this use is to allow recruiters to spend more time assessing candidates’ soft skills and their suitability for the company culture.

Something of a paradox: making recruitment more human through AI!

However, AI applications are not limited to sourcing. Vodafone, for example, entrusts video interviews to robots. Thanks to linguistic engineering (ANLP – automatic natural language processing), AI, which collects information via chatbot, is now able to automatically process the information delivered during an interview.

Video interviews with a chatbot can therefore be compared to directional and structured interviews. The wording of the questions asked is the same for everyone, as is the order of the questions. The power of AI is therefore based more on the analysis of verbal (intonation, semantic content, discourse structure) and non-verbal content (facial expressions, position…). 




Recruiting with AI also corresponds to this desire to reduce companies’ costs, which would consist in seeing recruitment and human resources more broadly as a support function. In order to increase competitiveness, AI is an additional step towards automation.

Let’s look at it another way: the benefit of increasing AI power must reinforce the importance of strictly human aspects. Artificial intelligence must therefore remain a tool at our service. Because while AI services are now being applied to recruitment, they will never replace the headhunter!

To make sense, AI’s challenges must now refocus on helping people access employment, accelerating learning and training.

To be continued….


Clémence Simon – February 2019



The challenges of leadership in Africa Interview with Elisabeth Moreno








Kadia Moisson: In Africa today, and even in recent years, we have heard a great deal about leadership. One wonders what characterises an African leader. Leadership has become very trendy and everyone now claims to be a leader. In your opinion, what are the leadership challenges in Africa today and tomorrow? What does a leader need to meet these challenges?

Elisabeth Moreno: A few years ago, when we were asked to name a leader, we often gave the names of great politicians such as Mandela, Churchill, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King or even of iconic women like Simone Veil, Margaret Thatcher or Mother Teresa. Today, we mainly mention the names of great business leaders, CEOs and CEOs of major international groups, who have had exceptional careers. I am thinking of Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jack Ma or Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest of them, who represent real economic success.

It seems to me that we have experienced the era of religious power, the era of military power and the era of political power. Today, we are in an era of economic power.

The drivers of economic leadership are powered by the Americans and Chinese. These two major economic powers export their technical and technological skills to the world and lead the world economy.

Africa, although it is a continent with great natural resources, is not considered today as an economic powerhouse whereas in fact it concentrates within it very great resources – whether human, natural, mining, energy or agricultural. 

Africa is unique. Its problems are unique. Northern leadership is not always applicable in Africa. That is why we still need to develop our leadership to influence not only the development of our continent but also to have a voice on the global stage.

People from the diaspora are now recognised as great leaders, I am thinking of Cheick Modibo Diara or Tidjane Thiam, alongside those from the continent, such as Paul Kagame, Amrote Abdelah, or Tewolde Gebremariam and Kabiru Rabiu. That’s a good thing. I hope they will become our future benchmarks for African leadership. And that there will be more women too!

We also note that some African countries are emerging in the DOING BUSINESS rankings, and are changing the situation through the courage of their political and economic leadership. I would like to mention as an example, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who has succeeded in gaining acceptance for a modern African leadership style that is compatible with the codes and systems of the Western world.

In particular, I would like to highlight Africa’s human wealth. In 2050, the African population will surpass that of China and India. In the face of this strong demographic growth, it is imperative to invest massively in the scientific and technological education of African youth, which is the continent’s future. And let me re-emphasise education. The literacy rate must be accelerated and strengthened. This is fundamental to Africa’s development. At the national level, the benefits of a good education are only achieved after 20-30 years, hence the current urgency.

There is a great shortage of talent on the global market. Africa must be able to develop and export its human, technological and technical skills. This work involves Education and Training. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world.”

Finally, for me a leader must have the vision and courage to implement their vision in an inclusive way. Today everything is transparent and everything moves fast. So a leader must be determined to achieve their ambitions, embody their values and love people. They cannot lose interest in the future of the people with whom they work. Without falling into paternalistic leadership, leaders must now develop their emotional intelligence in the same way as their technical intelligence.


Kadia Moisson: Who are the leaders who inspire you?

Elisabeth Moreno: Nelson Mandela, Simone Veil, Jack Ma (Ali Baba), Paul Polman (Unilever), Carolyn Miles (Save The Children) and many others!


Kadia Moisson: We hear a lot about collective intelligence in our modern economies. Collective intelligence means the consideration of human capital in all its diversity in the company’s development and performance strategy. It is clear that at each level of the evolution of societies, new forms of social organisation are being created.  Today, collective intelligence and shared responsibilities are the main drivers. But in your opinion, what will be the foundations of future leadership models in the future?

Elisabeth Moreno: Faced with the development of robotisation, or even the fear of robotisation, the term ‘human capital’ takes on its full meaning, its full place. The new generations Y and Z are waiting for new types of management, new organisational models. If you want employee engagement, if you want synergy between the various actors in a company, if you want to attract talent and capabilities, you have to make room for all forms of human intelligence within the company. There is a global shortage of talent. It is therefore necessary to know how to recruit differently, identify the profiles that will share the company’s values and, above all, know how to retain them.

I fundamentally believe in collective intelligence or human resourcing. Without collective intelligence, there can be no lasting success for the company.


Kadia Moisson: The feminisation of Boards is a real issue today in our modern economies. In your opinion, what is the main quality required to access professional levels like yours?

Elisabeth Moreno: Leadership is not a gender issue; it is a question of qualities that we possess or develop. A leader, whether male or female, is someone who knows how to carry others with them. Such a leader is followed by people who believe in their project and who need to be stimulated, inspired.

Women in Africa make great businesswomen, Africa is the continent where there are the most women entrepreneurs. Now they have to dare to push open the doors of Boards, to take the risk of discovering a new framework, to learn new things.  And if they can, they should be trained to acquire new skills. We need to let them find mentors to accompany them. Knowledge and work are the keys to success in all environments.


Kadia Moisson: If you were a headhunter, how would you detect the right profiles?

Elisabeth Moreno: I think we must dare to put emotional intelligence and soft skills at the heart of recruitment systems.  Dare to recruit different people, with an open mind to the world and stop recruiting in the same schools, in the same sectors of activity and select the same profiles because they reassure us. The world is global, it is diverse. Let us embrace this diversity to make the most of what it has to offer.

I would no longer recruit people tucked away in an office, I would take candidates away from the expected executives, I would put them in real life situations, I would have them recruited by their close colleagues, by teams and so on.

How Athlete Thinking helps keep high potentials onboard






S.D. The way we approach our profession at Grant Alexander is based on our Athlete Thinking® methodology. For us, it’s both a philosophy and a methodology. Designed with sports coaches and mental trainers, Athlete Thinking® methodology is a proprietary tool that focuses on optimising managerial performance by developing the various mental dimensions conducive to success. Like a top sports athlete, a manager capable of mobilising their mental strength will thus be able to be the best version of him or herself. For this reason, we apply this methodology to many individual and collective development challenges.



S.D. The main difficulty for a company with a pool of high potentials is to prevent them from disappearing into what is a very active market for executive employment. However, if these high potentials are to envisage a future at their company, they must first be identified and made aware of their prospects. They must also be able to share a vision with their managers and envisage their career potential, even if it remains unclear in terms of structure. This implies that HR Directors must adopt both a very forward-looking approach and an appropriate programme.



S.D. A company in the process of transformation with a strong development ambition asked us how to engage and develop its key resources around a project that would bring them together. Identifying, anticipating and boosting are the 3 key words when faced with this type of problem.

First of all, identify – recognise high-potential employees in advance based on certain criteria and qualities such as: the ability to learn faster than others, leadership skills, adaptation to change, stress management, etc. Identify job opportunities that could open up based on the projects to be rolled out in the company’s strategy.

Then, structure… Define the challenges likely to mobilise these high potentials in a cross-cutting way in order to increase their visibility within the company. And then bring this network of high potentials to life by creating a community to strengthen their sense of belonging.



S.D. The objective is to boost their involvement in the company rather than waiting for them to take up other positions. They must be given special attention so that they have the wherewithal to envisage themselves as part of the company’s project from the standpoint of personal progression. The program is based on the implementation of:

– individual keys to enable everyone to know their strengths,

– collective programs that create opportunities to work together,

– opportunities for visibility in terms of the Executive Committee and for projection into a structure in the making.

The entire program is based on the emergence of a common culture that we are building around Athlete Thinking® leadership.



S.D. For each person identified, we use a questionnaire and personalised mapping to establish their mental characteristics and the strengths they already have in place, which have enabled them to position themselves among high-potential executives. We identify the mental components they have relied on to succeed and the nature of those successes. Then we support the development of these assets over time, by optimising the necessary areas. This activation of skills is done both individually and through collective workshops that reinforce the feeling of belonging to a specific community within the company. They enable the employee to share success stories and learn from them in the most agile way possible. They also make it possible to conduct joint reflections on cross-cutting projects that will bring out the future managers of activities in the making.


For Grant Alexander, Athlete Thinking®: is both a philosophy and methodology.

We believe that success (in the sense of achieving one’s objectives) depends on the ability of each individual to reach their optimal performance zone, and to do so with pleasure. It is what we call flow or even the fun zone – a state in which pleasure and performance live side by side. A state that everyone can reach, provided they promote and develop the different mental dimensions that optimise performance, like top athletes.

This is why we have developed Athlete Thinking® methodology, a program based on a questionnaire, a tool for exchange and development, which works on 9 mental dimensions conducive to optimising performance and achieving flow. It complements our 3D evaluation system, which aims to assess an individual as a whole: know-how, interpersonal skills and development skills (or the ability to optimise their potential).

Know-how – business competence as verified by our sector consultants, interpersonal skills – personality characteristics measured by tests and validated by our knowledge of our clients’ culture, and finally knowledge of how to develop, are the mental dimensions conducive to achieving optimal performance.

We thus pursue the deployment of Athlete Minded leaders driven by a powerful objective, an ultimate goal, that gives meaning to their commitment to pleasure.


“Athlete Thinking® does not imply competition at all costs. It is a philosophy that enables us to consider life as a succession of steps to be taken in a state of pleasure in order to achieve, surpass ourselves and ultimately flourish.

The “Wow effect” in “Onboarding”




As APEC CEO Jean-Marie Marx said a few weeks ago, “Tensions are high. With an executive unemployment rate of 3.5%, applicant pools are becoming exhausted.” “The market hasn’t been as strained as this since 2000,” says recruitment professional Thibaut Gemignani, CEO of the job offer site Cadremploi.

As recruitment consultants, we have daily awareness of the dearth of certain profiles and the “battle” to attract the best.   

Despite that, curiously enough, we are also seeing that once staff are successfully recruited, many companies fail to observe an important stage: integrating the newcomers.   

And yet the first few weeks after someone takes up a new post are fraught with danger: new recruits sign letters of engagement focusing on all the positive signals they registered during the recruitment process, and their first few weeks will show if they made the right choice. If they have the slightest doubt, they will be tempted to reconsider their position, especially as they could well get other offers, given the tension in the job market.   

When executives start actively searching for a job, they initiate as many actions as they can, and after a certain time they will be exploring certain avenues simultaneously. As every recruitment process has its own rhythm, applicants are often forced to make a choice before following all their actions through. They may very well say yes to a post without abandoning all the other processes. 

          “The first few weeks after someone takes up a

new post are fraught with danger.”


Even if they want to behave honestly with their new employers, they will naturally be highly sensitive and attentive to any speaking signs that might affect them, and will form views on the quality of the company they have joined and the advantages of the post they occupy. If employees don’t feel at ease in their new job, they know it will take six months at most to find another one. 

For the company, it is crucial for new recruits to have no doubts about their choice – and within a very short time. 

So why not apply the “Wow Effect” marketing theory to the integration of staff into a new post?

In a company’s relationship with clients, “the Wow effect” is something clients aren’t aware they have bought. They then receive it and are amazed. “The Wow effect” is the element that transforms a “passive” client into a “promoting “client. Today, the companies with the most sophisticated marketing approach are looking to go far further than merely fulfilling a promise. They aim to touch the emotional core of their clients, and make a deep and lasting impression.  

Applying this concept to the integration of new recruits represents an easy, low-cost way of inspiring maximum commitment from new staff members, thus reducing turnover and developing both team spirit within the company and the productivity of new members. 

” Applying the “Wow Effect” marketing theory to the HR world when

hiring new staff is a catalyst for successful integration.”


Beyond a highly effective integration process – necessary, but not enough to produce the “Wow Effect” –,  the following are essential:

  • With each stage of the integration process, focus on those little extras that make all the difference. For example:

    • Specific demonstrations of attention from their direct report and the HRD between the signature of the engagement letter and the moment when newcomers start work;
    • The use of new digital tools before the job begins. There are now onboarding apps for connecting with new employees once the contract is signed, meaning that they can collect information that will facilitate life when they start work;
    • A particularly warm welcome on the first day new people start work, with their future team taking a close interest;
    • Very regular updates organized for new recruits with their boss and with the HRD. 
  • Preparing the welcome beforehand by informing all those concerned by the new recruitment, and answering employees’ questions and concerns about any changes that might transpire because of the new arrival. 

  • Giving new staff members all the information needed to create a clear picture of the integration process, in a welcome booklet or some other form:
    • How should I work during my first weeks and months? 
    • Whom can I approach for any questions, and where do I find them?   
    • How often and to whom should I submit my first feedback?
    • What are the success indicators for the company in general and my post in particular?   
  • Formalizing this integration process and setting it in motion will provide an inspiring working environment for new recruits and their teams and colleagues alike.


These are just a few ideas, of course, and every company will gain from developing a specific integration approach reflecting its own culture.

The benefits this provides are incontestably far superior to the effort it would take to rekindle new recruits’ interest (or even replace them) if the integration process is a failure.

“Every company will gain from developing a specific integration

approach reflecting its own culture.”


– July 2018 –

François Humblot, Deputy Director of Grant Alexander: francois.humblot@grantalexander.com


Changes and challenges in the retail sector

The retail sector is undergoing profound change. Anne-Marie Deblonde, Executive Search Consultant in Retailing at Grant Alexander, was at Paris Retail Week held from 19 to 21 September 2017.

She shares her conclusions with us here.


To set the scene, world figures observed by leading consultancy firms reveal a significant basic trend:

Sales formats have become very diversified: E-commerce, drive-ins, direct sales, convenience stores, wholesale, traditional shops, pop-up stores, etc.

BtoC e-commerce rose by 24% in 2016 compared to 2015. However, it only accounts for 9% of retail sales worldwide so its future looks bright.


But what strikes us most is another trend:

In 2016, trade increased by 17% and European food consumption rose by 3.7%, but hypermarket sales areas have experienced a staggering decline over the past ten years.

  • Shopping centre traffic: down 60%.
  • Department store sales: down 31%.


The decline of traditional superstores

Regarding their non-food offering, supermarkets and hypermarkets (especially those over 8,000 sq. metres), including Carrefour and Auchan, are facing competition from specialised superstores that are more efficient and innovative. Regarding their food offering, they have faced competition from hard-discount stores since 1988, and more recently they have suffered from new forms of consumption, like home meal delivery, made possible by the arrival of new players (Deliveroo, Foodora, etc.). Meals are conveyed from their place of preparation straight to consumers, at any time.

Therefore, in order to survive mass retailing must reinvent itself, because its ‘industrial’ model based on strong economic growth, mass consumption, the convergence of multiple products at attractive prices in the same place is undergoing profound change.


Points of sale are changing and becoming ‘phygical’

  • Points of sale are adopting an omni-channel approach.
  • Stores are improving their ability to collect data (on customers and markets),
  • They are testing innovations upstream and downstream in the supply chain and striving to improve their customer relations.
  • These can be technological, marketing, managerial and commercial innovations. We talk about the Smurf revolution: social media, uberisation, robotisation and future of digital.
  • Store areas are changing, allowing customers to move around more easily, offering cosier atmospheres, and creating snack and take-away areas to cater for consumers’ new habits.


Hyper-customers are taking power

  • Customers are becoming Atawad: “any time, anywhere, any device”. They want to buy things at any time, from anywhere, using any device.
  • Customers, especially Millennials, want points of sale to offer interesting experiences and not just things to buy.
  • Customers are less and less inclined to wait and want purchasing to be a smooth process.
  • They are increasingly attracted to high-quality products that procure pleasure. Food safety has become a major concern and this has led to higher sales of organic food. Locavore tendencies are becoming more common.
  • The act of purchasing must be accompanied by feelings, relations and experiences. Consumption is more and more individualised and customers try to act responsibly.
  • Customers expect close relations with salespeople and expect them to be passionate about their job. Buyers observe the salesperson’s good sales performance which facilitates the purchasing of a product that may be more expensive provided it is of high quality.

-September 2017-

Anne-Marie Deblonde is an Executive Search Consultant at Grant Alexander, in charge of the Retail Division (retailing and physical distribution).


  • Le Nouvel Economiste – 12 September 2017 issue
  • Conferences at Paris Retail Week trade fair held from 19 to 21 September 2017

Anne-Marie Deblonde has been accompanying job changes in the retail sector for over 15 years: creating departments and teams dedicated Customer Intelligence and Data Analytics (Big Data projects), accompanying the birth of the first digital channels and supporting the use of more and more omnichannel strategies over the past 5 years.

Expert knowledge in jobs related to the performance of organisations, in the following areas:  products, customer marketing, Data, Digital. She guides stores of all sizes and all economic models in their reflections when they consider making strategic shifts. She intervenes in changing environments, helping to define new HR challenges, i.e. learning how to identify emerging jobs and how to integrate these new jobs, where to find people with new skills, how to convince them and support them when they join the company.

Given the changes in retailing, recruiters rarely have exactly the same position to fill. Anne-Marie establishes links between new jobs and companies’ strategic developments and specialises in tailor-made recruitment for organisations undergoing change.



Phygical: hyper-connected stores that support the convergence of its sales channels for the benefit of its customers and salespeople (physical sales area / catalogue / e-commerce websites / Social media). It links data from the world outside and the world inside, using digital devices and interfaces. The terms cross-channel and omni-channel are also used.

Atawad: acronym of “Any Time, Any Where, Any Device”. The term was coined when large IT projects and new technologies were being developed (accessing data in real time outside organisations) and when new uses emerged. It disrupts organisations in companies, raises security issues and pushes back the companies' physical and temporal limits.

Locavore: consumers who advocate geographical proximity, preferring local producers and seasonal produce in order to limit waste, save energy and keep local players in the region. 


Surpassing yourself in the business world

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Surpassing yourself in the business world



Always higher, always better. What should we think of managers who surpass themselves? Grégoire Beaurain, a Practice Finance consultant and coach, explains his thinking after a conference he organised at the Edhec School around four managers who, in their personal and business lives, push themselves to the very limits.


I’ve always enjoyed reading those final paragraphs in résumés. A head-hunter, I’m also extremely curious and like discovering other people’s passions. At the end of an interview, when there is a click and the masks can come off, I often use this “switch” to the areas of interest. I then discover highly interesting subjects and use this to polish up my general culture.  I admit I like passionate people, their energy is contagious. Recently I met an excellent management controller who told me about his passion for the NBA and Phil Jackson, its greatest coach to date. This led me to order three books that he recommended and discover what goes on behind the scenes in American basketball.

Amongst all the passionate people I’ve met there are many marathon runners and trailers. One observation is manifest: many managing directors and managers on the rise love these new sports; there are many great athletes amongst financial directors and the number of ultra-trailers is on the increase. Not only did these meetings and observations whet my curiosity, they also activated my competitive fibre. This pushed me to take up marathon running and I ran my first Paris Marathon in 2013.

Apart from the natural interest that I have in sports, this raised a question in the mind of the fervent head-hunter that I am: is there a correlation between performance (professional success) and surpassing and pushing oneself to the limits, whether in sport or in other commitments (attitude in life)? Or in other words, with a knowing wink towards my sporting friends in HR: could I draw up my short lists of candidates from the results of marathons or trails? This speculation leads to a corollary: do you run a marathon because you are a born high performer? Or do you become a high performer because you run a marathon?

Therefore it was quite natural for me to reflect on this by bringing together managers who have surpassed themselves to explore this topic and thereby enable the new generations, the breeding ground for future managers, to benefit from our discussions. This is why I organised with Edhec Alumni association a conference with four key speakers: Jean-Marc Delaville, CFO at ZF Services France, François Halfen, Sales Planning Director at Nike France, Bertrand Lellouche, CFO and Executive Partner at System Up, and Bénédicte Tilloy, Assistant Managing Director at SNCF Réseau.

It should be stressed once again that pushing oneself to the very limits is not restricted to sports. While Jean-Marc and Bertrand recounted their exploits on foot… trails, ultra-trails and marathons, François his ascension of mount Ventoux using the force of his arms, in aid of a charity, it was a non-sporting, but equally captivating physical and mental  passion that drove Bénédicte to surpass herself personally and professionally: painting…

All the evidence agrees. What characterises these persons who push themselves to their limits is a cocktail of passion, rigour, pleasure, humility, sharing and collective thinking. Fulfilling your dreams has cross-effects in life at home and at work. It requires great discipline on a daily basis because if the need to surpass oneself is part of your inner nature, it can only be achieved harmoniously and profitably if it is implemented in a structured manner. There was also much humility in their remarks. There is a form of logic in this surpassing, it is not a sudden impulse or whim.

To answer the question that we asked earlier (the chicken or the egg?), I would say that both are true. You surpass yourself because you have that inside you. And because you surpass yourself, you become stronger and want to go even further. But the click can also come about from being in a situation provided by other people. Because, above all, this approach corresponds to a search for meaning. And in itself it contains a natural need to share real-life experiences, without  proselytism… although we must admit that it is contagious.

Bénédicte Tilloy, in her position as Assistant Managing Director at SNCF Réseau, wasted no time in deploying her passion for graphic expression for the benefit of the employees with, in particular, a fine example of sharing with a freight train driver passionate about Street Art: together they organised a network of artists who transformed his train into a work of art.

I also like the experience of François Halfen who, through his passion for sport and his talent to bring it alive in corporate bonding events, gave Nike the desire to create a tailor-made job for him. And with him, in this company it is an opening for handicapped people that illustrates surpassing oneself: Just do it!

That’s what I’d like to invite you to do…


Author: Grégoire Beaurain – May 2017. Practice Finance consultant and coach, he regularly runs training sessions and organises conferences in business schools and on the social networks.

Along with the Edhec Alumni association, he organised on 15th May 2017 a conference entitled “Managers who surpass themselves”. His guests were Jean-Marc Delaville, CFO at ZF Services France, François Halfen, Sales Planning Director at Nike France, Bertrand Lellouche, CFO and Executive Partner at System Up, and Bénédicte Tilloy, Assistant Managing Director at SNCF Réseau.

Transition management 4.0, it’s right now! 

Transition management is developing and changing. Far from the old ideas that would have you believe Executive Interim to be the preserve of mercenaries and the kingdom of heavy transformation situations, Alban Azzopardi offers an alternative version. One that considers work in project mode. One where a generation – generation Y – is starting to take over the control of businesses.




Transition management has evolved in line with new work forms. In what way?

First of all, we  need to do away with the idea, still common in many firms, that a transition manager is a mercenary. It is not the status that counts, but rather the function. Being a transition manager is not in itself a guarantee of professionalism. While it is not impossible that a mercenary mindset can be a key to success in a fast and complex change context, it does not supplant professional expertise, it complements it. This means the Executive Interim firm needs to identify a manager’s capability to carry out their job at a specific moment in a temporary manner.

The role of the consultancy is to detect the expertise to deal with the given assignment and the candidate’s capacity to work in project mode.

Being a transition manager is not a profession, it is a specific way of doing your job. 

So is there an important mental aspect over and above the professional skills?

Of course. This is true in any recruitment but the more so in transition management. Being able to take the right decisions in sometimes stormy contexts, while controlling the environment, knowing how to work in project mode, in a team, being able to deploy a range of assets that include confidence, determination and adaptation while managing one’s emotions, these are the characteristics of a good transition manager.

Our role is to check these qualities in addition to the technical skills. The Athlete Thinking methodology that Grant Alexander has developed to deal with and develop the mental dimensions of candidates is an advantage in this respect. But once again, being a mercenary is not an end in itself; being a transition manager is not a profession, it is a specific way of doing your job!


If it isnt mercenarism, then how would you define transition management?

It is the head-hunting spirit adapted to the project mode. This involves providing the correct external expertise to meet a specific requirement. The difference is the temporality: in Executive Search, it takes a few weeks or maybe a few months to find someone who will stay for several years on a permanent contract and develop within the company whereas, in Executive Interim, you only have a few days to propose someone who will only stay a few months. Moreover the assignment is based on a specific perspective which is not always to occupy a position in its totality. More and more transition managers have not made a deliberate career choice to work in assignment mode, but this corresponds to their career at a given moment in their professional lives, with real added-value for the company.


Would it be true to say that this balancing act is a concept that corresponds to Executive Interim?

Yes and no. Regarding our consulting intervention, it is true that we need agility and foresight. However, as regards the assignments to be filled, this is far from always being the case.

Thinking that Executive Interim necessarily corresponds to heavy transformation situations remains an outdated stereotype. Managerial relay is a common reason for resorting to transition management. Nonetheless, while the context is less of a balancing act, the issues are just as crucial for a company as those of a corporate restructuring: an executive manager is an essential mechanism in the management of a company and their absence may be critical.

Moreover, these concepts are not mutually exclusive: a transformation assignment in a crisis situation must nearly always be followed by a relay period; and a relay assignment may result in a transformation that needs to be managed. Renovation is sometimes more difficult than reconstruction.

The head-hunting spirit adapted to the project mode. 

Where do consulting and monitoring processes fit in in your model?

It is the candidate who ensures the success of the assignment. The methodology provided by the consultancy firm must be an asset to improve assignment leadership and profitability, not a prerequisite made up of regulatory procedures with no added-value.

Our consultancy role is to provide the talent adapted to the situation and to support effective roll-out of the assignment. Our philosophy is to supervise the pertinence and smooth running of the relationship between the manager and the company without seeking to take over. It is based on a relationship that is respectful, clear, ethical and lasting.

The candidate is not a white label sold by an Executive Interim firm, but a partner who, for each assignment and to the same extent as the firm, puts its reputation on the line. Our relationship with the transition managers and the clients is based on trust and transparency.


How will transition management fit into the future ways of working?

Work in project mode is becoming more common given the fast changes in markets. A transition manager is an individual who moves through the business world with flexibility and a high capacity to adapt. Today we are seeing managers taking up management positions who are from generation Y, which is made up of professionals who are globally very comfortable with project mode working.

Indeed, for this generation, transition assignment is merely one way of carrying out their profession at a given moment, which does not exclude them from working on a permanent basis when they feel driven by a corporate project.


At Grant Alexander, the four pillars of transition management are:

  • agility (in the search),
  • pertinence (of the profile),
  • flexibility (of the contractual format),
  • expertise (of the candidate).


May 2017 – Alban Azzopardi is Associate founder of Grant Alexander Executive Interim.


The beginning of the end for the CV?


The CV, a death so often predicted! One which we refuse to believe, because we have to be able to adapt to the new tools and capitalise on them. We also need the ability to reconcile them with the fundamentals of the job of recruiter, so that they enhance each other’s relevance and quality. The teams at Grant Alexander bring together the opinions of three generations, through the voice of three experts in head-hunting senior executives and rare talents…



There is a plethora of new tools that are used to present and promote candidates’ professional careers. Job boards and online CV libraries have been developed extensively since the 1990s, followed in the early 2000s by professional networking sites. More recently, it is the mobile applications for job boards that have flourished in abundance. Whether they are old networks that have been updated or new channels, all these tools provide not only increased access to information but also new presentation formats for CVs.


Separating the wheat from the chaff from amongst all the initiatives to promote careers!

Could the traditional CV be in danger of disappearing? Don’t be so sure!

The ability to use these new tools as elements to enhance the search for and presentation of candidates is certainly more beneficial than thinking that they can replace the traditional CV.

They should be thought of and used as tools for profile differentiation, visibility and accessibility, as a means of presenting the career prior to making contact or highlighting a variety of skills. So the use of multimedia CVs (with presentations or videos) may prove to be completely unnecessary or to the contrary, add value for profiles working in audiovisual or digital communication… and then be part of the skills assessment.

Ultimately however, the paper CV is still the most effective summary tool for comparing two profiles and launching into the interview which, in any event is still key. Especially since the content of the paper CV tends to be updated and used to highlight useful elements of the career or personality. In this respect, the endeavours are personal… and extremely variable depending on the candidates’ field of activity.


The candidate’s unavoidable trilogy: what they have done, what they are and what they want to become.

In order to make sense of things, firms must pay close attention to trends and be able to use the most relevant ones depending on the business sectors in which they work.

LinkedIn has become an inescapable network, but is still a provisional instrument for skills promotion because profiles are often incomplete in terms of career… or not always up to date. Similarly with Viadeo, also broadly used in certain sectors; these professional showcases are excellent ways of making contact, but they tend to standardise profiles and cannot replace an expert approach.

Identifying potential strengths and weaknesses, checking a professional background and measuring skills beyond the stylistic effects of this or that new tool or original medium is still a job that requires traditional techniques. An expertise that can assess the quality of a professional career through traditional presentation methods without being seduced by attractive processes where these are not justified.

In order to put things into perspective and avoid the wrong paths and recruitment mistakes, it is useful to be able to draw on the traditional CV enhanced with suitable touches of modernity. The bottom line is that a good paper CV will always highlight as clearly and concisely as possible what characterises the candidate in terms of expertise, career, personality and aspirations. In the end, it is still a very good differentiation tool. One that can be filed, used for comparison and fair because it is available to everyone.


Hard skills, soft skills, mad skills? Or how to promote expertise, interpersonal skills and commitment?

Much has been written about the CV in all its forms. However, skills have long been divided into “hard” or “soft”; assessing a candidate on their qualifications and professional experiences as well as their extra-professional activities and personality is nothing new. What is changing is the importance attributed to certain elements of the career depending on the type of position to be filled or the business sector or corporate culture of the recruiting company.

What is more, in the current globalised economic world that wants changes to happen quickly, it is important for companies to consider profiles’ assets in their totality. Because adaptability and the ability to reinvent yourself has become equally as, and indeed even more important than technical skills. Some people even go so far as to observe “mad skills” which are used to unearth unusual, singular profiles who will serve innovation and regeneration.

Even without this simplified approach by candidates, more Anglo-Saxon than French, it is clear that initiatives to enhance extra-professional skills are indicative of added value. And this, regardless of the form of the CV and its transmission medium. The Citizen CV, a discussion subject in which Grant Alexander participated with Syntec, illustrates this search for meaning.


Finding your way through the jungle of tools and making the most of them has become an extra skill for recruitment firms.
Ultimately, to be able to unearth the hard skills, soft skills and mad skills suited to a position from a CV is still an expertise that requires perspective and moderation, beyond the format.


March 2017

Article contributors: Grégoire BeaurainFrançois Humblot Clémence Simon


A hunter who knows how to hunt

Sourcing is the keystone of a mission. Understanding how to identify contacts on social networks is one thing. Knowing how to find that rare pearl hidden within its current setting, how to approach it and how to speak to it, is another matter. And a job in its own right! Alix de Challemaison, Executive Search Sourcing Manager at Grant Alexander, explains to us why professional, recruitment firm-integrated sourcing is an indisputable asset.  



Having a real internal strike force for candidate research is becoming rare in executive search firms. A strike force is an expert and senior team that possesses all the skills and tools needed to approach the most refined profiles. This is exactly how the executive search sourcing department is set up at Grant Alexander; for the benefit of all!


The researchers at Grant Alexander have made it their profession. Professionals who are experienced in different approach techniques are integrated into the teams, working on each mission in partnership with a consultant. They intervene very early, contributing to the quality of the position’s very definition.

Sector knowledge, access to various research tools, lessons learned and information amassed from previous missions are all assets when it comes to effectively identifying the need with the consultant and, if necessary, suggesting new directions for the proposed targeting approaches. Weekly reviews with an evolving search chart enable clients to be presented with precise follow-up and, if necessary, the relief of any bottlenecks that build up in order to redirect the search.


Sourcing tools are certainly not lacking, especially in the era of social networks. Academic, company and appointment reports, trade press, trade unions, professional websites and databases… Understanding how to navigate among all this media to find that rare profile requires experience and technicality.

Thanks to the existence of a dedicated research department at Grant Alexander, mission after mission, all of these resources are compiled and mastered.

This has also made it possible to build up a highly informed internal database.


Easy access to profiles through new media, such as LinkedIn and Viadeo, leads to an over-solicitation of managers in office. Such approaches, which are not always carried out in a professional manner, can dull candidate receptiveness to new proposals. It can even end up becoming disparaging. In addition, this method of hunting only allows access to the most media-friendly profiles, forgetting all the rare pearls that are well hidden in their current positions.

Understanding how to identify the right candidates and approach them over the phone is a skill in its own right, and one that is cultivated by Grant Alexander.

This is why all of the company’s researchers are regularly trained to discover new tools and optimise their approach techniques by phone. Because they make the difference!


Author : Alix de CHALLEMAISON – December 2016