Executive Insight Interview: Karen Greenbaum, President and CEO of AESC

During our recent global conference in Milan, AESC President and CEO Karen Greenbaum spoke to Signium about opportunities for the profession and reflects on the 60 year history of the AESC.

 

SIGNIUM: Tell us about yourself.

KAREN: I’m Karen Greenbaum and I’m the President and CEO of AESC, the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants.
 

After 60 years, what do you think the biggest achievements of the AESC have been?

Well, let me mention three. First of all, from the beginning we focus on raising the quality of the profession worldwide. That’s number one.  Number two, we stay on the forefront of changes within the profession. Examples of this are the growth of leadership consulting and the impact of technology. And number three, I think we need to be a proud and vocal voice for the profession on important issues such as diversity as a business issue and the profession’s commitment to diverse leadership.
 

AESC data shows the Executive Search and consulting profession continues to grow at double digits. Why do you think this is the case?

Quite simply, attraction and retention of top talent is the number one business issue.  Clients are seeking the next generation of leaders, leaders who get digital transformation, and diverse leaders.  These leaders are in high demand and we are well positioned to help our clients attract and retain the right leaders.
 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for the profession looking forwards?

Being true trusted advisors when it comes to top talent in leadership.  I think that’s what our clients are looking for.  In that spirit clients are also looking at digital transformation and I think technology is a critical business opportunity for us.  Most importantly because it’s driving change and transformation with our clients.  There are new industries, new businesses, new roles, changing roles, new strategies…all of this has a demand for top talent. And that’s where we do our best work.


The AESC has non-executive directors with McKinsey and Accenture experience; what do you think the profession can learn from other consultancy firms?

As you may know, I spent the majority of my career at Mercer.  So whether it’s management consulting, HR consulting, law, or other professional services we all share one thing in common: serving as trusted advisors and partnering with clients to solve their most pressing business issues. In addition to a broad understanding of how to strengthen leadership, our clients expect us to bring deep expertise to the table. Industry, function, market, competitor intelligence… and they expect us to be problem solvers, to provide advice and challenge them when necessary.


The AESC’s latest research highlights the importance clients place on having a diverse slate of candidates to choose from. Do you think our industry is listening?

Some in the industry are listening. And they’re gaining a competitive advantage because they are responding to client needs around the world but frankly, too many aren’t listening. The United Nations has identified gender equality as one of the top five issues for sustainability over the next twenty years along with poverty, hunger, health, and quality education. I find it hard to believe that in 2019 gender equality is on the same list as [those]. It’s amazing to me! Our profession has a critical role to play.  We must understand diversity as a business issue. We must see this as a priority as our clients do.  And we must breakdown our own unconscious bias. We can and should be making a difference and accelerating change. Our clients don’t give us easy assignments. This is hard work but we get paid to do hard work.    


Signium has been involved with the AESC since its foundation in 1959; what would you say are the reasons that new members are joining in 2019?

We are the global association for our profession and we remain committed to being an exclusive association offering membership to only the very finest firms in the world. AESC and our members share a deep commitment to the highest quality standards for the benefit of our clients and our profession. Some join us solely for this reason, for the pride of being among the best firms worldwide and the value that this visible recognition gives you as a commitment to quality.  Others join us because of our legislative response, guidance, and our best practic  Some find opportunities to connect with peers and share confidential market insights and trends can be extremely helpful.  And others take advantage of continuous learning and expertise that they get from us.


When you were first approached by the AESC, you had not heard of it. What makes you proud today to lead the organization?

I am so proud to be part of this profession. We at AESC and our members around the world are dedicated to strengthening leadership worldwide. Strong and effective leadership have an enormous impact on the lives of people around the world. We serve a wide range of clients from multi-nationals to family businesses to governments, educational institutions, and non-for-profits. We also have an amazing AESC team of dedicated professionals who focus everyday on adding value to our members. They are committed to the success of our members and in turn our profession.