Albany Insights: Executive Search for Senior Tech Leadership: what we’re hearing in 2021 Q1

2020 has come and gone, and thus far 2021 has continued to test the mettle and fortitude of business leaders and their teams around the world. Despite the impact of the pandemic, Albany Partners has remained extremely busy, working with amazing clients to place outstanding CTOs and other Tech leaders across Europe. Our clients continue to share one thing in common: they are amongst the fastest-growing in the world, using technology in innovative ways to tackle the most complex problems across the consumer and business spheres.

The clients we have worked with over the past year are backed by some of the world’s most successful investors, including HV, Atomico, Notion, Beringea, Index, Octopus Ventures, and Balderton. We have continued to see an increase in demand for scale-ready Tech and Product leaders alongside a shortage of senior talent in Europe and the UK.

Here, Albany leaders James Goodrich (CEO and Founder), Henry Draper (Partner, Head of Private Equity), and Luke Webber (Director, Head of Venture Capital) share some of their observations from the world of tech-focused Executive search in 2021. As the business world continues to face unprecedented rates of operational and market change, what are their clients’ top-of-mind priorities and concerns, as they look to bring in transformational Tech leaders?

Leadership is highest priority

When it comes to the top-priority skill sets for Engineering executives, all three Directors immediately identify ‘Leadership’ as the most highly valued skill, over and above technical domain knowledge. Leadership capability covers the effective structuring, management, and motivation of the client’s technology function (Engineering/Development), as well as ensuring that tech personnel are presented with compelling opportunities and clear metrics for upskilling and career progression within their workplace.

Being able to maintain a close collaboration with the company’s Product function is expected as standard, whether or not Product leadership falls directly under the CTO’s remit — though requests for a CTPO or CPTO figure, generally post-Series B but sometimes earlier, are also on the rise.

Henry adds that Strategic leadership skills are also much in-demand. “Post-Series A, founders are seeking to more closely align their technology [strategies and roadmaps] with the commercial objectives of the business, and often require more strategic leadership experience in their tech org.”

Still, Henry notes, CTOs are still Engineering leaders first, and the contributions they can make to ‘Employer Brand-building’ are perceived as increasingly important. “Founders are acutely aware of the growing competition for tech talent and the need to build companies that people really want to work for. Hiring a CTO that can define and build a positive, productive engineering culture, and become a magnet for strong engineering talent, is a frequent request.”

A peer to the CEO

A key indicator of leadership capability — the key one at this time, according to James and Luke — is that the incoming CTO demonstrates a positive, respectful, and productive rapport with the CEO. As has been clear for some time, an effective CTO is far more than an execution/delivery leader. The ability to form and hold an opinion on technical (and in many cases, commercial) strategy; to defend that opinion cogently in ‘layman’s’ terms; and to develop and present options with strong data-driven foundations: all these skills are critical, as is the less-tangible factor of whether or not the new CTO and CEO ‘click’ personally.

But of course, as the pandemic continues to move the goalposts on a return to on-site work, CEOs are understandably giving much thought to how to evaluate that ‘rapport’ accurately. “Clients are still nervous about hiring people without having met them,” James confirms, “and still usually request a walk or something to see them in person.”

Scale-readiness

What sort of CTO background is most in demand at this time? James and Luke are unanimous here: “Experience and success in platform build-out and scaling”, and ideally “cloud-native experience.”

Yes, leadership experience in Cloud-native development is highly prized; indeed, it’s fast being considered essential. This sort of technical background of course complements a commercial strategy that, according to James, more and more clients are adopting: the ability to support the needs of Enterprise-scale customers as well as SMBs, and to integrate with Enterprise architectures and offering customised solutions alongside an ‘off-the-shelf’ product and service.

A rising share of fast-growing organisations are thus recognising from earlier on that they must take advantage of the inherent characteristics of Cloud platforms, such as more rapid new-product ideation; faster speed to value; and the greater elasticity, scale, and resilience that Cloud environments provide. CTOs who can demonstrate familiarity and confidence with Microservices/Serverless architectures, as well as with modular and flexible API-optimised platforms, hold a strong competitive advantage and are expected to remain in high demand.

Remote-friendly? Yes, of course (within limits)

“As you would expect,” James says, “many CEOs have completely changed their thinking on home working. A year ago, some clients would consider a candidate to reduce to four days a week in the office and one day from home — providing the team is formed and working efficiently together, of course. Now, many clients have no issue with where the candidate is based, provided their time zone is similar. Some clients request that [the new hire] do a few days a month in the office. What this also has meant is that [CEOs] are much more open about where they hire talent, given that the team is more often distributed.”

Henry concurs: “[More flexibility on base location] has enabled us to look at a much larger pool of candidates, bringing greater diversity and strength to our shortlists.”

Accordingly, notes Luke, CTOs that have experience running remote teams are more in-demand than ever. Crucially, the fact that so many companies are entertaining remote-first hiring strategies no longer seems driven by reactive / defensive objectives, as perhaps it was at this time last year. Instead, many clients have noted that productivity has increased since their switch to remote work, and now view a remote-first, cross-functional team strategy as a desirable option as they look to scale.

Author: Emma Firestone – Knowledge Manager, Albany Partners

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