In downtown Chicago 1953, two friends decided to get a two-room office and set up their own business. Gardner Heidrick and John E Struggles met when they both worked for Booze Allen Hamilton, an American management consultancy firm. They decided they wanted to start their own venture creating Heidrick & Struggles, one of the first executive search firms in the world.

Their first two hires? Their wives. From its small beginnings in Chicago, Heidricks & Struggles is now based out of the 110-story Willis Tower in Chicago, and with revenues of $735 and a market capitalisation of $416 million, it has grown into one of the largest search firms worldwide. Its client list is a ‘who’s who’ of multinational corporations including Coca-Cola, J.C Penney, the Walt Disney Company, Starbucks and more. The firm leverages expertise in varied businesses from the 53 offices throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. 

The success of Heidricks & Struggles can be attributed to the aftermath of World War 2. As the economy began to recover in the postwar period, the demand for corporate executives grew and, in turn, the search firm Heidricks & Struggles grew with it. 

“That culture is not only financial culture, but diversity. The human side of banks as opposed to just the numbers side of banks as well.”

Stafford Bagot

As the economy goes through another blow in the form of Covid-19, people are looking for strong leadership to navigate businesses through the storm. Yet, businesses will have to face this battle while also coming under pressure from ongoing issues such as a general lack of diversity in the workplace, which has come into the spotlight in the past few years, and the rise of technology which is changing the face of almost every industry.

That’s where Heidricks & Struggles comes into play. In 2018, Heidricks & Struggles formally entered the Irish market with a physical presence. Since then, it has grown both its market share and its client base. And, according to its Irish boss, this is just the start.


Stafford Bagot is the managing partner of the Irish division of Heidricks & Struggles, however, he has been with the firm a lot longer than 2018. He started working for Heidricks & Struggles while in Australia, his home country. He worked for the firm in Sydney for six years, followed by a six-year stint in Singapore for another six years after that. Now he leads the Dublin office as the global managing partner of the energy, infrastructure & sustainability practice. 

After completing his business studies at university, Bagot initially went into marketing. However, headhunting is in Bagot’s genes as his father too worked in search and recruitment. He adds that the firm has been working with Irish clients for around 30 years and therefore it only made sense to set up an Irish base. 

“It wasn’t so much a Brexit play, although that was an influencer, but it was more that I had been away for 12 years and my wife, she was ready to come home. So, that was one of the reasons. But secondly, we looked at Ireland as a corporate entity, as an opportunity. We had never had an office here before,” says Bagot on why the firm decided to tangibly set up in Ireland. Bagot’s wife is originally from Ireland and they have spent years coming back for Christmases and summer holidays with their family.

One of the recent high-profile projects for the international C-suite search firm was handling the selection process for a new chief executive for its client Permanent TSB, Eamonn Crowley.

Culture Shaping

Bagot says the firm is now focusing on both the external and internal staffing affairs of businesses. For example, if someone is fired, dies or leaves a business, a vacancy emerges and then Heidricks & Struggles helps with the search to fill that gap. However, the firm’s attention is now also being placed on strategic succession and culture shaping within businesses. Bagot spoke about one industry in particular which is banking.

Diversity is now at the forefront of Heidricks & Struggles’ mandate, says Bagot. He states that this does not mean, for example, looking primarily for women to fill a vacant role but ensuring that the firm acts as a vehicle that facilitates diversity when looking for people. 

“It’s not all just about slashing staff and removing bad eggs.”

Stafford Bagot

“We make a point that all of our long lists are represented equally with men and women. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we only place female candidates, but it ensures that we always unearth a population of both sides of gender,” says Bagot.

Bagot states that during a headhunting selection process when the final candidates are whittled down to the last two or three, he is seeing that at least one if not two of those candidates are female which would not have been the case a few years ago.

In 2010, there were just 12 per cent of women on FTSE 100 boards. Research suggests that 30 per cent represents a critical mass from which point minority groups can impact boardroom dynamics. At this time, it still remains a stretch to reach a 30 per cent female board or senior management level, according to the 30% Club, a group that promotes the employment of women.


Since its creation almost 70 year ago, Bagot says that Heidricks & Struggles has evolved to become more than just a search firm, which he adds is “still very much our bread and butter and at our core.” Now, much of the work done by the firm is done around company looking at how hiring can systemically impact the future of a business.

“In an Irish context, we’re actually working with one of the big banks here all around culture shaping. So that’s large and chunky work. So, I think there’s 17 people from Heidrick & Struggles servicing that account as remotely as Texas, New York, London, Amsterdam, Paris,” says Bagot without disclosing which bank this was for. 

That culture is not only financial culture, but diversity. The human side of banks as opposed to just the numbers side of banks as well,” says Bagot.

When working with big clients such as banks, you have to consider the change that business is going through itself.

“The regulatory nature of the industry here is overregulated and needs to be loosened up.”

Stafford Bagot

“With a bank, for instance, you must ask what does banking mean now and in the future? And is it a technology play? The old school sense to have a retail presence of banking is now changed, and how do you now change the mindset in the culture of the firm that was behaving in those ways,” explains Bagot.

For obvious reasons, businesses need to be cautious when hiring. A person may not be the right fit as they could be over or under qualified, you may be offering too much to attract someone from Company A to Company B etc. Search firms must take on these obvious challenges that arise when headhunting as well as look at how hiring could change the dynamic in the company for the better. 

For example, those working in headhunting in the motor industry will need to consider if the industry is moving more towards a technology play rather than a fossil fuel play, explains Bagot. If this is the case, how do you change people’s mindset who have worked in the industry for years? Plus, would that company now be looking for people that are more data driven and come from those types of backgrounds? 

Apart from looking to the future, firms like Heidricks and Struggles must try and solve legacy issues through headhunting as well.

Stafford Bagot says the firm has been working with Irish clients before they set up an office in Dublin.

“Also there’s an element of correction, particularly in financial services, with repairing what happened in the financial crisis. It’s not all just about slashing staff and removing bad eggs. It’s all about improving and gearing up companies for the change in the future as well,” he adds.

Even if you find the right person, roadblocks can still hurt businesses when it comes to recruitment, according to Bagot. He believes one of the biggest roadblocks for headhunting for banks here in Ireland is regulation.

“The whole world of banking in this country is just so regulated and attracting genuine talent from within the sector and from outside the sector into it is hard. And then because particularly if talent is from outside the sector, they may not pass the regulators PCF (Pre-approval Controlled Functions) process,” says Bagot.

“So I would have certain views that I think the regulatory nature of the industry here is overregulated and needs to be loosened up,” he adds.