James Moore: A good reason to hire consultants - you can blame them if things go wrong

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The Independent Online

Michael Page has always been classed as a City headhunter, and you can bank on chief executive Steve Ingham getting cross about that, because it isn't really accurate.

Page has gone global. Its shares hit the skids yesterday because people are twitchy about the economic outlook, globally. They worry that the fast-growing Asian and Latin American businesses Mr Ingham likes to crow about won't make up for the torpor in the developed world.

Perhaps they are worrying a bit much. What Mr Ingham and other recruiters point out is that, outside of the English-speaking world, their market penetration is extremely low. A headhunter that doesn't work for the security services in certain unsavoury regimes is a new concept in places where companies have tended to do things the old-fashioned way, searching the market themselves and choosing the people they think will best suit them. Mr Ingham's consultants are merrily buzzing around telling these companies that they are going about it all wrong. We can get you better people more quickly and cheaply than you can, they say. Even if you do have to stump up half their salaries when we've placed them with you.

Over here, companies have bought this sales pitch hook, line and sinker. If an executive has a post to fill, he immediately approaches a headhunter. Even if someone he knows, perhaps a colleague, has a brilliant suggestion for filling the role, their name is simply handed to the headhunter, who has complete command over the shortlist.

Of course, what is good for the headhunter isn't always good for the company. The former loves ambitious people who job-hop every couple of years; the latter might occasionally like a little stability.

This doesn't seem to matter. Giving the headhunter control is considered "best practice", and with good reason: if the process goes wrong, there is someone there to blame other than the executive.

Singling out a headhunter like Page is hardly fair, though. Want to find cost savings? Call in one of the big accountancy firms. Got a PR crisis? Hire an agency. Directors pay – you've guessed it. That's why it's getting silly. If there is something a company does, the chances are there will be a consultant out there to advise on it and protect executives by taking the hit if disaster strikes. The consultantification of British business, if not Western business, is complete. No wonder Michael Page has been globalising. Very successfully, too. And maybe we should cheer it on, because perhaps one reason why companies and economies in the "emerging" markets are doing so well is that they have yet to fully succumb to consultantification.

If this changes it might just give us the chance to catch up.