Market Insight – September 2020

The events of 2020 have certainly changed how we will live and work forever.  Oakleaf Executive have been talking to CEOs, CHROs and Group Heads of Reward over the past 6 months about how they have adapted and their views on the future, both short term and long term.

At the start of lockdown, I don’t think we really appreciated how busy HR leaders would be over these 6 months. Very quickly we found that boards had to change business plans and targets overnight, send employees home to work, or furlough immediately. The communication, direction and leadership of any business in the UK took centre stage.  Although the CEO was responsible for how their business was to navigate their way through this crisis, HR, probably for the first time, was stood right there beside them. The impact HR played in the early days has certainly gone on to snowball, as now organisations welcome back employees from furlough, change direction when it comes to their offering or service, restructure or planning ahead.  

Because of the enormity of reliance on HR over the past 6 months, we have seen a drop in the number of passive job seekers. Many individuals, who at the start of the year, would have acknowledged a head hunt call regarding a new search, have decided to hold fire until 2021. Those in fortunate positions, working in markets where the pandemic has created more opportunity, HR and Reward leaders are no longer on the market. Even those experiencing uncertainty have a moral compass to stick it out with their current firm, with still an incredible amount of work to do. Most of the shortlists we are creating, are with those who are immediately available, those at risk or those who wanted to move even before this pandemic happened.

We have seen a nervousness to hire at times, and the detailed mandate to follow meaning higher expectations from our clients, more interviews and detailed referencing. The conversations our clients are now having when hiring HR is more commercial, talking about talent, diversity, change and leadership.

Lucy Bills who leads our successful UK Reward executive desk notes that businesses are paying more attention to benefits for all within their organization, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. We are excited to announce a series of events and roundtables towards the end of the year, debating diversity of benefits along with diversity within the reward profession itself.

Lucy has found that the main job market currently sits in the £120,000 – 180,000 base level, smaller firms hiring total reward professionals. There is a lot of work under NDA, as businesses start to reshape teams and look to assess reward strategies, creating a more senior role at the top. The main focus now for organisations is all about retaining the talent in the current economic climate when you cannot necessarily throw large bonuses at individuals.

 We have been privileged to work on some high-profile mandates during Covid -19, with processes being seamless and organized. The disruption of holidays and meetings or commuting didn’t exist and so time to hire, even at board level was dramatically reduced. The Financial Services industry hasn’t been as hard hit as the consumer businesses, and we were delighted to offer Mica Ross into Numis Securities in early July and David Peach at River and Mercantile in June. Lucy Bills successfully placed Victoria Turvey as the Group Head of Reward for Aztec.

Businesses who have invested in technology or digital platforms have fared well, and we have seen a rise in HRD and Heads of People roles within technology and innovation. We were delighted to have placed Frankie Webster at Immunocore (biotech) earlier on this year.

Katrina Stewart

Executive Interim

Pre-pandemic Jenny Scrivener joined Oakleaf Executive as an Associate Partner with the responsibility to launch and run our Executive HR Interim Practice. Since the pandemic hit, there was a noticeable slow down on interim requirements as businesses needed to focus on the essential hires, and the situation each found themselves in.  

We have noticed in the last 2-3 weeks an increase in interim requirements and this has been echoed in Jenny’s contact with her HR network.  Typical Interim assignments we are starting to see and expect an increase in are linked to Transformation, M&A, Diversity & Inclusion, Talent, Culture and Engagement and Organisational change.   In Jenny’s up and coming Talent Talks interview with Danielle Harmer, CPO of Aviva, they talk about the fact that many organisations had to park their project plans to deal with the pandemic, and we are likely to see some of these being released as we realise that we need to learn how to function within this new world and continue to move forward.  

Furthermore, the option to work flexibility is making a real difference to available candidates.   With a greater appetite for remote working, candidates who were previously restricted due to living in a rural location, now have the opportunity to apply for roles/assignments that before were only attainable for people living in cities.

The number of immediately available candidates is at its highest, with HR professionals exiting permanent CPO/HRD roles and looking to become a career interim.  This allows employers the opportunity to have vast choice, but in turn results in intense competition and a risk of missing out on the best candidates due to sheer volume.  

Finally, Interim professionals are offering up support, advice, and guidance to fellow job seekers, to small businesses and to their network in general, which is wonderful.  The quality of the information available to our HR profession has never been better.


The market for International Executive appointments in Compensation & Benefits continues to be an interesting arena.  The impact of COVID -19 hasn’t notably affected organisations need for talented compensation & benefits professionals as businesses continue to plan for a challenging year end.  In New York in the 6 months prior to lockdown we saw 61 hires within the Senior- Executive level for Compensation & Benefits professionals, and since the end of March we have seen 55 hires made in the same market.  This represents less than a 9 % drop in market activity suggesting that there are still opportunities to move and find interesting challenges.  Benefits & Wellbeing represents just under 40% of all hires made, which is significantly up year on year, highlighting again the need for innovative and effective employee benefits strategies as the very nature of working environments change around us.  The story of continuity of hiring is very similar when looking at other US cities including Boston, LA, Chicago, and Washington DC.  

Looking across other geographies, Europe remains a volatile area for hiring executive talent in Compensation & Benefits.  Belgium, and the Netherlands have seen steady numbers of hires made.  The Netherlands have seen numbers actually increase since lockdown with 24 hires mid-senior hires prior to lockdown followed by 27 hires made after March 2020.  This is perhaps in line with the trend post Brexit of firms building and developing stronger international offices in the Netherlands and other organisations deciding to relocate their presence into another strong financial centres like Amsterdam following the UK’s departure from the EU.    

The UK market for Senior- Executive level Compensation & Benefits talent remains active but notably quieter in comparison to 2018-19.   With Economic and Political uncertainty during 2019 followed by COVID-19 and its catastrophic impact on the UK economy, the market has been frustratingly tepid.  There have been some notable moves during this period, but executive options are infrequent whilst clients assess needs with replacement roles being the mainstay rather than investment hires.

For leading talent opportunities for interesting and exciting moves are still available in the international markets.  The US, ASIA PAC, and pockets of Europe remain active and I would advise for those considering a move to ensure they are actively networking and keeping in touch with their trusted recruitment partners.  As with any period of economic uncertainty the momentum shifts from being candidate led to client led and at present clients are looking at direct hiring channels as a priority prior to really investigating and mapping the markets via search firms.  This means that whilst recruitment activity is still happening, candidates must rely on ensuring they apply to client adverts or that they are “found” by direct talent acquisitions teams.  This is where it’s vitally important to maintain a good professional network and ensuring that your profile is detailed and up to date on LinkedIn is invaluable.

Jamie Newton

Executive Movers

2020 hasn’t been a bad year for executive HR and Reward movers. We have seen organisations make significant hires and would like to take the opportunity to congratulate some of them:

Executive HR Movers

Lisa Hillier -joined Gousto from The Restaurant Group

Sarah Cawthra – joined National Australia Bank, ex MUFG

Martin Filippides – joined Quotient Science, having previously worked at Ocado

Fabiola Williams – joined McArthur Glen Group from Coty

Richard Baggaley – Ramsey Healthcare from Babylon Health

Angela Williams – joined Crossrail from British Airways

Louise Benford – joined The AA –from William Hill

Moyra Withycombe – joined Alliance Healthcare from GE Healthcare

Danielle Harmer – joined Aviva from Metro Bank

Ros Marshall – joined Jimmy Choo having moved from Luxottica Retail UK

Susan Firbank – joined Syneos Health from TJX Europe

Simone Macleod- Nairn – joined Macquarie Bank from Irish Life

Paul Smith – joined at Le Creuset, previously at Outdoor and Cycle Concepts Ltd

Helena Marston – joined Purple Bricks from Virgin Media

Caroline Ross – joined Flutter Entertainment PLC from Channel 4

Jacky Simmonds – joined Experian from Veon

Aylie Ewing – joined Bird and Bird from Goodwin Proctor

Greig Fairweather – joined as Interim Head of People

Executive Reward Movers

Simon Hodges – Danske Banke – from Barclays

James Stephenson – LSEG – from Barclays

Alexis Kryiakou – Galapagos NV – from Takeda

Bansi Shah – Tesco – from Keller corp

Alex Wayne – Aviva – from Rio Tinto

Andrew Baillie – Ocado – from Diageo

Mike Rebel – ICBC – from TSB

Andrew Mclaren – Maquarie – from ICBC

Simon Constantine – Bank of New York Mellon – from UBS

Will Brown – Standard Chartered – from Aviva

Katrina Stewart

Emma Castillo

Emma Castillo

Director – Executive Search

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Director – Executive Search

Damien Barnett

Damien Barnett

Principal – Executive Search

Sam Clark

Sam Clark

Director – Executive Search

Theo Karageorgis

Theo Karageorgis

Executive Engagement and Research Manager

Richard Colgan

Richard Colgan

Founder and CEO

Amy Morris

Amy Morris

Managing Director - UK