Who missed a trick?

by Stephen Tall on November 28, 2006

Journalism is an ephemeral trade, and the passing of time can sometimes be cruel to even the most acute of commentators. It might seem harsh to point out an exemplum… but it’s also quite amusing.

So take a bow, James Harding, business editor of The Times, who took delight two weeks ago in chiding ITV’s headhunters, The Zygos Partnership:

The Zygos Partnership, ITV’s headhunters, seems to have its own head in the sand. The commercial broadcaster hired Zygos months ago to draw up a list of candidates after Charles Allen’s belated departure. But Zygos has not deigned to contact almost any of the potential leading candidates. Now, there are some excuses for this. Perhaps Zygos is looking to wow investors with a surprise choice. Quite understandably, ITV wants to conduct the recruitment process behind closed doors.

Nonetheless, ITV and Zygos have been humiliated. The perceived inactivity has left the company vulnerable to a takeover: NTL, the cable operator, has leapt on a leaderless company. More than that, NTL has embarrassed Zygos by showing it how to do its own job: Sir Richard Branson and Bill Huff, two of NTL’s leading shareholders, as well as Jim Mooney, the chairman, have in a few short weeks lined up a potential new chief executive in Michael Jackson, the former chief executive of Channel 4. …

There are a couple of lessons for headhunters. One is that recruitment may need to be secretive, but sometimes the process has to be explained in public. The other is that executive search can provide an opportunity to canvass for ideas as well as people. ITV and Zygos have seemed so intent on pulling a rabbit from the hat that they seem to be missing that trick.

Ain’t hindsight grand?