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Odgers Berndtson chair Carl Lovas with wife Kathy

Tom Sandler/The Globe and Mail

One of Canada's largest executive recruitment firms, Odgers Berndtson, is rebuilding its Vancouver and Calgary offices following the defection of all the staff in those locations to a rival organization.

In the past few weeks, about 90 employees in Odgers Berndtson's Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa offices left to join rival Boyden Canada, saying they wanted to be part of an organization with a bigger presence in the United States.

Odgers Berndtson's Canadian chairman Carl Lovas said in an interview that the departures were a consequence of his company's decision to take over the Vancouver and Calgary offices and change them from independent licensees into corporate-owned branches.

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Britain-based Odgers Berndtson has been converting most of its branches worldwide to be corporately owned in order to get greater control and implement a strategy of specialization.

Odgers Berndtson's Vancouver branch has already reopened under corporate control and now it has several professionals specializing in recruitment in the mining and education sectors, Mr. Lovas said. The company is also hiring for its new Calgary office. At the moment, Odgers Berndtson has no intention of reopening in Ottawa, but will serve that market from Montreal.

The move to take direct control of all its branches is crucial to specialization, Mr. Lovas said. Indeed, true specialization "is almost impossible to do without central ownership," he said. "If you've got regional ownership, you can't work in a seamless way."

Under the licensed model, the parent company couldn't compel its offices to develop specialized expertise in particular fields, he said, and so it wanted to own them outright. The existing staff at the Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa offices preferred the licensed model, where they would retain control, so they left, Mr. Lovas said.

The shift to specialization in the executive-search business has partly been spurred by social media, Mr. Lovas said. Using sites such as LinkedIn, it is easy for anyone to come up with a list of chief financial officers, for example, but only a recruiter with a specialization in CFOs will have the knowledge and relationships necessary to determine who is truly qualified for a position and get them to consider a job change.

Another major shift in the head-hunting business, he said, is the increasing need to find interim managers to run a client company until a permanent employee can be found.

Indeed, the "interim management" business could be a bigger business than the basic executive search business within a decade, Mr. Lovas said. "It is one of the great trends in recruiting going forward."

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One reason for this shift is that a huge number of senior managers – mostly baby-boomers – are going to retire in the coming years, and companies can't find their replacements fast enough. At the same time, there aren't enough internal candidates to fill the jobs.

Some major organizations will see 20 to 40 per cent of their senior ranks retiring within a relatively short length of time, Mr. Lovas said.

This demographic shift, coinciding with a potentially a long-term expansion of the global economy, could result in a massive overall talent shortage among executives, he said. In the coming years, "that will become the single most critical thing that leadership in business and the public service will have to focus on."

Consequently, he predicted, "executive search as an industry is about to explode."

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