Solving Business Problems Through People

An Interview with Angeles Garcia-Poveda

When Angeles Garcia-Poveda was appointed to a recruiting role at BCG Paris in 1999, she quickly felt the position would be a perfect fit for her. "The operational side of it attracted me," she says. "I knew that the results of my work were going to walk in the door some time down the road." Talk about tangible impact!

At the time, BCG Paris needed to triple its intake of consultants within a year, in order to maintain its growth. "Everyone was growing, so it was a real war for talent out there," she recalls. Recruited herself by BCG in Madrid six years earlier, upon graduation from the prestigious Spanish business school Icade, Angeles admits that during her time on the consulting side she was "one of those who actually liked doing recruiting, conducting interviews and so forth."

This career direction helped open Angeles's eyes to a whole new world. "When we started using search firms, I discovered that search was a real profession," she remembers with a smile, "not just an activity for some well-connected people with notebooks full of names and phone numbers." So when she decided to leave BCG in 2008, she felt that becoming an executive search consultant could bring her "the best of both worlds" that she had experienced so far: client work and recruiting.

Angeles joined Spencer Stuart, a global executive search firm and one of the leaders in the field. A company owned by a partnership, organized by industrial and functional practices, Spencer Stuart offered her an environment similar to that of strategy consulting. These similarities reach down to the very core of the business: the importance of expertise and the preeminence of client relationships, which are approached with a long-term vision. "Repeat business accounts for 65 percent of our revenues," says Angeles.

It's not the principles, but really the tools that change the most when comparing to strategy consulting. "Clients don't expect us to come to the table with data, proving every single hypothesis. Of course, rigor is important, especially when it comes to checking references and candidates' academic backgrounds. But what clients mainly ask us for is our judgment."

From a sector-oriented perspective, Angeles focuses on consumer goods, retail, and luxury goods, as well as private equity, while from a functional point of view her main expertise is in the fields of marketing and communication. The nature of the work ensures that there is "no average day" in her professional life. In between leading a multitude of current assignments, all in different stages (identification, interaction, negotiation) and simultaneously moving forward on the business development side, Angeles manages to fit in an additional series of responsibilities linked to the fact that she is the manager of Spencer Stuart's Paris office. Having held this role since April 2011, she is in charge of P&L, marketing, new business, and leadership, as well as being a member of the firm's European leadership team.

Unsurprisingly, "variety and speed" are among the main reasons Angeles loves her job. The entrepreneurial dimension, characterized by what she describes as "an incredible degree of freedom," is another. But yet again, she appreciates the impact above all: "It's about solving business problems through people," she says. "People are the strongest lever you can have when running a company. Having the right person in the right place is invaluable."

And the right person in the right place is exactly what Angeles appears to be.

Upon joining Spencer Stuart at age 38, she immediately felt that she had found her profession. But this doesn't make the challenges she faced sound any easier. "I joined on September 15, 2008, the infamous date of Lehman Brothers' collapse," she reminisces. The acceleration of the financial crisis, which would send the world economy spiraling into a long recession, threatened to weigh heavily on the business-development dimension of Angeles's new role. Fortunately, she managed to demonstrate her capacity in this field rather quickly, despite the adverse circumstances.

Another challenge was dealing with the intensification of the multiproject mode, even in comparison to her BCG experience. In executive search, the number of open topics can be as high as 15 to 17 assignments at a time, and having so many balls in the air multiplies the number of stakeholders to interact with every day. "Imagine you have ten open assignments, with two client contacts for each—that's already 20 people," Angeles says. Add to that three candidates for each project, as well as ten prospects to pursue, and, "That makes for a lot of people to work with and talk to every week." Not easy to deal with, considering the autonomy required from search professionals and the relatively low level of support provided. "This job is definitely for self-starters," says Angeles. "We have only ten search consultants at our Paris office, so as you can imagine, we are on fire all the time!"

Talking about the qualities required to face these challenges and excel at executive search consulting, Angeles mentions agility, as well as good listening skills, necessary "to understand people's motivations and criteria." She also stresses the importance of "honesty and courage," feeling comfortable with one's own judgment, and "being true to oneself." She speaks highly of the preparation that BCG gave her, and mentions that several other top managers at Spencer Stuart hail from strategy consulting firms, including BCG.

But the insights that Angeles gives into her personal life also show how some of its events have contributed to shaping her professional personality and all the above-mentioned qualities. A Francophile since her childhood, when she attended a bilingual school in Spain, Angeles talks glowingly about the benefits of having two cultural identities. "Living abroad gives you the possibility to retain the best elements of both cultures," she says. Then, she proceeds to enthusiastically discuss the beauty and charm of both Paris and Madrid, but also the way top executive search has become a global game, and providing nuanced comparisons to prove that France has less national idiosyncrasies in this field than might be commonly expected.

Even more poignant is the story of Angeles's commitment to her family: she is the mother of three children, one of whom, Ines (11), has a serious disability. Between 2001 and 2004, Angeles took a leave of absence from BCG in order to bring together a team of specialists to work on Ines's rehabilitation. She remains grateful to BCG for having made this extended leave possible. Today, Angeles's daughter has made great progress and currently attends a specialized school, where professionals are able to help meet her needs.

Her sons, Guillaume (14) and Gabriel (6) are also doing well and keeping her busy. "I deal with a whole range of experiences," she laughs, "from making apple pie for my youngest's bake sale, to discussing my eldest's first romantic crush."

Asked about work-life balance, she laughs again. "I think we should rather talk about work-life imbalance," she suggests. And she swears that she has renounced perfection in either field, even though she always tries her best.

Angeles reminisces happily about her favorite aspects of her time at BCG. "It's amazing how good BCGers are on average. The typical BCGer is smart, quick, pleasant, and a self-starter—in other words, great to work with!" she exclaims. She also mentions the quality of the business problem-solving preparation which she received at BCG: "When you leave BCG, you are well armed to do almost anything, and you often don't realize how much valuable exposure to the business world you have had." Even though it is rare for new alumni to take on an operational role right after leaving BCG, more likely staying within the realm of strategy, Angeles tends to advise her clients in favor of hiring ex-strategy consultants for roles at the core of their business.

As an advocate for strategy consulting profiles, Angeles is eager to share her advice with new alumni. "Many consultants have trouble seeing themselves as business managers. You need to be more confident. Even if you haven't been in charge of a business unit, you've been very close to all the levers," she says. "Always remember to leverage your network. The BCG family is a powerful network that could be among your biggest assets. I personally have used it for business development, and I hardly have any searches without someone from the network as a source of information."

And for those who wish to try their hand at executive search consulting? "Make sure you do your research and due diligence, and compare various search firms using the main KPIs," says Angeles. "These firms are often less well-known than the major strategy consulting firms, but there are sizeable differences among them, in terms of culture, values, leverage, types of assignments, level of freedom, and global reach. It's a profession where scale and brand recognition are very important."