As Mercuri Urval celebrates its half century, HRD chats with the chairman of the group board about its rich history and even brighter future
It’s rare that a company reaches the milestone of 50 years in business, but that’s exactly what Swedish executive search firm Mercuri Urval has been celebrating throughout 2017. What makes the anniversary particularly unusual is that Mercuri Urval operates in the ever-changing, highly competitive HR services industry. Established in 1967, the firm has grown organically from one office in Stockholm to having offices around the world, all of which provide global reach and insight on behalf of the firm’s clients in Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Americas and Africa.
Leading a global company
Guiding the company since 2016 has been Roger Hagafors, chairman of the Mercuri Urval Group board. Having been with the company since 1983 – originally as a consultant and team leader, later holding managing director and group positions and now as chairman – Hagafors has witnessed significant changes to both the HR profession and the company he works for.
When asked what has kept him with the company for such a long time, Hagafors doesn’t hesitate in his response: “I don’t think I’m unique in saying this but it’s a combination of personal development in terms of what you learn from dealing with so many clients, and a desire to serve those clients in the best possible way. This is the inherent appeal for all consultants, and especially the consultants working at Mercuri Urval. We are exposed to so many businesses – you learn something new every day. If you have that interest and passion it’s very easy to see Mercuri Urval as an appealing place to work.”
Indeed, this desire to serve clients in the most effective ways is core to the business. The company’s motto is ‘It’s all about people’ – specifically it’s a focus on clients selecting and then developing the right individuals for the specific tasks in their organisation.
It helps that Mercuri Urval has based its own development and growth on strong values, organic growth and client focus. This foundation has helped the company keep pace with changes to the HR profession.
What changes has Hagafors witnessed?
“Clients themselves have increased the focus on having the right people in their organisations,” he tells HRD. “I’d also say that the people working in our client organisations have developed their skills and their professionalism significantly over the years. Today’s HR leaders are well educated, very professional and very experienced.”
Mercuri Urval’s clients have also become increasingly focused on the importance of individuals and teams for business results.
“We’ve seen that our clients have increased their expertise and insight in matters related to that and thus require top quality from suppliers of such services,” Hagafors says. “We have continuously developed our service offerings, methods and tools to match the increasing needs of our clients.”
“We have continuously developed our service offerings, methods and tools to match the increasing needs of our clients” - Roger Hagafors
A time of change
In June 2016, Mercuri Urval’s owner and founder, who had made the company almost a life mission, decided to retire. To ensure that Mercuri Urval continued as a strong, independent and sustainable global company, he opted to donate the company to a foundation.
“Our founder considered this to be an important step he would take with the company,” Hagafors says. “He wanted Mercuri Urval to continue with its own character and ensure it would continue as an independent company. The foundation will ensure this happens.”
While the transfer of ownership has required extensive work behind the scenes, for clients the transition has been seamless. For employees, a significant change has been the ability to offer shareholding partnerships to selected employees who show a long-term commitment to Mercuri Urval.
Hagafors says his biggest challenge as a leader navigating through this change has been ensuring high transparency and continuous, clear and consistent communication with all employees. “We’ve tried to ensure employees understand what the onwards journey will involve, and that those people leading the company know the direction the journey is heading in,” he says. “That has meant providing transparency around why decisions are made, as well as clear ongoing two-way communication.”
Local knowledge; global know-how
He adds that it’s been particularly important for Mercuri Urval to act as one company; traditionally the firm has operated with multiple subsidiaries and many country-based operations. “We’ve worked to empower team leaders all over the world,” Hagafors says. “They must be empowered to make necessary decisions and undertake necessary initiatives. They are our eyes and ears in the local markets.”
This approach also suits Mercuri Urval’s global clients. “They operate on a global scale, with a presence in many markets,” Hagafors says. “Our local team leaders and consultants are the ones dealing directly with our clients in these overseas markets, so we need them to be extremely knowledgeable about local conditions, but also be aware of what’s happening in terms of global trends.”
As a new year rapidly approaches, Hagafors says Mercuri Urval will be looking to leverage its global position – especially the combined knowledge the firm holds. “We’re working to ensure all that up-to-date knowledge we have is usable and applicable. We want to enhance our standing as a knowledge company,” he says. “That way we can serve our clients with the best expertise and high levels of engagement, regardless of their geographical location or spread.”