INTERVIEW Marc Baloch, C-suite headhunter and leadership advisor

TodayÔÇÖs interview brings into the foreground an internationally experienced businessman, Mr. Marc Baloch. Mr. Baloch is the Global Practice Head Insurance & Asia Head Financial Services at Harvey Nash Executive Search, a C-suite mandate after a series of such mandates in Europe and especially in Asia (Japan, China, South Korea).

Having graduated from The Julius Maximilian University of W├╝rzburg, Mr. Baloch, in more than 15 yearsÔÇÖ experience, has developed expertise to advice Global Financial Services clients on all talent and leadership matters.

Through this interview, we wish to highlight the numerous opportunities that a graduate has (under the sine qua non condition of being genuinely interested, of course) ÔÇô for law students, that might be translated into seeing beyond the (traditional) legal professions.

Andrei Popovici: First of all, thank you for taking your precious time to answer the questions.

Marc Baloch: Thank you, Andrei, for the opportunity to speak.

A.P.: To begin with, please describe what does your current position imply, so our readers could benefit of an accurate overview.

M.B.: Some call my work being a headhunter. Essentially, I work for a global talent organization and am an executive search and leadership advisor to global financial institutions, mostly insurers and asset managers. In a competitive world, to have the right executive on board in most cases means thriving business results. Yes, having the right products is key, but without the right leaders, right decisionmakers at the top, business can go down. Think about Sony or Kodak and how well positioned they were. However, they lacked the leaders to push forward innovation and these former giants are now pretty much negligible. My role is, therefore, to assess executives for their ability to transform, innovate and help business grow with real talent.

A.P.: What are the most important qualities required to operate at such a high level and how can they be developed during college?

M.B.: I often meet global heads of businesses and they expect me to not only have a deep sector understanding of financial services, but also to be able to pinpoint their strengths, weaknesses, in countries, in business lines. I know what is going on in each of the markets that I operate in and can give quite objective insights about their leadership and what it would take to grow in country X or Z.

In order to do this, you need to be passionate about your industry, curious and continuously learning. You need to have very good communication skills when you operate at the top and be seen as a trusted advisor, not just a ÔÇťconsultantÔÇŁ.

2A.P.: You have a Master of Arts degree, but you work in the business sector. At first glance, one could say the two of them are poles apart, thus confirming the hypothesis that most graduates work in a field unrelated to their major. What is your belief regarding this aspect, respectively the story behind your professional route?

M.B.: When studying my M.A., I was very involved in a student organization called AIESEC. It is one of the biggest organizations helping students to get internship/trainee roles outside their countries. I helped students from Finland, Brazil, to Turkey or the US to spend several months in Germany in my alma mater, University of Würzburg. This enabled me to see many different people from different cultures, but also connected me to what corporates need, how talented people look like and how important passion for what you do is.

A.P.: You are famous for your executive search principle: ÔÇťI assess people, I do not rely on CVÔÇÖs to find leadersÔÇŁ. How shall a student relate to this for the purpose of landing and nailing a job interview?

M.B.: LoL. Thanks for taking that from my LinkedIn profile! YesÔÇŽ I recently saw┬áa Forbes statistic that 79% of financial services professionals lie on their CV. It is quite a large number, but this is not the only important point. I have interviewed a lot more than 10,000 professionals and believe to have a great eye for talent and high performance. I see when someone has impact. We also use psychometric assessments (the same that the FBI and the CIA use) and together with references/cross-checks, I believe we do everything that is┬ápossible to assure that someone is great for a CEO role, not just good.

„You need to be passionate about your industry, curious and continuously learning. You need to have very good communication skills when you operate at the top and be seen as a trusted advisor, not just a ÔÇťconsultantÔÇŁ.”

A.P.: Assuming that – thanks to your insight – the student has obtained his dream job, what should he do in order to deliver the most value to the company he is working for, thus making him eligible for climbing up the ladder?

M.B.: People in their 50s and 60s went up the corporate ladder, believing in lifelong commitment to their firm. Nowadays, this is much more complex and Millennials –┬áthose who are born after 1990s – are thinking very different about their careers.

There are a couple of really important aspects here. First is, do you have a boss who is supportive to you and your career? Does he/she develop you, stretch you, give you tools to learn your job very well? Is the culture of your firm positive or its politics are toxic? Is your company treating you fair in terms of salary?

It is not a secret that if you change your jobs and should you be a top performer, say every 3 years, you will very likely have a much steeper salary curve than if you were to stay in your firm the same time. I do not say to change your job for the sake of job changing, but ask yourself how much can I still learn in this role, would my firm offer me more responsibilities and also, more earning potential? But I am also aware of those that changed their jobs every year, maximizing their salary, but after 5-6 years stagnated in their careers.

Typically, in your first year you learn, you absorb, in the second one you apply what you learned and in the third one you reap the fruits you earned. My point is that you can be in your dream job, but will that job still be there in another 3 years?

I am working so much on digital and the opportunities of IoT (Internet of Things), Data Analytics, customer centricity. Those high routine and labour intensive roles that one may do now will be gone for sure. You need to be aware of this and plan your career more wisely, steer it into the direction you believe is best and be proactive. If you do not know how to do this, you should get advice from someone who you trust, your boss for instance, HR or an external advisor.

„Having the right products is key, but without the right leaders, right decisionmakers at the top, business can go down.”

A.P.: Considering that you have worked on senior leadership roles in many markets, what may a company do for keeping its best employees and how can the leaders within that company motivate the employees?

M.B.: This is a very tricky question as motivation is not always the same. We are often asked about what can act positively on a corporate’s employee engagement and, therefore, constitute┬áretention of top talent.

First, as a business you need to be able to attract the best talents. Younger professionals want to work in an environment that is attractive. „Start-up cultures” are now copied by larger firms to attract talent. They want to be developed, work not only on one particular area for 25 years anymore, but be exposed to others. Companies develop for these high performers or high potentials a development plan and help them to get better, offer training, coaching and sometimes a corporate mentor/buddy. Companies need to invest into their people and training more than they did before to achieve a positive work culture.

There is the joke we hear quite often here now:

CFO: What if we train them and they leave?

CEO: What if we donÔÇÖt and they stay?

I think it reflects what I want to say here, the biggest assets that a company has are its people. If they feel they are not empowered, engaged, they will leave.

A.P.: In one of your publications, Digital Insurance: The war on talent and the fight for the ownership of the digital agenda, you pointed out that ÔÇťin order to achieve transformational success for the business, the relationship between IT and other business functions has to be improved and communication lines clearly establishedÔÇŁ. Also, you have properly stated that ÔÇťcompanies who do not embrace the new world of digital commerce will truly suffer by witnessing competitors or potential new entrants that use new technology effectively to re-invent the marketÔÇŁ. While in developed markets it is easier to adapt to these new realities thanks to a tech-friendly culture, how could the players from the emerging markets (such as Romania) start to play this new game, as you defined it?

M.B.: I think Romania has extraordinary talent, so many creative and smart professionals.

I see many great digital, IT leaders from Romania in top positions in Asia, for instance. The digital commerce is an opportunity and also a big challenge. Creativity cannot be taught, just nurtured, so the only thing that concerns me is the brain drain of top talent to other more developed countries who pay better salaries. Those that stay and develop apps etc. will, on the other hand, have lots of opportunities as well.

„The biggest assets that a company has are┬áits people. If they feel they are not empowered, engaged, they will leave.”

A.P.: On the same note of business transformation, what is your prediction regarding the sectors and, subsequently, the industries which will be the most profitable in the short term?

M.B.: This is a difficult question and not sure if I can give the right answer. I believe that all industries will be disrupted by the new digital realities.

If I were a business where my role is the one of a middleman between product and consumer, I would make sure I have a digital component, otherwise I may be out of business in some years.

1A.P.: One of your overall professional skills is wealth management. What do you recommend to those who seek to accumulate wealth?

M.B.: Typically, you will be in your late 30s and 40s before you can really accumulate wealth. Be wise in your career choices, never stop believing in yourself, find the role and career that suits you and excel in your job then. When you have „cash”, donÔÇÖt treat it like a casino investment, but build long term wealth. If you want to play with some of it, only allocate 10% so that you can make mistakes. But wealth is not only financial. Look after your spirit, your family and especially your health. You will know how important this is once one of these is┬ámissing.

A.P.: What is your piece of advice for the students who wish to invest their money? Penny stocks, low-cost index funds, a small business or what else does offer the best return on investment for a beginner?

M.B.: Not really able to advice on this, but there are many free aps where you can learn about investing without having to put your money initially.

A.P.: What do you recommend to those who take on their entrepreneurial life in their twenties? What are the aspects that they must be the most aware of?

M.B.: It doesnÔÇÖt matter at which point of time you are – if you have a great idea and the guts to do it, then do it! I see many of my corporate clients like to hire „failed entrepreneurs” or intrapreneurs, how you call it nowadays. Companies like these not because they have failed, but because these intrapreneurs know more on how to run businesses, how to be agile, think outside of the box and find solutions, work with a smaller budget to achieve more. I would support my kids if they wanted to do something on their own.

A.P.: What is one crucial thing that you have learned about being successful and you wish to share with others?

M.B.: Stay humble, stay honest, stay curious! Take time for your family, for yourself and stay positive. 

„Wealth is not only financial. Look after your spirit, your family and especially your health. You will know how important this is once one of these is┬ámissing.”

A.P.: How do you solve the modern manÔÇÖs dilemma regarding the balance between work and family?

M.B.: Work more efficiently. I know that many are finding their jobs boring and just procrastinate. This is really sad. I try to work really hard in the hours and then go home so that I can still see my kids. But it is a difficult balance and I love my work, so not sure if I am the best person to give advice here.

A.P.: How does a regular workday of your life look like?

M.B.: I arrive at work around 8:30am, sometimes earlier. I try to plan my work as much as possible and I rely on my personal assistant who really makes my life much more easy. My day typically includes interviewing candidates for my current assignments. For example, I am working on the Chief Digital Officer role for one large insurer. I am either seeing the candidates via Skype or travel to Singapore/Sydney to meet them face to face. Then, I am also meeting new clients, generally businesses.

I also do research, try to be up to date in what happens in insurance or asset management. A lot of reading as well. I read at least 2-3 newspapers per day.

A.P.: Now that we are getting closer to the end of the interview, what do you wish to tell the readers?

M.B.: Prepare well for the interview, ask good questions, ask about the culture and what would the boss expect from you. Get a sense if the corporate culture and you are a good fit.

A.P.: What is your opinion about the ABC Juridic Project and what do you suggest us for the improvement of it?

M.B: I am very impressed by the website, the interviews you have had. I am deeply honored and grateful to be part of this community and look forward to stay in touch.

A.P.: Thank you very much for your time and patience to answer the questions and best of luck in everything you do, Mr. Baloch!

Andrei Popovici

Andrei este co-fondator al proiectului 'ABC Juridic' si student al Facultatii de Drept - Universitatea din Bucuresti

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