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“A great leader views the company as an ecosystem where people can evolve, develop, and support each other.” – David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner at Signium-Stein & Partner

The Executive Search field is defined by curiosity, patience to absorb and understand information, in other words, connecting with stakeholders. What does the human resources market in Romania look like now, what are the benefits of being part of a global community in this field, and what values should a leader have in 2022? All the answers and more in an exclusive interview with David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner Romania at Signium-Stein & Partner.

C&B: As the Managing Partner of a company with over 27 years in the HR field, considering your German origins, how would you describe the market in Romania?

David-Sebastian Stein: That’s a great question! From my perspective, looking at the macro environment, the Romanian market is transitioning from an emerging to a mature market, and this comes with a higher degree of competition and transparency requirements. We also see increasing confidence from local companies, start-ups, and investment funds expanding into more developed markets and looking beyond their own borders. Another encouraging trend is that we are seeing more and more regional and even global headquarters in Romania, so we’ve moved from “the Eastern European country where you can find cheap labor” to a more strategic dimension.

In terms of leadership and people, Romania has already made significant strides from a “rote learning and repeating” mindset to a solution-oriented ecosystem. However, considering the educational base in Romania, this behavior is taught at later stages, and it will likely take some time until diverse thinking is broadly appreciated.

C&B: What are your top entrepreneurial values that you always keep in mind and apply?

David-Sebastian Stein: We strongly believe that purpose, i.e., the “why” behind what you do, is one of the most critical aspects when it comes to entrepreneurship. If you’re doing things to make money, you’ll invest in the wrong direction, and ultimately, your business will fail. However, if you start a business to serve society, build an unmatched product or service, or simply have the ambition to do things better than anyone else, then the motivation is true, and ultimately, you might have a chance to succeed. For us, we apply the theory of continuous improvement, having the ambition to improve from project to project and trying to have a measurable impact on the organizations we work with and ultimately for society. We genuinely care about the influence we have on clients’ businesses, and we dare to believe that we help companies achieve or challenge their visions by providing appropriate leadership solutions, enhancing engagement leading to innovation, and ultimately, all of these should lead to a greater impact on society – that’s what we hope our contribution is.

C&B: How was 2021 for Signium – Stein & Partner, and what challenges did you face?

David-Sebastian Stein: Since we had a record year in 2020 when the pandemic started, we noticed that the economic crisis and the effects of the pandemic hit us truly in 2021. Our business is heavily affected either by foreign direct investments or local M&A activities, and looking at these data, we see that the demand was correlated with those activities with a delay of about a year. However, we were actually happy to have some downtime to pursue our growth ambitions at the regional level and further improve and expand our services. Besides this, we have a new management team in Austria, and with my election to the Global Board of Signium, we’ve also started a very ambitious plan of global initiatives.

Unfortunately, some of our colleagues decided to leave the company due to the business slowdown in 2021, and now that demand has gradually increased in early 2022, we are facing the need to recruit colleagues for our company.

C&B: What are the business objectives for 2022?

David-Sebastian Stein: At the ECE level, our ambition is to grow the team considering expertise and diversity, further develop the leadership and advisory practice, and expand into new markets, as originally planned for 2021. Globally, we’ve shifted the leadership model from just delivering services to agility, focusing on engaging and connecting partners, sharing expertise, and consolidating continuous learning and development initiatives.

C&B: Stein & Partner has been a member of Signium for several years. In 2021, you decided to undergo a rebranding process of the business and name it Signium – Stein & Partner. What major differences did this decision bring?

David-Sebastian Stein: This was a tough decision for us, as Stein & Partner is a strong brand in Romania and has been recognized over the past 27 years as one of the providers of the highest quality services in Executive Search. However, considering what is best for clients, we believe it’s important to be part of a global community that ensures collective learning and development while simultaneously sharing clients’ expertise and commitment. And on top of that, it’s a satisfaction for us to have the opportunity to support a larger community, and it makes us proud that our new ideas and initiatives are appreciated globally.

C&B: In 2021, you were elected as the Global Director on the Board of Signium. How do you feel in this position after almost a year? What does it entail?

David-Sebastian Stein: As mentioned in the previous point, we are excited to see that our ideas and initiatives are appreciated, and our development goals align with global trends in Executive Search. This gives us additional confirmation and strength in pursuing our direction.

After a year in office, I can say that I am satisfied with the progress, and we continue to make strategic and administrative decisions regarding the overall development and coordination of the network.

C&B: How have the past two years been for Signium – Stein & Partner, especially in the HR field, two challenging years of the pandemic?

David-Sebastian Stein: As mentioned earlier, we believe the pandemic hit us particularly in 2021; 2020 was exceptionally good, and we are confident that 2022 will be another great year for us. Looking at the market, typically, the Executive Search industry is very much linked to economic developments. However, we see an increasing opportunity to support companies with leadership and advisory services, helping design competency models and lead change processes.

C&B: What do you think makes a leader great?

David-Sebastian Stein: Personally, being a big fan of agile leadership theories, a great leader sees the company as an ecosystem where people can evolve, develop, and support each other. In this environment, the leader is responsible for creating and protecting the structure that ensures each community member can discover their true potential and has the necessary space to grow. However, when applying leadership strategies, it’s essential to always consider the stage of the company’s development, i.e., whether it’s a startup, a growth-friendly environment, a mature business, or a restructuring/turnaround case. Furthermore, understanding the strategy and competency model of the team that the company needs to achieve is crucial.

What I’ve learned so far in life is that there’s no right or wrong, only more or less suitable solutions, given the circumstances. You can have the brightest ideas and theories, but you need to listen, take stakeholders, and wait for the right moment or educate the organization. This, by the way, applies not only to leadership strategies but also to any change situation.

C&B: What are the top values of a leader in 2022? Is there perhaps a value that wasn’t as important before the pandemic context that is now standing out?

David-Sebastian Stein: The pandemic has shown us that we are not alone on this planet, and we need to learn to live and integrate with nature. Therefore, I believe the trend around ESG (environmental, social, governance) will be the driver of the new economic development and a key value of leaders that needs to be considered. The 20th century brought extraordinary living standards to humanity, and we need to accelerate development towards finding harmony with nature. We firmly believe that technology can help us move in this direction, but we need to address all aspects of social and economic development, including animal farming, energy, and all members of the economic system.

C&B: Any advice for individuals looking to become consultants for Executive Search firms, such as Signium – Stein & Partner? What can make them stand out?

David-Sebastian Stein: Be curious! Our job can be done well only if you’re someone willing to absorb, analyze information and find real pleasure in supporting companies and professionals. Our industry, and professional services in general, is a sector where a lot of information can be absorbed as it’s project-based. The Executive Search consultant needs to be able to switch easily between completely different topics and stakeholders, and it takes a lot of time to do this quickly. If you’re not driven by curiosity and don’t have the patience to absorb and understand information, or if you’re not genuinely interested in solving stakeholders’ situations, it’s almost impossible to succeed in this field.

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