The recruiters at Green Career Consult have, for some months, been working to attract talent for top horticultural positions. The Dutch company has created a new branch, Green Executives, for that. People from outside the horticultural sector can, thus, find their way to the sector in transformation without going via headhunter agencies. Using the term 'executives' helps.
"We notice companies with top jobs in the green sector often overlook us," begins partner Johan Grootscholten. He says that is because Green Career Consult specializes in middle management and salespeople placements. "Since we started in June, we've spoken to many candidates and have been getting to know new companies."
That sounds outlandish to recruiters who have been involved in the horticultural sector for years and thus know it well. But, according to Johan, it is logical. "Those are startups that want to take the next step. Business founders sometimes want to step back, and lenders want powerful, experienced people at the helm," he says.
The Green Executives team, f.l.t.r.: Johan Grootscholten, Gerard Rasing, Bart Hommes, and Evert Verboom.
No shortage of people
By setting up Green Executives, Johan and his colleagues are creating a candidate pool just like Green Career Consult has done. Unlike those positions, there is no shortage of people for the top jobs. "There are many who want to fill these positions, and unlike for operational positions, there are no shortages. Instead, it's a matter of selecting the right people from the broad supply."
For that, the team of senior consultants relies on vast experience but also uses assessment tests. "For those top posts, you want people with experience and analytical qualities. They're smart, but not everyone has analytical qualities. There are opportunists, too," says Johan.
"That's no use for top positions. These types of people take risks more easily, and while that may suit lower positions, it can be more dangerous in high-up positions with a lot of responsibility. Here, you must manage risks well while daring to take responsibility. Interviews and testing reveal that."
When it comes to top jobs, companies often want to quietly find candidates. That means the Green Executives team must approach candidates in confidence. "For that, a pool of people is vital. You can approach them without it being immediately clear that you're looking," Johan explains.
"Large corporate companies don't want it to become known that they're looking for people through external parties. They're afraid, for example, that people from outside will think, 'Oh, it seems they can't find anyone; something must be wrong.' They only want word to spread once it's done so as to have the least possible upheaval in the organization."
Placing new people in an organization is always exciting. There is a clear difference between traditional family businesses - there are certainly plenty of these in the horticulture sector - trade, technology, and corporate parties, like now some breeding companies and crop protection products or fertilizers producers. "Filling a top position at a family business is challenging. My first question to those companies is always if they're ready for someone from outside," Grootscholten says.
The next question in that explorative process could be: What do you do if your son or daughter, who is still in a low position in the organization, complains about the newly appointed outside director at, say, a birthday party? "If they immediately say, 'I'll hear them out,' that's not the right answer. It's crucial for family businesses who recruit someone from outside to change those relationships."
Sector know-how less important
Changing relationships may sound scary to some, and everyone knows of times when that went wrong. Still, more and more, those in the horticultural sector will, at some point, have to deal with that. If only because the supply of suitable, qualified people from within the sector is steadily dwindling. Just this spring, the experienced recruiter was shocked when he discovered how few graduates there were at horticultural colleges. "Far too few to fill all the positions soon, with many in their 50s and 60s leaving the sector," he points out.
Increased investment in horticulture is another development leading to more people from the outside filling high-up posts in the sector. "When there's external financing, the financier very often requests outside placement alongside the existing owner. An assertive person with whom the investor wants to keep growing the business." That person does not necessarily have to have a lot of sector knowledge.
"Content know-how about the product a company makes, for example, isn't the most important thing at the top of an organization, especially at a corporate business. Affinity with what a company does is. But if that's a good fit and someone has the right competencies, someone from, say, the shoe industry could end up in horticulture," Johan continues. In time, perhaps even running a cultivation company, although the average grower is not yet ready for that, he notes.
Where, in the Netherlands, the horticultural sector is increasingly attracting people from outside, Johan sees it as the opposite overseas. "We work for international companies, too. Especially where horticultural knowledge is limited, investors like getting people with that know-how for top positions. That creates confidence and helps raise money."
These people are agricultural colleges and Wageningen University bachelor's and master's graduates. In particular, Johan mentions Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. "There, Dutch young people are undoubtedly being prepared for the higher-up international agricultural jobs," he concludes.