Exclusive: The City’s best-known headhunter on decades in the midst of the action
One of London’s biggest executive search companies, Anthony Gregg Partnership, is celebrating its 20th year in business this week.
Time for City A.M. to sit down with chief executive Tony Gregg to look back on the last two decades as he opens up about what the anniversary means to him and to hear what the Square Mile insider has to say about the firm’s plans for the future.
Let’s go back 20 years, it is 2002. How was the idea of Anthony Gregg Partnership born and how did the business become an actuality?
In my early career, working for some of the largest brands in recruitment, I found that the ‘off-limits’ policy was and still does create blockers to presenting the best candidates to a client. ‘Off limits’, for those who are not familiar with the phrase, is a red marker attached to an existing client which effectively prevents anyone from headhunting them.
“Larger search firms have a greater number of clients, resulting in a bigger pool of ‘off-limit’ markers, severely restricting the number of candidates available to headhunt.”Tony Gregg
Therefore, some shortlists cannot represent the best talent available on the market. I felt very uncomfortable accepting assignments and not being able to offer my clients a full search due to the restrictions of the off-limits issue.
So I believed there could be an opportunity for a boutique search firm, which would not experience the challenges of ‘off limits’ to the same degree but would still meet my ethical values. I noticed the mindset of my clients was changing, as they began to experience the difficulties of off-limits first-hand. They were becoming more open-minded to the idea of working with a boutique search firm.
Speaking to a few clients, who are still clients today, they brought into the idea that we could work in ‘partnership’ – hence the name and that is still how I viewed my relationship with them. I did not want the formality of the larger search firms and so adopted a professional without the formality approach.
So looking back on two decades in the biz, what have been your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?
If someone had told me that I would have to survive the worst economic crash in history and a pandemic, then I might have thought I was mad… That said, I would not have changed anything – I have always been an advocate of staying in control of your own destiny whether that is working for yourself or for a corporate business. My mantra is: “trust a lot, love a few but always paddle your own canoe” and this is something that I share during coaching sessions too.
“Trust a lot, love a few but always paddle your own canoe”Tony Gregg
I cannot think of anything else which has been of the same magnitude as these two events. Both were totally out of my control and that was the real difficulty. My advice to other business owners navigating situations that are out of their control would be to try to remain agile, adapt new working practices and be flexible with their decision-making and planning. Taking time out for reflection will help you plan more effectively.
What are you most proud of about the business?
Surviving two economic crashes and coming out of them stronger. We’ve been brave enough to invest in the business, rebranding and developing the website during lockdown to ensure we were ready when the world reopened for business. This is all thanks to the support and loyalty of our team, to whom I’m incredibly grateful, some of them have been here from the early beginnings.
What has been your biggest achievement since launching the business?
Continually evolving and being ahead of the market, launching the Executive Coaching service has been well received by our clients and candidates. I’m an ICF (The International Coaching Federation) accredited coach and was voted a Top 20 Coach in London in 2021.
Looking ahead, what do the next 5 years look like for Anthony Gregg Partnership?
Very exciting! The whole retail sector landscape is changing due to the way we shop and work since the pandemic, which creates lots of opportunities as the consumer industry reinvents itself to become fit for the future. My son Chris recently joined the business after his early career working for one of the top four grocers and another top search firm in London.
Finally, are you doing anything to celebrate the anniversary?
We are planning a celebration this month. We will most likely see one of the West End shows with the team, with a bottle of champagne…Or two!