Right people, right skills: hiring in lockdown

It may not be business as usual, but businesses are still operating, and so having the right leadership at the helm is crucial – and may mean additional bandwidth to support a company during this time. Inflexion’s Talent Director has facilitated over half a dozen C-suite appointments since lockdown.

Has recruitment been put on hold for senior-level positions?

Talent remains crucial, crisis or not, and roles that were being hired for continue to be hired for.

Across the Inflexion portfolio, the early weeks of lockdown were spent focusing on ensuring our management teams were equipped with the resources and support they needed. This was often in the C-suite, with additional bench strength needed in areas such as finance.

That said, the profile of roles being hired for is evolving as business models and plans change.

How has the process changed for seeking out new talent?

For Inflexion it’s all about innovating and being agile and working with the tools that you have. Lockdown hasn’t stopped our companies from moving things forward and hiring the individuals they need. For example, we’ve continued with succession planning across the portfolio and appointed a number of CEOs and CFOs.  

The interview process sequencing remains broadly unchanged, however there is benefit in it being more iterative.

We’ve really drilled down into the more structured techniques we’ve previously relied on, such as competence and skills-based interviewing. We’ve gone through the diligence such as psychometric testing and referencing – and we are giving candidates the opportunity to do proper referencing on us by encouraging them to talk to our advisers and introducing them to our management teams. Our final stage of assessment is running a theoretical virtual board meeting to see how they’d work with us. We’ve always done it, but the importance of it has been crucial now.

Is it harder to recruit the right people right now?

My personal view is that it is easier from a practical process perspective. People have more time, so scheduling interviews is much easier. You can be much more objective when you’re not sitting in a room with someone, there are no niceties and you don’t build the same personal rapport with them. You have to run very structured and joined up processes that treat the candidate very well if you want any chance of being able to work with top class talent.

Accessing the right talent is a different matter. Lots of businesses are going to underperform, many for reasons unrelated to poor-quality management, and people will come out of those businesses searching for new roles with companies whose models are better suited to the future. So on the one hand you have a wider pool of candidates, but on the other hand or you could say high quality managers won’t jump off a ship while it’s sinking because their loyalty means they are trying to help save it. Overall, I think people are more reflective and therefore open-minded about opportunities for the future, and this is helpful for building a network, which is always a good thing.

Might techniques used for hiring now carry on in the future?

We will definitely take learnings from current processes since it’s really valuable to create multiple reference points around an individual. Being more objective in the process at the outset because you’ve not met face-to-face and developed a personal rapport can help clarify a candidate’s skills suitability. Thereafter candidates can be brought into the process by socialising them more broadly around the team they’ll be working with.

I think that the behaviours towards the importance of hiring will change. People are realising brilliant CEOs and teams help their businesses perform really well and handle stress well, whereas where there are weaknesses, cracks form and expand.

CEO appointment during lockdown - Times Higher Education


As the world leader in providing insights on university data, rankings and content to institutions, academics, students, industry and governments, Times Higher Education (THE) was looking to undertake an ambitious expansion of its business. The firm partnered with Inflexion in 2019 to accelerate its global expansion, particularly via on-the-ground professionals in the US and Asia. THE was also looking to work closely with Inflexion’s in-house digital team to enhance the company’s digital presence.


Already on an impressive growth journey – the firm built up more than 700 customers globally over its half a century of operations, with Oxford and Cambridge Universities as clients – the leadership team felt a fresh face at the helm could be an effective way of bringing on board relevant experience and enthusiasm for the transformative growth management were planning.


The hunt for a new CEO, which had started before lockdown, saw Paul Howarth appointed on 1 April 2020. His career in publishing lends itself well to THE’s plans, having most recently served as CEO of Law Business Research, a provider of business information, legal analysis tools and networking events for law firms globally. And he had a level of familiarity with Inflexion which helped with the social aspect of the appointment: he was known to Inflexion through our Network of industry professionals, whose input is often very valuable to the portfolio.


He is now working with management to review the firm’s strategy with a view to ensuring it is best placed to navigate the easing of lockdown and how THE can adapt to changes to the industry it specialises in.