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THE BIG IDEA

21st-Century Talent
Spotting
Why potential now trumps brains, experience, and
“competencies” by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

This document is authorized for use only in MGMT5050 - Teams, Ethics & Competive Advantage - s1/2015 by Janis Wardrop, University of New South Wales from March 2015 to August 2015.

For exclusive use University of New South Wales, 2015

The Big Idea

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz
is a senior adviser at
the global executive search
firm Egon Zehnder and
the author of It’s Not the
How or the What but the
Who (Harvard Business
Review Press, 2014), on
which this article is based.

21
st

CENTURY
TALENT
SPOTTING
Why potential now trumps brains,
experience, and “competencies”
by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

2 Harvard Business Review June 2014

This document is authorized for use only in MGMT5050 - Teams, Ethics & Competive Advantage - s1/2015 by Janis Wardrop, University of New South Wales from March 2015 to August 2015.

ILLUSTRATION: MARK MATCHO

For exclusive use University of New South Wales, 2015

This document is authorized for use only in MGMT5050 - Teams, Ethics & Competive Advantage - s1/2015 by Janis Wardrop, University of New South Wales from March 2015 to August 2015.

For exclusive use University of New South Wales, 2015
THE BIG IDEA 21ST-CENTURY TALENT SPOTTING

A

few years ago, I was asked to help
find a new CEO for a family-owned
electronics retailer that wanted
to professionalize its management and expand its operations. I worked closely with the outgoing chief executive
and the board to pinpoint the relevant competencies
for the job and then seek out and assess candidates.
The man we hired had all the right credentials: He’d

4 Harvard Business Review June 2014

attended top professional schools
and worked for some of the best
organizations in the industry, and
he was a successful country manager in one of the world’s most admired companies. Even more
important, he’d scored above the
target level for each of the competencies we’d identified. But none of that mattered. Despite his impressive background and great fit, he could not adjust to the massive
technological, competitive, and
regulatory changes occurring in
the market at the time. Following
three years of lackluster performance, he was asked to leave. Compare that story with one
from the start of my executive
search career. My task was to fill
a project manager role at a small
brewery owned by Quinsa, which
then dominated the beer market in the southern cone of Latin America. In those days, I hadn’t
yet heard the term “competency.”
I was working in a new office
without research support (in the
pre-internet era), and Quinsa
was the only serious beverage
industry player in the region, so
I was simply unable to identify a
large pool of people with the right
industry and functional background. Ultimately, I contacted
Pedro Algorta, an executive I’d
met in 1981, while we were both
studying at Stanford University.
A survivor of the infamous 1972
plane crash in the Andes, which
has been chronicled in several
books and the movie Alive, Algorta was certainly
an interesting choice. But he had no experience in
the consumer goods business; was unfamiliar with
Corrientes, the province where the brewery was located; and had never worked in marketing or sales, key areas of expertise. Still, I had a feeling he would
be successful, and Quinsa agreed to hire him. That
decision proved to be a smart one. Algorta was rapidly promoted to general manager of the Corrientes

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