Another Lesson in the Global Search for Talent for Research Organizations

In recent years, we at Harris Search Associates (HSA) have witnessed for ourselves how the pursuit and recruitment of talent for research organizations entails a global perspective as well as the capacity to actually find people anywhere in a “smaller” world.  But of late, we have been taught yet again a valuable lesson of just how the search function has “gone global.”  

HSA was called upon to assist an American university to identify and recruit candidates for a faculty position and a manager for a new program involving technologies used in food processing.  The university is located in a beautiful area of the country and its leaders are eager to find and employ the best talent available.  

The search has involved conversations at all hours of the day and night because the persons with the most expertise and experience in this particular field are, relatively speaking, few in number but dispersed all over the world.  As a result, conversations via Skype video, conventional long-distance telephone and e-mail exchanges have taken place with individuals in New Zealand, India, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Ireland and throughout the United States.   

And while the faculty position presented some challenges, it was the program manager post that really pushed our efforts to a global level.  It required someone with experience in food processing technology and familiarity with academia, along with an ability to engage and interact with a particular segment of the food industry. 

Ideally, candidates will have come from extended stints in the industry.  Now, it may be the case that this particular position is an outlier and not really representative of the sorts of non-academic talent that universities and academic health and medical centers, for instance, need to support their research efforts.  But we think not.  

Instead, we see a number of reasons for thinking that this is NOT the exception, but more and more the rule. 

Here’s why:

• Both public and private universities and centers are increasingly seeking out more partnerships with business and industry firms that are themselves global enterprises.  Such relationships are expected to generate revenues from direct support of university research by business and industry and joint licensing of intellectual property and almost invariably require engagement with persons and organizations located around the world.

• Efforts to accelerate the speed at which discovery and invention are transferred to industry to become innovative products and services put a premium on development that is not restricted to a single national market but, instead, can be marketed and sold in multiple locations.  Translational research in the medical and pharmaceutical fields is a prime example of this.

• In the realms of research universities and centers as well as in business and industry, universities and firms often seek to carve out distinctive niches for themselves that simultaneously focus their efforts and differentiate them from competitors.  Specialization provides a measure of “depth” in organizational knowledge and expertise but also creates pressure to ensure that the talent in a particular niche is truly world-class lest the claim to being the best in a given field is shown to be unsupported by the incumbent researchers in a university’s or a firm’s staff.

• The growing sophistication and costs of new technologies used in research and development are significant and the people who know how to operate and maintain such tools and procedures are relatively few in number, if only because the technologies are of very recent vintage or even themselves recently-devised products of research.

We anticipate being called upon to conduct more searches that focus not only on research positions themselves but also the supporting talent needed for the research enterprise.  And we expect more conversations to be global in scope.  


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Harris Search Associates is a leading global executive search firm. Our higher education and academic medicine practices are focused on identifying and attracting leaders Presidents, Provosts, Deans, Department Chairs, Researchers, and Senior Administrators to support the growth of clients in the areas of research, science, engineering, academic medicine and commercial enterprises. We are the higher education headhunters of choice for universities around the globe.