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Firm History

Learn more about our story.

Spencer Stuart was a pioneer who brought rigor, discipline and professionalism to the practice of executive search. Sixty years after establishing his vision of search without borders, the firm he founded continues to serve clients seamlessly around the world. We provide insight that organizations rely on to select, assess and develop executives, optimize team effectiveness, and evaluate and evolve their organizational cultures.

  • The Founding Years -
    • In the aftermath of World War II, as more and more companies began to seek international expansion, there were no globally recognized executive search firms. At that time, management consulting and executive search were inextricably linked, with clients relying heavily on their consulting firms to find leaders who could implement their new strategies.

      Spencer "Spence" Stuart worked as a consultant in the executive search division of Booz Allen Hamilton before starting his own firm in 1956. By this time, the market for managerial talent was opening up and companies were increasingly willing to look externally for the right leader.

      Based in Chicago, Spence’s first assignment was in Caracas, Venezuela. In 1959 he set up an office in Zurich. By 1960 he had personally conducted searches in 29 different countries. His international mindset and consulting expertise were instrumental in responding to a growing demand for executive search outside the US, qualities which remain fundamental to our business outlook today.

  • 1960s -
    • "Spence" Stuart continued his geographic expansion, opening offices in New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Mexico City. In line with Spence’s international vision, the firm’s first clients were all U.S. corporations seeking to extend their businesses overseas. The result was work in the U.S., Europe, Australia, India, China and South America for clients like Cummins Engine and Quaker Oats that retained the firm on multiple assignments.

      Spence emphasized the value of research in establishing methodology, credibility and structure to the discipline of executive search. Nowhere was this commitment to research more evident than in the "Environmental Study" – an exhaustive survey of the conditions in which the new manager would operate. To this day, we retain a fundamental belief that developing a deep understanding of a client’s business context and strategy is vital before we can identify and recruit those candidates best able to navigate the many challenges they will encounter.

      Spence also established new standards of professionalism by insisting on rigorous training and comprehensive guidelines for all staff. By the end of the decade, the firm had evolved a set of flexible principles that could be adapted to fit the direction and pace of every search.

  • 1970s -
    • Executive search in the 1970s was developing along similar lines to management consulting, expanding and becoming increasingly accepted as a vital tool for successful corporations operating internationally. The firm continued to expand with the opening of 13 new offices in North and South America, Europe, Australia and Hong Kong.

      In 1974, "Spence" Stuart retired from the business he had founded. Following the example of Marvin Bower at McKinsey & Co, he believed that a professional services firm should be owned by the people who work in it. As a result, he made his entire share ownership available for purchase to a group of employees, thereby establishing a strong partnership culture which continues to this day.

      Revenues grew from $6 million in 1974 to $22.3 million in 1979, with significant growth coming from outside the U.S. That year, Booz, Allen & Hamilton decided to sell off its executive search division to avoid conflicts of interest. The team from BAH joined Spencer Stuart, resulting in the rapid expansion of our U.S. operation.

  • 1980s -
    • By 1980, executive search had established itself as a major service business. The transfer of management skills from one environment to another, where an executive could bring both experience and innovation into an organization, had become commonplace. One-third of our assignments were for chief executive officers, chief operating officers and general managers.

      The firm continued to open new offices in North America, Europe and Japan. It became apparent that organizing ourselves into industry and functional practices at a global level would enable us to deploy our specialist expertise in the most effective way for clients. In addition to a long-standing Consumer Practice, we created a High Technology Practice, now known as the Technology, Media & Telecommunications Practice, and the first fully integrated Life Sciences Practice. In 1983, we were the first executive search firm to establish a dedicated Boards Practice.

      We launched a new flagship publication, Point of View, and developed a program of thought leadership. In 1987, we published the first Spencer Stuart Board Index in the U.S. Today, we publish more than 20 Board Indexes annually, analyzing board governance and composition in public companies around the world, as well as numerous studies and reports on different aspects of leadership and talent management.

  • 1990s -
    • A period of economic growth was characterized by increasing globalization, rapid technological advancement, the rise of the World Wide Web and financial deregulation. In 1995, we established our global Financial Services Practice and in 1998 we launched Global Intelligence, later renamed Spencer Stuart Executive Assessment Services. This unique assessment service offering helps clients accurately assess senior executive teams when critical leadership decisions need to be made, for example, for succession planning, CEO transition and team-building, and during mergers and acquisitions.

      Accompanying the economic boom were a number of high-profile corporate collapses, which threw a spotlight on the value and importance of good corporate governance. Initiatives by national governments spread around the world, resulting in a combination of legislation and new corporate governance codes designed to minimize the risk of corporate failures. A renewed focus on the role and composition of boards, and tougher requirements for independent directors, increased demand for Spencer Stuart’s governance advisory and director recruitment services expertise around the world.

      In 1994, we introduced the Client Satisfaction Survey — the first of its kind in the search industry. Ever since, we have been gathering feedback from clients on what they think of our performance after each assignment, underscoring our commitment to quality and enabling us to continually enhance our standards of client service. In 1998, we launched an enhanced version of our industry-leading information system, QuestNT, providing real-time access across our global network.

      By the end of the decade, Spencer Stuart had opened an additional 22 offices, in Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, Europe, Mexico, South Africa and the U.S. Firm revenues had almost trebled to $362 million.

  • 2000 to the Present Day -
    • The decade started with a series of traumatic events. Financial shocks, terrorist attacks and corporate scandals contributed to a deep recession that started with the dotcom bust and continued with falls in corporate stock values around the world. The European Union adopted the Euro single currency and extended its membership to the east. Growth in China, India and Brazil started to shift the balance of economic power in the world.

      Amidst this growing complexity, we set our sights on being the best professional services organization in the leadership business, continuing to build our board advisory, CEO succession planning and board assessment services alongside our senior executive and board director search work. The addition of ExI®, our unique and proprietary methodology that measures Executive Intelligence, strengthened our executive assessment services.

      We established an Industrial Practice, bringing together the expertise of consultants from 13 separate industry sectors, followed by an Education, Nonprofit & Government Practice. A series of practices were formed specializing in recruiting functional leaders and developing first-rate candidate pools, including the Information Officer, Financial Officer, Human Resources, Legal Search and Marketing Officer practices.

      Since 2000 we have expanded our presence in India, Scandinavia and the Middle East, bringing the total number of offices to 70 in 31 countries. We continue to help clients find the best leadership talent anywhere in the world through our highly connected network of global practices and local offices. Our relentless focus is on helping our clients to achieve their goals by delivering leaders who consistently perform at the highest level, assessing executive potential, optimizing team effectiveness and, determining whether the organization’s culture is aligned with the strategy.

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