CEO Recruiter Heidrick & Struggles Dives Into Big Data

Executive Search Firm to Place Candidates Earning in the $300K to $1M Range

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Big data practitioners are the new it-girls of the tech and marketing worlds, and the pursuit of them by Fortune 500 brands and startups is sparking bidding wars. While the scarcity of talent is hugely problematic for companies that are looking to bring onboard a director of analytics, it's looking like a business opportunity for executive-search firms like Heidrick & Struggles.

The recruiter specializing in CEOs and other senior-level positions announced today that it's formally launching a big data and analytics practice geared toward placing executives in positions such as chief data officer, managing director of analytics, and head of data and information services. Its focus will be on placing senior-level employees who stand to earn between $300,000 and upwards of $1 million annually.

While tech companies such as Google and Yahoo that collect vast amounts of data seem like an obvious fit for these services (both have worked with Heidrick & Struggles), the firm is potentially looking to address a void that 's growing more pressing across sectors as marketing becomes increasingly data-driven. According to a spokeswoman: "Financial services, retail and consumer goods have seen significant investment and interest in big data and analytics, but we've also seen increased interest in sectors such as health care and life sciences, industrial and higher education."

The hunt for data scientists is pitting tech titans such as Google and Facebook -- which can afford to pay at a premium -- against startups as well as traditional marketers, which might have a problem convincing top talent that the work they would be doing is sufficiently compelling, according to Penry Price, a former Google sales executive who's now president of the ad-targeting company Media6Degrees.

"They want to solve big, audacious, challenging things as opposed to, 'How do I sell 10 more boxes of cereal on a shelf that only fits eight?'" he said.

According to Mr. Price, roughly 20% of his staff is now comprised of data scientists, and the difficulty of finding top practitioners is similar to the search for an exceptional programmer. Promising talent can be found fresh out of Ph.D. programs at schools like Stanford, Berkeley, and MIT (and make upwards of $100,000 out of the gate) and in the finance world, where data mining has long been an entrenched practice at credit-card companies, for example.

There can also potentially be cultural shock for data scientists who are newly inducted into marketing. Mr. Price noted that one of Media6Degrees's data practitioners was formerly a biomedical researcher conducting optimization testing on medicines to treat AIDS, and that person has been shocked at the lack of scientific rigor in the marketing world.

"He's like, 'There's such a satisfaction with imperfection in advertising, whereas with true data science, we work with perfection,'" Mr. Price said.

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