It was apparent that 2009 was a lean year in the world of Wall Street executive searches. As financial firms folded in the wake of the credit crunch and broader economic collapse, executive search firms with a focus on hedge funds, investment banks and the like have had to struggle for business. But things are looking up, says Jennifer Gomez, who joined boutique search firm David Barrett Partners in October as head of its hedge fund practice. Gomez spoke recently with Workforce Management senior writer Ed Frauenheim.
Workforce Management: How many hedge funds are out there? And are regulations making them part of a more “boring” banking system?
Jennifer Gomez: The number is certainly a lot less than it used to be. But there are still roughly 10,000 of them. “Boring” and “hedge funds” don’t really belong in the same sentence. They continue to be the promised land for many on Wall Street. The game has changed, but that’s what makes it exciting. It becomes that much more challenging to find ways of making money, to have an edge.
WM: What are the key skills or traits for hedge fund managers?
Gomez: As a hedge fund manager, investment acumen is obviously the most important thing. But a successful hedge fund manager also has to have management skills. It is fairly rare to find those two qualities in the same individual. You’re a super smart guy; you’re a brilliant investor. But you also need the ability to listen to others, to know what you don’t know. Don’t let your ego get in your way. And you have to be able to relax the reins enough to let others in functional roles—chief operating officer, for example—do what they do best. Also, as the industry becomes more and more regulated, institutionalized, these qualities become that much more important. You can’t be a cowboy anymore.
WM: Do you have any recruiting secrets you can share?
Gomez: Recruiting for me is and always has been good old-fashioned detective work. You’re finding a solution to your client’s problem. It’s as simple as that. I like to approach this in a highly analytic way. When I have a project, I go down multiple paths to identify individuals that might make sense.
WM: How has recruiting for hedge funds changed over the past year?
Gomez: Over the past year to two years, recruiting has slowed down to a slow trickle. As a result, compensation expectations by candidates have, by and large, been tempered. Firms generally threw the idea of multiyear guarantees out the window. But new hiring is showing signs of life in the hedge fund world, as capital becomes less constrained.
WM: I hadn’t heard of these guarantees. It’s interesting that from the outside it looks like a world of risk, yet some of the main players are shielded from risk over time with the way they’ve been able to set up compensation.
Gomez: That’s evaluated very, very carefully based on an individual performer’s track record. Risk is managed very carefully.