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INTERVIEW With Trade and Forfaiting Review (U.K.)

Full Interview by Rupert Sayer, Managing Editor, Trade & Forfaiting Review, with ART's V.P.- Advanced Technologies

Q1. What is your recruitment specialty? Which areas of business and where?

Atlantic Research Technologies is an executive search firm that recruits people from the CEO level to the professional staff level on six continents. We believe we are the first executive search firm in the world to offer "virtually local" recruitment services to our client-companies, meaning that through the internet (and telephones) our worldclass headhunters can successfully recruit, screen and place candidates in the 1,000 top metropolitan areas of the planet without having physical offices in these places. We recruit in nearly every discipline required to create and run a company, including CEO's, COO's, Presidents, Managing Directors, Vice Presidents, CFO's, Technology and Engineering heads, CIO's, Sales and Marketing heads, Purchasing and Materials heads, Manufacturing and Operations heads, Quality heads, etc. We are constantly expanding our industry reach, equally in the manufacturing and services sectors, high technology industries, older industries and in the new industries related to the internet, IT and computer technologies. Our client-companies are multinationals, progressive medium-sized firms or exciting startups. More information about us is available at our website

Our clients and recruits are involved in nearly every aspect of our daily lives: from the makers and marketers of your breakfast cereal, to the toothpaste you use to brush your teeth, to the car you drive to work, to the petrol you pump into your car, to the financial service company or bank that processes the credit card transaction you use to buy that petrol, to the wireless technologies used for you to make your mobile telephone call as well as the telecom supplier you use. They make the paints, temperature control systems, multilayered glass and plastics used in your office building; they design, sell, assemble and market the computer you start up, the software you launch, the ISP that connects you to the web, the networking backbone that forms the web, the internet directory or web portal you query, the e-zine you read online, the website that you use to buy stocks, books or use to transact intercontinental materials procurement decisions for your company. Our clients book your travel online, and are the airline and aircraft maker who will get you to your holiday destination. They make the movies you are watching inflight on the personal LCD monitor our other clients or recruits make. (That LCD display consists of semiconductors made by some of our other clients and recruits.) They make the sunglasses you will wear, they might be the company owning the entertainment theme park where you and your family are visiting. If you come down with an illness or get into an accident, they are the makers of vaccines, biomedical implants, medical equipment. They are the companies that make the defence products that protect NATO countries. We have placed important executives at the U.S. Mint, so a sizable portion of American coinage will also have been "touched" by the expertise of ART recruits.

Q2. How long have you been operating?
ART has been operating since 1987, and we have been on the internet since 1996. We are an established, professional executive search firm that conducts traditional headhunting through people-to-people human contacts. Our typical Account Manager assigned to a client-company would likely have over ten years' experience as a recruiter and would be able to work equally at home with people in Europe, North America, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa or Australia. Our internet presence allows us to reach, at today's rate, an additional half million people a year. The majority of these people, and nearly all those who send us their CV's, are candidates whose professional backgrounds are highly relevant to our clients' needs. We cannot help entry level people or people who want advice on circus careers. Those who come to are either highly capable and motivated worldclass business executives, exceptional middle-level managers or the employers who need such talented people.

Q3. Does the firm recruit in this area of electronic cross-border trade and exports? Both IT and export practitioners?
ART works extensively recruiting candidates for all aspects of electronic commerce. We recruit the CIO's, Vice Presidents of Technology, Software Managers and the users of the software developed by these candidates and their staffs. On the technical side, this includes those Ph.D.'s in Software Architecture who are creating systems that will render today's IT solutions passť, as well as people who will implement and maintain existing IT technologies for companies. On the business side, we recruit CEO's, VP's of Business Development, CFO's, Marketing VP's, Global Sourcing/ Materials people and others who build e-commerce companies, sell e-commerce services and professionals who make electronic supply chains a reality.

Regarding the cross-border aspect, ART specializes in candidates who think and act like we do: people who understand that just as our telephones do not only make "local" calls or our computers work only in one place but not in another, all business is or is going to be done on a borderless, global scale. We do not work well with provincial mindsets or protectionists. We actively work to recruit people who work well with people who are not in their same town, region or country. Our client-companies like our candidates to "think large" and to be able to carry out their visions. We like candidates who are bilingual or multilingual or who have a fundamental belief that all people are basically alike. We like candidates who know how to tap into the potential customers' or suppliers' knowledge, concerns, desires and goals. We put a great deal of our resources into the recruitment of managers and executives who are needed now by the wise and successful firms of today and who will be desperately required by all firms in the near future.

Our client-companies in e-commerce fall into three big categories. First are the IT consulting firms, large and small. Second are the startups wishing to act as e-commerce portals, electronic auction houses for particular industries or commodities, as internet banks, or as "e-tailers." Third are the well-established companies that are looking for people to add an e-commerce element to their existing sales, marketing or operations structures. Some of these established companies are half-considering going full out with e-commerce, abandoning their traditional sales and marketing channels, while others are tinkering with the idea of creating an internal e-commerce startup and then spinning it off as a separate unit. This is new territory for everyone, but in nearly every case, the ultimate goal is to be conducting business internationally. Sometimes governments, tax laws, distribution or language content hinder the full internationalization of all e-commerce strategies, but in fields like electronics manufacturing, there is already one world market with a common "language" (semiconductors, printed circuit boards, etc.) and cadres of like-minded purchasing and sales managers to make an e-commerce solution an immediately global project.

Q4. Have you found, as I have said, that you can find plenty of experienced people with business-to-consumer experience, but not B-2-B; ie., experience of the general internet consumer market, but not the wider area of cross-border trade, etc.?

We recruit for both the consumer and the business market. Generally speaking, we see many more qualified B-2-B electronic commerce professionals than we see B-2-C people. The key word here is "qualified." For a decade or more, there have been thousands of large and small companies --information technologies services firms, management consulting firms, software firms and computer services firms-- that have been developing, marketing and selling IT and later internet solutions to businesses. From these firms have come the first legions of "e-commerce professionals" to form the top management and middle management ranks of new B-2-B e-commerce startups, as well as the e-commerce operations of the large multinationals. Prior to their new roles, these people have been targeting their energies to specific market sectors, such as banking/ brokerage, automotive, telecoms, etc. Not surprisingly, most of these people continue working in the markets that they know best.

Consumer market e-commerce has much more varied origins. Some of the early founders came out of the computer, ISP or software fields - people who sold computer-related products to consumers, but some, like Jerry Yang, a Stanford engineering student who founded Yahoo!, had no professional "consumer market" experience, but had smarts, free time and vision of what people would want to get from the internet. So to start off, there were few people serving the consumer market in the technology market, and they tended to be overwhelmingly in only Silicon Valley, whereas there are experienced B-2-B people all over the world. The next ranks of Consumer market recruits for e-commerce came out of two very untechnological sources: consumer products companies -marketers selling "brands" of soap, jeans, fastfoods, softdrinks, etc.- and top U.S. business schools, whose MBA's found that instead of working at entry-level jobs at banks they could instantly label themselves as CEO's and CFO's of internet companies that they themselves created.

While the B-2-B e-commerce customers required the results as promised or they would jump ship or make suit, consumer market e-commerce customers still are disproportionally teenagers or young adults who like "cool" websites that appear to offer a lot of "free stuff" while these sites actually are sophisticated marketing information gathering sites that might produce little of substance or profit other than phenomenal stock prices. While many B-2-B e-commerce pros might look down on most B-2-C firms for their frivolous application of IT, B-2-C e-commerce pros should be applauded for their ability to create something from absolutely nothing other than their imagination. We are seeing more and more "qualified" B-2-C electronic commerce people, but since their side of the business is so new, and since people tend to jump rapidly from one new startup to the next, it can be difficult to determine one's true abilities, achievements and potential. At ART we don't like or believe fakers from any field, so if someone is eager to take credit for their achievements, we encourage our clients to put him or her through the wringer and verify their claims before making a hire.

Q5.Are you finding that this area of B-2-B electronic trade is the growing area now for corporates?
Yes. Even companies that barely have websites or whose employees barely even use email or who do not even have computers on their desks are terrified that they will be left out in the cold if they do not wake up and recognize that internet commerce is a reality for nearly every industry or profession, although the applications and needs might be different from industry to industry.

Q6. Why do you think this is? And for what type of companies?
In North America, where shopping malls, cars and fairly efficient product distribution systems are the norm, it can be a major pain to sit in traffic just to buy a book or to buy a pair of pants. In Asia and in many European cities it is still fairly common for women to have to go shopping every day for the night's meal. What if "virtual online supermarkets" were available to deliver to them fresh groceries without their having to slog through the markets? In parts of Africa, India and Latin America, today many women have to spend the better part of their day gathering firewood or water to cook the day's meal. What if wireless computers, perhaps even charging a minimal fee or fees based on advertising or commission from each online transaction, could be brought into rural villages to serve as a virtual online schoolhouse, a library, a medical information source or as an online general store? Competition for their business might cut their costs as they would no longer have to rely on the single merchant in their community. Would people like to see their lives and their childrens' bettered due to an ability to access the world beyond their village? We cannot deny that all the world's people would have better uses for their time if they had other technologies at their disposal. At whatever situation, people want more comfortable lives and they want to spend their time and money more productively.

Handled correctly and democratically, technology can help anyone, and anyone given the choice would prefer to have the option of convenience over drudgery or expense. This a built-in appeal and challenge to many e-commerce programs, as long as they are designed to make the customers' lives easier and more economical, not just the firm's. With the internet, businesses do not need to do as much costly business travel as they had in the past. They do not need to apologize to customers that they do not have their latest product catalogue ready or that they do not have any copies back from the printer, because electronic catalogues can be redone daily in real time. They do not need to feel bad that they are losing business in other times zones because their sales and customer service staffs leave at their --not the customer's-- dinner hour. The internet is the ultimate shop, cinema, post office, distribution system, library, radio, television and bank of the future. The e-commerce solution is great for reaching customers on a worldwide basis, and it might be a phenomenally easy way to reduce operating costs. Not having some sort of e-commerce channel or operation or use at one's business will soon be considered as stupid as not having a telephone at one's place of business.

Q7. What is your message to employers who are looking for these type of people?
First, make sure that they truly understand your company's real e-commerce needs. They may not have come from your specific industry, and it might even be good if they did not come from your industry, but make sure that they are interested in your company's success. Make sure that it "makes sense" that this person would and should want to work at your firm. Do not be boggled by past credentials, schools, pitches, connections or any fast shuffle. Base your hiring decision on the person's actual record of translating a company's needs into e-commerce realities. Second, understand that these people are being offered many lucrative opportunities with stock options while they are interviewing for your vacancy. Regardless of your current salary structure, your offer must be competitive to these other e-commerce opportunities and should include bonuses based on the performance of the e-commerce operation that he or she was hired for. Third, be prepared to follow through with the e-commerce program that you are initiating; many e-commerce managers leave jobs because their firms will not budget them enough money to hire competent programmers, managers and others needed to make the e-commerce program a success. Some firms mistakenly believe that one person alone can be the "e-commerce guru" who could do it all alone. That is impossible.

Most importantly, be prepared to make mistakes or missteps. There is no simple and universal e-commerce solution to every company's needs. Employers and their e-commerce management team must be equally good-humored and flexible and ready to evaluate if directions must be changed immediately or if one should stay the course. E-commerce is a constantly evolving technology. It is a learning process. The standard corporate decisionmaking rulebook may have to be discarded in conducting the same business with the same customers but through an electronic channel. Your competition might cause you to do so. Be as prepared to learn something new every day as much as you should be skeptical of every latest buzzword or cure-all. Remember: everyone is in the same boat.

Nobody knows what will work or what will not work. What works well at your company today might literally be useless six months later. E-commerce is unlike anything else business people have ever experienced. It is not like hiring a competent sales force and letting them do their jobs and then walking away, feeling you have done your job. It is not like working out your supplier relationships after a lot of hard work, and then walking away, feeling you have done your job. It is not even like dealing with your firm's finances and the stock market, even though the bourses can be quirky, irrational and ever-changing. E-commerce might be a small part of your business now, but eventually, it might take in your whole business. It might work this way: today, your firm is a USD $5 billion firm employing tens of thousands with four or five similar worldwide competitors who you know well and who know you well. But two years from from now, half of your business might be lost to twenty startup internet firms employing a total of 1,000 people and using business models that are completely alien to you. Your customers like them because they get the products they need right away when they want them via e-commerce. E-commerce should not be treated as a freaky fad or as a bother but as a necessary demand on your attention that only will get more critical as time goes on. If you are not prepared to deal with the long term repercussions of e-commerce on your enterprise, you need to hire someone who will.

Q8. What can you say to those specialised already in this market?
Be crystal clear about exactly what you have done and what you can and cannot do with regard to e-commerce. Do not overstate your credentials. If you do, you might be able to be able to fool someone into giving you a hefty salary, but when it becomes clear that you cannot perform to their expectations, you will be sent packing, and that dismissal will be a red mark that will taint you career for years to come. Ask yourself what type of e-commerce track you would do best in: as an entrepreneur, starting up your own firm or working in a small startup with scarce resources; as a corporate e-commerce person, more interested in job stability and promotion within an existing organization; or as a "hired gun," a consultant working from company to company providing e-commerce help and then moving on. And for gosh sake, in your resume or CV, do not describe yourself as a "visionary!" Be humble, because there are many people with your experience or better. You might have been the only person at your firm who was permitted to dabble into internet technologies, but that does not make you the king or queen of all there is to know about e-commerce. Be prepared to admit when you do not know something and be prepared to find out where to get an answer. Enjoy your life. You have many great opportunities ahead, and your work will be invaluable in creating a new world economy.

Q9. Do answers differ according to where around the world you are recruiting?
Yes. In Silicon Valley, the e-commerce capital, many people know the terms, the technologies, the people, and the financials. There are so many variations of e-commerce in Silicon Valley, and so many examples of successful e-commerce entrepreneurs that it isn't hard to determine quickly if a candidate would work out reasonably well at a particular firm. He or she might tell you straightaway and might explain why a particular job would or would not work out. In Europe, Asia, and among many lower tech industries in the U.S., electronic commerce is not well understood, so e-commerce executives, middle managers and professionals are like pioneers or missionaries bravely trying to evangelize the masses, often with frustrating results. Sometimes these candidates are afraid of e-commerce startups because there are very few startups in their countries and because they fear that the larger companies will use their influence to squash them.

Many business executives all over the world still are frankly suspicious of any business transaction that occurs without men in dark suits and white shirts and bold neckties gathering around a table with thick paper contracts and ballpoint pens. They have always done business this way. Their corporations have always done business that way. They are afraid of the future because for the first time in their careers they are confronted with a hugely unknowable but nevertheless alluring question mark. It is hard to blame them for their worries, because, after all, e-commerce is the twin-headed angel or devil that offers them the possibility of becoming billionaires or having their companies wiped out because of one little website.


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