Executive Recruitment in Fintech with Martin Mendelsohn of Kingsley Gate Partners | Soar Payments LLC

Executive Recruitment in Fintech with Martin Mendelsohn of Kingsley Gate Partners

When it comes to talent acquisition and retention, executive recruitment plays a crucial role. In this episode we sat down with Martin Mendelsohn, Senior Partner at Kingsley Gate Partners to explore the ever changing landscape of building a career in Fintech.

Payments & Fintech Insights In This Episode

  • How to identify ideal qualities in a company that help to attract the “right” talent.
  • Investing in talent acquisition to ensure talent retention.
  • The ways the model of internal role development in Fintech has been abbreviated to foster a flexible and adaptable work environment.
  • Determining the qualities in someone who is looking to transition their career into an executive position and the role of recruitment in that process.
  • And so much more!

Episode Transcript

Heather: Hi, everyone. Welcome to “PayPod.” I’m your host, Heather Bodie. And today we are going to be discussing recruiting and career development in the payments and Fintech industry. Joining me is Martin Mendelsohn, senior partner of Kingsley Gate Partners, where he specializes in executive recruitment for technology companies in emerging and developing markets. Martin, welcome to the show.

Martin: Thank you, Heather. Nice to meet you.

Heather: Before we tackle specifics when it comes to recruiting executives for fintech careers, tell me a little bit about you. How did your own personal career develop and how did you end up with Kingsley Gate Partners?

Martin: Well, when I graduated from college, I had an opportunity to go to Bear Stearns, which no longer exists in an analyst program, or to go to Russia on a graduate degree program, a year in Russia and a year in Ohio State. And I opted for the latter that opened up all kinds of opportunities for me. Fast forward, several years, I finished up an MBA. I started a private equity fund focused on emerging markets, primarily Russia and the CIS. Wrote it up, wrote it down, and that, I guess, qualified me for executive search. I’ve been doing this for two decades now. Started off…

Heather: But you’re certainly qualified now.

Martin: I hope so. Started off in a large search firm and went to a smaller one. We grew that and we started up this firm about seven years ago. We’re now 250 folks across the globe and we’re also private equity-owned now.

Heather: I don’t know if you have the same experience, but I know in my own career path, there have been multiple endeavors where I thought, “Am I qualified for this? Is this the right move for me?” And then turn around and 8, 9, 10 years has gone by and suddenly I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I am officially qualified.” I got there.

So, yeah, I imagine that even if at the beginning it didn’t feel as comfortable or as inevitable as you had anticipated, that by now, I don’t know, I guess my question is, do you feel uniquely suited for the role that you’ve ended up in?

Martin: Look, that’s a great question simply because after you’ve been in an industry for a while, you either really like it or you’re pigeonholed and it’s really hard to get out. If you go into consulting and when I say consulting, I’m broadly speaking of Consulting, you have many different options to pursue and you’re also able to be more flexible and agile in case a market starts to go sideways on you, which often happens.

For example, if you’re restructuring out and the market’s buoyant, and there’s no restructuring to do, maybe you can be a value creation, a cost optimization, a process improvement, a performance improvement type person. I just like consulting because I think it gives you many opportunities to see many different scenarios and companies and industries. And that just plays to my broad skill set. I think maybe the issue is I was a liberal arts major with an MBA who never wanted to declare a major, and consulting’s a good field for that. You can have multiple spikes without having one definitive major.

Heather: So let’s discuss Kingsley Gate Partners. I know your current focus lies in executive talent search for technology and industrial companies. What other industries and functions does your firm serve?

Martin: We cover industrial retail, life sciences medical devices, financial services, professional services, which spans consulting advisory, etc. And we have functional practice areas. So we have individuals who do nothing but CHRO, chief people officer searches, CFO, or finance officer searches, and the like.

Heather: I wanna talk about both the company side and the talent side of the experience. And I know when it comes to talent acquisition, attracting the right person can be this daunting and often complicated process. When you’re working with a new company and searching for the right fit for their organization, what are the ideal qualities of the company that talent is drawn to?

Martin: Okay. That issue has changed drastically in the last two, two and a half years.

Heather: Ooh, juicy. I can’t wait.

Martin: Well, it’s changed from a positive side and a negative side. So as you can see with the Great Resignation, or the Great Resign, or whatever you wanna call it, people are much more inclined to opt for scenarios where they have more flexibility from let’s call it a work-life balance and from a work from home or a work remotely balance. So companies who are more traditional and would require their employees to be on-site visible to the boss, those companies are having a much harder time recruiting senior folks.

Now, they would also have to recruit folks who fit a certain archetype. So it’s not necessarily the newer younger demographic who is going to be attracted to those more traditional companies. In fact, the younger demographic is not going to be gravitating toward those companies. Also, there’s the idea of the gig economy. So a more traditional approach to one’s career is stay at a place for five, seven years, get promoted once or twice, perhaps look outside, and then go for another five or seven years.

Anyone who works or who worked at a place for less than two or three years was looked at as a job hopper and somebody who I would say most executive search professionals would be less likely to look at. In today’s reality, folks are going six months to a year in places.

The company may acquire, the company may go away, the technology may shift, but people who take on new skills as they mature with their companies and in their lives are the ones who are tending to come out at the top simply because there’s so much change. It’s so rapid, you are forced to be so much more adaptable and technology is the driver of everything, particularly in the U.S.

Heather: I wanna talk a little bit about, you talked about the sort of big, larger components of what attracts talent. I think we have to mention when talking specifically around Fintech or just the technology boom, in general, the sort of shiny objects that a lot of newer technology companies offer as benefits to their employees.

You know, the sort of like trope around there’s smoothies in the morning and catered lunch in the afternoon, and there’s a nap room, all these sort of culture and location perks. Those sorts of things along with, like you said, this sort of changing dynamic over the last couple of years attract the talent, but what have you found over the course of your career that enables companies to retain that talent?

Martin: I think if we look back at the old-school GE model, which was every two to three years, a new role inside of their family of companies, inside of one of their portfolio companies, let’s call it, that model has been abbreviated today to a model where people are taking on new roles inside of a company every six months to a year.

And you can fail fast today and be successful over the midterm with a Yandex, with a Google, with a Meta, because the companies foster a climate and environment of trying new things, being flexible and adaptable, learning new things on the job, learning things on the fly. And very flat org structures, I’m not advocating a flat org structure, but I think that in the technology world, having a flat org structure tends to be better, particularly for the millennial generation and for demographics under the age of 50.

Heather: So when you’re seeking individuals for Fintech placements, do you find yourself looking for and focusing on folks with a very distinct history of Fintech experience, or have you found that there are other industries where executives are uniquely qualified, like I was mentioning earlier, you know, we were talking about the big C consulting, where executives are uniquely qualified to transition into Fintech?

Martin: I think the higher up the hierarchy, the higher up the food chain you go, the less likely companies are going to be inclined to take a chance on an individual without a proven track record in that industry, in that technology, or in that software, whatever it is the company may be producing or selling. And that’s just a matter of commercial sense.

You’re not going to bring in an outsider unless you need a radical change in your organization, which can also happen. But, in general, if the company’s doing well, you don’t wanna shift strategies drastically to someone who doesn’t know your industry because they’re not going to know the competitive landscape. They’re not going to know the M&A environment. They’re not going to know what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in your company and in your industry, which means that the learning curve is gonna be that much deeper for that individual.

Now, if you go back to what the companies are looking for and whether they’re flexible in terms of their view of folks who are coming in from the outside, I think at the lower and mid-levels, particularly the mid-level, and let’s call that the associate director, director, senior manager, anything below managing director levels, where individuals have 10 to 15 years of career experience max, companies are increasingly flexing to bring on individuals who don’t fit the traditional mold for two reasons.

One, the labor market is so tight. You have to open up the aperture a bit. Two, because companies are looking at it and saying, maybe we do need some change. Maybe we do need some fresh ideas. Maybe we do need an alternate view of our industry, but they’re not going to go from, let’s say, waste management to software development. They’re going to go from something that’s adjacent.

And that’s why when we talked about consulting earlier in our discussion, you can find folks who come out of consulting firms who have touched on that specific area the company may be focused on, and those people will understand what’s going on in that industry and they’ll be able to pick up complex topics pretty quickly.

Heather: Glad that you spoke to this idea of flexing in those parameters for what companies are looking for in that executive search because something that I’m sure a lot of our listeners are curious about who are sort of not newer as in the first couple of years of their financial technology careers, but maybe more in that 5 to 10-year range that you were talking about, and they don’t see a direct path in their current place of employment for advancement the way they’d like.

What kinds of qualities are you looking for in those individuals who are in that pocket where companies might be willing to flex and look at those folks with a little bit fewer years under their belt for those higher-level positions?

Martin: Well, you raise an interesting point when you say direct experience to get to the next level. So if they don’t have direct experience, that can be fine if they are tangentially experienced, or they’ve touched on similar areas and they have a desire to constantly learn and take on new projects and please their supervisors to the point where the supervisors are asking them to take on new projects and they’re able to manage the projects from A to Z, and they’re not asking a lot of questions, and they come up with ideas, and the ideas don’t need to be right.

The ideas can be totally wrong, but that’s okay because what you’re doing now is you’re showing your supervisors and your colleagues that you’re someone who can be relied on, one, not to tow the party line, which today, I think is a big plus, particularly in technology services companies, although towing line’s important from a structural standpoint, but I’m just saying from an idea standpoint. And two, because you’re able to bring in a different perspective and you’re able to ideally work across a broad range of constituents.

So you’re not the person who’s looked at as being siloed and wanting to be siloed and wanting to stay in his or her lane, you’re someone who’s looked at as being an individual upon whom the company can build and someone who the company can rely on for the most complex of challenges as a team member, maybe not a leader today, and perhaps tomorrow, you’ll be that team or project leader

Heather: At a high level, what positions within payments and Fintech, or frankly, across any of the industries that you work alongside are you seeing the need for the most help right now? Where are the career opportunities?

Martin: Okay. If we talk about the Fintech and payments space, I would say that the key area is going to be business development and sales for companies that are looking to scale. And each category of company is going to be looking at something a little bit different for its requirements, but at an earlier stage, at a rapid growth stage, business development, sales, merchant acquisition, new account development, expanding an account with a major retailer internationally, so someone who has a little bit of international experience as well, or maybe the person speaks another language. So the company can say, wow, you speak Hindi, or you speak French, maybe we can get into these new markets. So I think that that’s increasingly important.

The payments industry is so global, there are no borders. And if you just look at some of the developments with Bitcoin and crypto, the regulators are 10 steps behind that’s why they’re not allowing it to happen. So I would say that…you asked another question about what jobs or what roles are of particular importance, and I talked only about the earlier to mid-stage companies. The latter-stage companies, let’s call them the growth companies that are maybe a $100 million to $200 million and up in revenues, those companies tend to be looking for more…obviously, the sale is important and critical, but they’re also thinking about alliances, partnerships because they don’t wanna develop the stuff themselves if they can find a partner to work with them to expand their network.

And they’re looking at folks who are, let’s call them more CIOs, chief information officers, not CPOs. So it’s more the where does the information meet the services, meet the acquisition, meet the delivery versus how do we set up the nicest cloud server arrangement?

Heather: I want to pivot back to you specifically and your career path in recruiting. Over the course of your two-decade career in executive search, what are a couple of big learnings you’ve had or patterns you’ve noticed along the way that have impacted your approach to that process?

Martin: I’d say one would be listening. So I think that something that differentiates our company, I’d like to say, is that our partners listen to our clients. We hear our clients, we digest and we process. I’ve been at executive search firms prior where we think we know what the solution is and we share that proposed solution with our clients, and that may not be the right approach because you don’t really know exactly what the client wants you think you know because you’ve seen the show before because you’ve been at that rodeo.

But the fact is every client is different. Every role is different. And there’s no cookie-cutter solution to solving a senior-level executive search in our industry, which basically means that you yourself have to be thoughtful. You have to think broadly. And you have to understand where the client is in its current development, what the CEO’s culture is, what the organizational culture aspires to be like, and from what company might be relevant for your client.

Heather: You find yourself not only sitting back and listening, but also playing a role in strategizing with that company about how they can also sort of…that it can be both-sided, right? That you not only sit and listen to their wants and needs, but also that you’re in this together and you’re sort of advising them on shifts and adjustments within that role or within the culture in order to recruit the highest level of talent.

Martin: Well, look, I love that question because I like to see myself in that role, but every client’s different. And some clients put you in a box, they say, “You’re the recruiter. You solve it for us. Go find it.” I think my old boss used to say something like, “They call it search, we call it fetch. It’s basically recruiting, but you can call whatever you want,” something to that.

But the fact is when I have a relationship with a client, that relationship evolves over time and they rely on you increasingly, and they rely on you to help them think through what the role might look like, what the leveling should be, what the compensation needs to be, what the compensation structure needs to be, where that talent may reside, and how they should go about managing a search like this. Also the messaging to the marketplace is critical. If you’re not really knowledgeable about the company and about what the challenge is that the company is facing, it’s hard to engage with candidate prospects because the market’s hot, people have not a ton of time.

They may have a bit more time than they had a year ago because they were able to work remotely or they’re on their phone in Starbucks, but, in general, people don’t really wanna move that much. I mean, it’s a market of…the candidates are the drivers in the marketplace today. The clients are at a disadvantage. That may shift back. I suspect it will in the next 12 to 18 months, but for the near-term and also for the last 18 months, it’s been a completely candidate-driven market with lots of money coming to the market from PE and VC firms, as well as strategic acquisitors.

Heather: I am, and pardon my ignorance to the process in this question, I have been on the other side where I’ve been contacted by executive search folks. How often do you have individuals reaching out to you saying I’m looking for a new placement, or I’m looking for a company? Does it go both ways, or are you most often is the process usually starting with the company that’s looking to place an individual and then you go out and, like you said, fetch, search, whatever game you call it?

Martin: Yeah. If I look at it from the candidate perspective, it’s really useful and beneficial to have relationships with executive search professionals in your marketplace. Not having those relationships or not developing those relationships over your career means that you are at a disadvantage when it comes to the shortlist of those five individuals whom we are going to put in front of our client to say, we know these four people and here’s why we think that they fit.

Now, the way that you develop that over time is you can reach out to us. And in many cases, we may reply. You can try to track us down for a coffee at some time, which I think is something that I would do if I were in that position. Because if you’re at a point in your career where you would be an attractive candidate to us, and you know that we do work in this specific niche because maybe one of your colleagues was recruited by us or for us, then it’s worth it to reach out to us.

Now, the other factor is you should always look at the recruiter call as something that’s a two-way street. So I call you and you’re not the person for me. Well, tell me, you’re not the person for me, but then refer me to one or two people who you think might be more relevant for me. And we’re probably not gonna forget that. And then we stay in touch and we’re happy to return the favor if and when we can.

Heather: All about relationship, I feel like at every step of the way throughout life.

Martin: Very much so.

Heather: I wanna take a second and talk about…before we wrap up, I feel like I would be remiss to not touch on the fact that there is so much geopolitical upheaval right now, and you do focus on executive search in the global markets. How might that impact the payments and Fintech industry?

Martin: Okay, fair question. Transactions are not going to stop. In certain regions and markets today, the volume of these transactions is going to slow down significantly just because their economies are being negatively impacted by developments, Russia, Ukraine, and the adjacent areas, but the market isn’t gonna go away. So payment processing services and just the technology development around these services, it’s not gonna change.

What might change that we’re going to see more countries moving toward non-regulated or non-official currencies. You may also see a move away from the dollar because you can see Russia and Saudi with oil sales, possibly moving toward the renminbi, the Chinese currency. So I think there are multiple factors that come into play here, but from a fintech industry perspective and from a candidate and recruiting perspective, it is only going to become a more competitive marketplace.

The technology is moving very rapidly and that includes payments, transfers, micropayments, companies like Venmo, companies like Wise, which is a former TransferWise, companies like Hedgewiz and Finaro, these are all companies where you’re seeing rapid innovation that’s disrupting the market. And it’s just a matter of those companies getting the word out and adaptation from the user side. So it’s a long way of saying there’s a lot of change, change is gonna be a constant, the market won’t go away, and there will continue to be opportunities, increasingly global opportunities for individuals with relevant skills.

Heather: All right, Martin, the time has come. We close out every show with five questions, rapid-fire. Are you ready?

Martin: Sure.

Heather: Make a prediction about the changes in the immediate future of executive search needs. And you may have just touched on it. What’s going to happen in the next 12 to 24 months?

Martin: Technology will be an increasing driver in hiring decisions and the industry is going to continue to be on fire, but it’s gonna slow down in late 2023.

Heather: Woohoo, okay. What’s one cool piece of payment or finance-related technology that you’ve come across recently that impressed you?

Martin: I would say, I mentioned TransferWise. It’s called Wise now. It’s an amazing company. All my friends use it. My family uses it. I use it. It’s great for currency conversion. It’s great for transferring money. It’s great for small transfers, for medium-sized transfers, and it’s super global. And it’s all online. It’s like having a virtual bank account in multiple currencies without it getting charged for it.

Heather: Amazing in the next five years, most people will make a purchase like you’re saying in an alternative currency, Bitcoin, or maybe through Apple Pay, which one and why?

Martin: Part of that will depend on the regulators and the regulatory environment. If it becomes a tighter regulatory environment, you’re going to see less of crypto and Bitcoin. So I’d go with Apple Pay just because it’s ubiquitous, because the phones themselves are so user-friendly, and because even I use Apple Pay and I’m not the most technology savvy guy. You just put your phone on the thing of a jig and you walk away and you bought it.

Heather: It’s magic.

Martin: It is. It is, Heather.

Heather: It really is. I say that to almost every single poor person anywhere I’m checking out in any kind of location, I’m always like, “It’s magic.” They’re like, “It’s not new, Heather. It’s not new.”

Martin: You’re right.

Heather: What’s one piece of advice you have for someone who’s considering Fintech as a career?

Martin: Look to rapidly advance your career by taking on new challenges, by looking at new technologies, by being intellectually curious about your industry and about your function and help your bosses be more successful.

Heather: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received and from whom? This one always gets people. I love it.

Martin: I don’t wanna say something trite like buy low, sell high.

Heather: Those things exist for a reason.

Martin: I would say that the best business advice is something that you can pick up from the Bible, which is treat others as you would like them to treat you, or as you would like to be treated. In a professional setting, it’s all about relationships. People go to those people whom they like, who’ve they worked with in the past, and who are good. And the only way you get that is through experience. One of my mentors said to me, “There’s no scholarship to the school of life.” And boy was he right.

Heather: I love that. I feel like it’s a positive manifestation of something that often gets a negative connotation, which is it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I’ve always found that funny that people say that was sort of a little bit of a stink on because at the end of the day, if you know somebody but don’t have a positive and established relationship with them, that’s not gonna get you anywhere either. So cultivating those relationships. And like you said, treating people the way you’d like to be treated can take you incredibly far. So thank you for that.

Martin: Absolutely. Thank you.

Heather: That does it, Martin. Thank you so much for joining us today. If folks wanna get in touch with you or learn more about your firm, where can they find you?

Martin: Www.kingsleygate.com, and I think there are clickthrough links to our partners in case you’re looking for a specific industry or a person to talk to.

Heather: Wonderful. Thanks so much.

Martin: Thank you.

Heather: If you enjoyed this episode and wanna hear more head on over to soarpay.com/podcast to subscribe on your podcast listening platform of choice. That’s soarpay.com/podcast.

Industry Spotlight

Kingsley Gate Partners

The executive search industry is ripe for change. True disruption needs vision and courage. It needs a firm filled with people who are not just willing to change but who want to be the very ones to leave their fingerprints on the transformation itself. Kingsley Gate Partners is a global executive search consulting firm founded with one vision in mind – to transform the world of executive search. Our partnership spans over five continents with completed searches in over 30 countries. Our mission and value proposition is simple: more Accurate, higher Velocity search by ensuring that our consultants are armed with mobile-first, cloud-based tools that help them give our clients differentiated insight on candidates. Every Future Has a Story! Read about the exciting future of executive search at www.kingsleygate.com