Germans are in the greatest demand and shortest supply. The German education system is not suited to the production of investment bankers. High-flying Germans typically emerge from education aged 27. For an industry that has traditionally embraced 22-year-olds, this is somewhat on the mature side. 'There has never been a broad training ground for top calibre Germans. They are old before they hit the street,' reflects Jurgen Vanfelow of Egon Zehnder in Frankfurt.
Having finally launched their careers, ambitious Germans often head to London or New York. Lower remuneration in Frankfurt has not helped matters, although shortages mean that the gap is closing. Sabina Whela at Heidrick & Struggles' Frankfurt office says: 'In M&A, pay in Frankfurt is now level with London. Competition for people is so high in Germany that it really is a war.'
The battle has been made more interesting by what looks like a ban on the heavy artillery. A case currently in the German federal courts seems set to make it illegal for headhunters to call candidates at work. Both the telephone line and the individual's time are deemed to have been purchased by their employer, in whose interest calls from headhunters are felt to be detrimental. Headhunting in Germany would therefore seem to be restricted to calling individuals at home.
The courts have yet to reach a decision, but German headhunters are sanguine about its impact, even if it may render their daytime activities unlawful. 'It hasn't changed anything for us, we're still calling in office hours,' says one. Another says: 'It's rubbish. It would make it impossible to conduct any kind of private business from the office.' However, neither is prepared to go on the record with such statements.
London-based headhunters who call Germany are not exempt from the implications of the case. But they do have the advantage of distance, something that would make any future law difficult to enforce.
In fact, continental Europe has long been the domain of the large international headhunting firms, whose offices on the ground may make them vulnerable to the vagaries of national laws. Egon Zehnder lays claim to being the largest European operator. Russell Reynolds, Spencer Stuart, Korn Ferry, and Heidrick & Struggles also have offices dotted across the Continent.
There is agreement that Europe is now crucial to any search in investment banking. But the jury is still out on the need for an office outside London. Some UK-based recruiters cope perfectly well without one. Anthony May of Baines Gwinner says: 'Fortyfive per cent of the work in our London office now involves other European jurisdictions. There is a need to separate the idea of having a global capability from the idea that you need to have offices all over the world.'
May's rationale for a single European office in London is two-pronged. First, many of the hiring decisions are made in London or New York. Second, firms with offices across Europe must delegate to the relevant national office. This adds complexity to the process and creates conflicts over fees and nightmares over off-limits policies.
'We felt that we could better serve our clients from the London office alone,' reflects May, adding that this was a factor that contributed to the failure of Baines' Gwinner's merger with the more omnipresent Heidrick & Struggles.
Other UK headhunters are less convinced of the merits of staying out of Europe. Mark Woodhouse at Whitehead Mann GKR says: 'As part of our growth strategy we will have an office in Germany.' Whether the people in that office will be making daytime calls is another question.