Garner seeks order from human resources chaos

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Garner's model is Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP group. He sees big similarities between what was the highly fragmented marketing services industry and human resources which is served by a multitude of players. But WPP, by buying up brands and letting them run as autonomous businesses under one roof, has managed to start consolidating the marketing industry.

Garner says: 'Human resources is also a fragmented industry where top management struggles to find companies that can supply them with the broadest range of services that they need to outsource. WPP has managed to change the supply side and build a brand. Constellation aims to do the same.'

After 13 years with Boyden - one of the world's leading search firms - Garner finally decided to set up on his own some three years ago. 'I ran the firm in New York for seven years and could see how the industry was changing. I thought I should have a shot at doing it myself.'

So, with the help of friendly investors, Garner created Constellation last year following the reverse takeover of Upton & Southern, a North of England retailer that has been cleaned out of its shops. Last year pre-tax profit was 700,000 (€1.1m) and the 1p shares value the business at 9.8m.

As you would expect from a leading headhunter Garner's first and most critical move was to find himself the very best of non-executives. He tempted Bruce Lakefield, the former chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers International, who helped turn around the overseas operations of the investment bank. 'I knew I needed someone who knew the US, deals and money. Bruce was absolutely perfect and a brilliant adviser for us.' Lakefield has also invested $500,000 of his own money in the venture.

Then Garner went for John Bartle, the ex-joint chief executive of the Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising agency. 'This industry is about prima donnas and brands. I knew that John would know both and was an acknowledged pro in his field.'

To date, Constellation's first star is a thriving executive search business, Garner International, supplying the corporate world. His most high profile and recent searches were to place James Crosby, the dynamic chief executive of the Halifax, now HBOS, and Andy Hornby, the chief executive of Halifax Retail. At 33, Hornby is the youngest board director of a FTSE company. Another headhunt for Halifax will complete the hat trick.

Other FTSE hunts have included placing Ron Sandler, head of Lloyds of London, and David Reid, the deputy chairman of Tesco, as non-executive directors on the Greenalls board. Financial services, specifically consumer and capital markets search, is a big growth area for Garner. He has bought top-rated search practices in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and hopes to add substantial new hires for capital markets search in London over the next few weeks.

Garner says that the capital markets industry needs to make huge adjustments to the type of people it hires and the way it rewards them. 'The cheque-book hiring and the three-year guaranteed bonus promise - just to get people to sit down at the desk - in the last few years has to be rethought,' he says.

'For the past few years everyone has been following trends in the market, such as the sheer stupidity of the dash for growth in the internet and technology sectors. Now investment banks need people who can spot and find the trends. They need leaders and really talented individuals who will also want something more long term than bonuses. Serious equity participation is one of the ways this can be addressed.' Garner points to the example set by Lakefield at Lehman who helped turn the culture from one where staff owned 7% of stock to 32%. 'There has been tremendous greed and now it is time to build for the long term,' he says.

Indeed, Garner has the most pertinent thoughts on the future of work and the most chilling of conclusions. He is writing his second book, titled Futurework, with Professor Cary Cooper, the occupational psychologist, that challenges how workaholicism has become a virtue in Western society, particularly for the middle classes. 'Unfortunately, the notion of passing your exams, working hard through your life and then retirement is over. We, in the broadest sense, simply can't afford this any more. So business and workers will have to adjust - people will have to have sufficient skills so that they can be employable for longer and not simply employed.' Garner, who lectures at Harvard, LBS and the Judge Institute among other business schools, says: 'Most importantly people - and this is just as pertinent for financial services as elsewhere in industry - will have to be bold enough to be even more individual. 'There are too many stereotypes coming out of the business schools.. The commoditisation of education will have to be challenged and differentiation is going to be more critical to success than ever', he says.

As to Garner's own future, he hopes to have added a couple of new and more distinctive brands to place in his Constellation over the next few months.