Scenting a growing opportunity in the leadership hiring space, seven-year-old specialist staffing firm Xpheno, founded by recruitment industry veterans Kamal Karanth and Anil Ethanur, has now launched a dedicated executive search division. Siddharth Verma, who has been with Xpheno since it was founded and has 18 years of experience in executive hiring, has been appointed as the head of Xpheno Executive Search.

For Xpheno, which started by providing talent solutions in founder minus one role for the start-up industry and GCCs and expanded into RPO (recruitment process outsourcing), the decision to have a dedicated division for leadership roles comes from rising demand. 

The opportunity

There has been growing movement in the CXO space, creating opportunities for search firms. Xpheno’s annual study of “leadership talent corridors and talent exchange patterns of professionals in leadership roles” revealed some fascinating statistics. For example, the study found that in the last year (between January 2023 and January 2024), 3,600 executives in leadership roles moved to Bangalore, while 3,000 moved out. “Many of these movements were facilitated by executive search firms,” says Kamal Karanth, co-founder , Xpheno. The numbers for Hyderabad were similar. “We are confident that our Xpheno Executive Search business will influence many such CXO movements in 2024,” he says.

In addition, Karanth points out how, with more and more GCCs coming to India, the opportunity for CXO hiring has risen. “Last year 50 GCCs came, the year before there were 60 who entered India - each GCC coming means there will be a minimum of 12 to 15 CXOs they will hire.”

Add to this the greenfield opportunity. Over the last five years, Xpheno has helped find talent for 30 new tech companies setting up shop in India. Siddharth Verma points out, “Having recruited several senior executives for over 30 greenfields over the last five years gives us an immediate heads-up, in-depth understanding of business contexts, and a real-time assessment of the evolving leadership needs of organisations.”

Karanth also points out how CEO tenures are getting shorter. “With the tenure of CEOs also coming down, from a volume and segregation point of view, it made sense for us to set up a separate team,” he says.

For the recruitment industry, he says, the IPO boom has also spelt an opportunity, as firms are ramping up finance and legal teams, and seeking out CFOs and compliance heads.

The great Indian talent pool

The talent survey conducted by Xpheno estimates that India has an active, accessible leadership talent pool of 1.6Mn professionals holding positions as CXOs, Directors, VPs/AVPs and Heads & Chiefs of enterprise functions.

It says that the accessible leadership talent of India has a gender mix of 17 per cent female and 83 per cent male. In fact, Diversity hiring is proving to be another opportunity area for the recruitment industry.

Other interesting vignettes from the survey are that 23 per cent of the total active accessible leadership talent are Emerging Leaders with less than ten years of professional experience, and 47 per cent of the leadership talent pool is in the Operational Leaders cohort with 10 to 20 years of experience range. Twenty-one per cent are in the Strategic Leaders cohort with 20+ years of experience.

Building Scale

Xpheno has been steadily growing and now has a team of 310 recruiters. It opened an office in the US last September, with former Kelly Services executive John Healy roped in to head the operations out of Delaware. The focus of the US office, says Karanth, is to find talent for Indian companies expanding to the US and assist large MNCs coming to India right from their shores.