Interview with Daversa Partners’ Wendy Colvano – Director & Head of Europe
With investors looking towards Europe as a hotspot for business acceleration, the need to get in touch with talented executives who are up to today’s challenges is right at the top of many companies’ agendas. But are traditional means of executive search adequate for that purpose? Wendy Colvano of Daversa Partners thinks not. Here, she tells us more.
Thank you for sharing your time with us, Ms Colvano! Can we begin with a few words on what initially drew you into executive search?
Like many others who have built a career in executive search, I stumbled into this industry. After interning at Daversa during university, I realized this was a unique opportunity to combine my desire to be in business, passion for emerging technologies, and my curiosity and passion for people. Over time, the visibility of my own impact and challenge of the rigour required to be successful really made this industry one I knew I would go on to build my career in.
Founded in 1993, Daversa Partners has established itself as a household name in executive search. What’s it like working for a company that is responsible for building the leadership teams of some of the most successful brands today?
Honestly, it’s a privilege. Having the opportunity to start my career and learn from and be supported by the most seasoned leaders, including Paul, who have worked with the best in our industry has been a springboard to so many opportunities. We are truly entering an era where the companies conceived in the next decade will change the world we live in, and to say I have been a part of so many of these journeys is humbling to think about. I also think it’s important to recognize that, while we’ve been in business for almost 30 years, the entrepreneurial mentality we all possess set us apart in the industry.
I’m sure that making the move from New York to London was no small undertaking. You’ve gone on to be an indispensable key player who has helped to build Daversa Partners’ European practice. What do you think are the specific qualities that led you to this success and what were the opportunities you saw on a global scale?
Five years ago, I started coming out to London regularly and I consistently noticed a palpable energy around the massive opportunity in EU tech. There was a sense of inspiration, community and ambition that I was immediately drawn to and I saw the opportunity to be a meaningful player in a developing ecosystem and to support entrepreneurs through our unique understanding of one of their most critical barriers to success: talent. In taking the leap from inspiration to action, two qualities come to mind. The first was obvious from the day I decided to move, and that’s trust. I trusted my team and peers, the leaders at this firm and myself implicitly; this fuelled my conviction on our vision. The second is fearlessness; I give the same advice to my clients and candidates, which is that it can be hard to embrace the “unknown”, yet that’s where true growth happens.
We hear all the time in the European market that Daversa Partners brings a different style and brand of recruiting. What is that and why?
Traditional EU search firms use the shortlist model, which both extends the search and hinders results. We believe that getting out of the gates quickly in the first week of a search is absolutely crucial for ensuring successful outcomes. Our process results in rapid acceleration and focuses on fluidity, agility, and precision. Speaking candidly, the shortlist model has no place in modern recruiting. It’s an archaic practice and the EU market is ripe for disruption; we are doing just that. Our brand of search is one that has been building some of the most successful companies in Silicon Valley for nearly 30 years, and we have brought this style here to Europe. Additionally, the majority of other firms who grew their EU and global presence did so by way of acquisition, whereas Daversa was built 100-per-cent organically, ensuring that our learned approach to search and the quality of service we deliver remain consistent every single time.
What is Daversa’s perspective on the current state of the European venture and private tech markets now vs the last decade?
There is no denying that we are at an inflection point in Europe, especially when you look at the sheer influx of capital from funds looking to diversify their portfolios and repeat success in new and untapped markets. The amount of VC dollars flowing into Europe reached $28 billion for just last quarter and showed an overall increase of 138 per cent year over year in the third quarter. Ten years ago, we never would have seen this geographical spread and reach that we are seeing today, mostly because the majority of global investors were focused primarily on US-based tech companies. Based on what we are seeing, I believe the companies here may accelerate faster than any other geography, following Silicon Valley to date.
What does the talent pool look like in the EU now compared to the last 5–10 years?
I think for the past several years, there has been this preconceived notion that to attain great talent on a global scale, these individuals would need to relocate from Silicon Valley; this is false. While relocations are a natural part of our industry, the EU talent pool is on a tear and “homegrown talent” is flourishing (as is the entire EU ecosystem), like I mentioned earlier. As it relates to Daversa, our horizontal and vertical depth, coupled with our ability to pattern-match, uniquely positions the firm to track the flow of high-impact talent moving across Europe and the globe.
Our data analysts focus on cultivating the top 10 per cent of future executives that we believe will drive unparalleled results. Our analysts identify this talent and initiate introductions with our leadership team to develop relationships with current and next-gen operators and founders. This is KEY, as it relates to unearthing the ever-growing talent pool in Europe.
What is the overall vision / strategy / outlook for Daversa? What are your predictions around the future of EU search?
At our core, our strategy is based on the fact that Daversa moves together as one, and our firm is built on collaboration and connectivity. So, what does that mean? We’re not a search firm that is HQ’d in the US and happens to have an international arm. Instead, we have built this firm around a global standard of recruitment, meaning we have access and reach, and are able to deliver material impact executives from San Francisco to Singapore. Looking ahead, we believe that over the next decade, our beachhead in London has a chance to supersede our current stronghold in the US.
As it relates to the future of EU search, and I know mentioned this earlier, but the time for change is now. The stakes are higher and the competition is fierce. The ability to bring efficiency, access and quality is what sets us apart from more traditional EU search models and firms. Simply put, the old playbook won’t win.
How much of your recruitment process have you altered to fit the changing landscape of a post-pandemic workforce?
In my opinion, the fundamentals of how we recruit has not changed. Instead, the pandemic showed us that this was a watershed moment for hiring executive talent, which speaks to Daversa’s rigorous process. That being said, I think tech as a whole has seen radical transformation; this industry rallied and learned to adapt quickly to a new “normal”. For the first time, companies were making key executive hires having never met these candidates in person. As a firm, we made 750+ successful placements during the thick of COVID-19, proving that you can make and build successful relationships over Zoom.
Daversa Partners’ global workforce is 64 per cent women, with 58 per cent working across senior leadership teams, giving the company one of the largest percentages of women in leadership roles. Can you tell us how it feels to work for a company that actively works toward diversity?
For the last five years, the #womenintech movement has made incredible strides and has undoubtedly moved the needle for women in Silicon Valley and tech as whole. Daversa Partners has been around for nearly 30 years, and from the start this was deeply ingrained into the company’s ethos. Paul, along with the entire leadership team, has always advocated, supported and championed all women at this firm. I think this is so important given our position in industry; we have an obligation to make sure the “needle” never stops moving. I’m proud of the impact we have had internally, and how our own commitment to diversity also extends to the leadership teams we’ve built externally.
A fiercely driven and passionate individual, Wendy Colvano learned that hard work combined with a fast pace is what it takes to become a relentless headhunter. She operates with a level of urgency and organization that delivers game-changing talent. A key member of Daversa’s international practice, Wendy moved from Manhattan to London to build out Daversa’s office there and has worked with some of the most disruptive start-ups across Europe. Her results set a global standard for recruitment with C & VP-level placements for Deliveroo, Farfetch, GoCardless, Coupang and Trainline. Wendy transferred from the University of Connecticut to the University of Miami where she studied English Literature with a concentration in British Literary History.