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Case Analysis: Korn Ferry

When Gary Burnison invested in Korn/Ferry in 2001, he had a lot of trust in the company’s brand. After the dot-com crash, the firm was struggling, but he thought he could assist, so he joined as chief financial officer and collaborated with the whole executive team to spearhead a turnaround. Korn/near-total Ferry’s dependence on executive recruitment fees for its income was a big part of the issue. It was Burnison’s goal to broaden the scope of the company’s approach to managing human resource resources. He regarded LinkedIn’s rise as both an opportunity and a danger, since it provided the company with an extra avenue for obtaining highly personalized data on its clients (Burnison, 2018). Close ties with the company’s top executives, solid financial standing, and a well-known brand all contributed to Korn/success. Ferry’s Clients, meantime, have welcomed the firm’s evolution: One company’s yearly expenditure has risen from $300,000 to $6 million, while the annual billing of another company has jumped from $700,000 to $10 million in only one year.

The economy has changed dramatically in recent years. CEOs are hesitant to recruit new employees, and they are requiring a smaller staff to do more tasks. They want personnel who are able to rise early in the morning without the use of an alarm clock and who are enthusiastic about the upcoming day. As talent has become more movable and businesses have acclimated to the understanding that no one is going to stay around for 30 years to acquire that gold watch, the necessity of talent management has risen. Onboarding new staff is time-consuming and costly, and employee turnover may have a substantial impact on productivity and customer satisfaction. The effect on the bottom line would be tremendous if we could assist clients in managing their talent so that workers who may ordinarily remain for three years instead stay for four, five, or six, the effect on the bottom line might be spectacular.

When faced with a crisis, leaders cannot operate on the basis of a spreadsheet. Walking about is what it is all about. Personally. Today, structure must be invisible as executives tap into organizational interest to gain a “taste and feel” for what is going on in the present and the future. Leaders are doing a thorough audit of their companies, listening for clues about what individuals believe, feel, fear, and going through at any given time. Leaders can only correctly forecast tomorrow if they have a complete vision of the present and can accurately see what the society will look like in the future.

Leadership is the ability to connect the connections. More than ever, it is the leader’s responsibility to connect the dots in such a manner that a vision of what the company will look like post-crisis emerges—as well as how the company will reform itself in order to get there. Strategy is implemented in real time, allowing for quick adaptation of decision-making to changing situations while maintaining focus on the final objectives (Torres et al., 2018). Leaders should also connect the dots connecting strategy and purpose in order to keep the business on the right track. Otherwise, it is a waste of time and energy, and every option seems to be a “good one”—at least until it isn’t.

During a period of recession in the executive-search market, Korn Ferry’s 2001 layoffs were more severe than those of rivals who are not publicly listed, like Spencer Stuart and Russell Reynolds Associates, according to the company. This was published and ascribed to the fact that Korn Ferry had grown significantly during the technological boom, as well as the fact that the company’s new CEO, Paul C. Reilly, chose to deliver a message to investors.

As a result of his leadership, Korn Ferry has evolved into a worldwide organizational consulting business with more than 7,500 employees. Today, Korn Ferry collaborates with customers to develop organizational structures, roles, and responsibilities that are tailored to their needs. The business assists firms in hiring the most qualified candidates and advising them on how to motivate, grow, and encourage their employees. In addition, the business assists professionals in navigating and advancing their careers.

Mr. Burnison brings a wealth of practical experience to his current position, having previously worked as Chief Operating Officer for Korn Ferry between 2003 and 2007. In 2002, he began working with Korn Ferry as the company’s Chief Financial Officer. Prior to joining Korn Ferry, Mr. Burnison worked as the director and chief financial officer of Guidance Solutions, a private consulting business that specialized in the development and maintenance of technological solutions, from 1999 until 2001.

From 1995 until 1999, Mr. Burnison worked as a senior executive officer and director of Jefferies & Company, Inc. (the major operational component of Jefferies Group, Inc.), in which he held several positions of increasing responsibility. Previously, from 1984 until 1995, he worked as a partner at KPMG Peat Marwick in the United Kingdom. The company neededs to make acquisitions in order to extend our business outside our core competencies. In 2006, it acquired Lominger, a leadership development business, for an undisclosed sum. And, even when the recession struck, it continued to purchase businesses.

Over a six-month period beginning in the autumn of 2008, it saw its top-line sales decline by 50%; yet, it pushed forward with a contract to acquire Lore International Institute, a firm that specializes in leadership development (Schoemaker et al., 2018). In the midst of the crisis, it also acquired Whitehead Mann, a European business that boosted its capacity to provide leadership consulting and executive recruitment services in the United Kingdom. These agreements were difficult to reach since they arrived at a time when it was laying off personnel, introducing furloughs, and asking employees to accept wage reductions. However, they were critical to its long-term survival.

There may be no more difficult, vital, and strategic task than accelerating the development of brave, collaborative, creative, and purpose-driven leaders who will co-create lasting value throughout the company for several generations over the course of their careers. The amount of adaptability to the environment and the structuring of behaviors in response to environmental expectations, on the one hand, and the harmony of sub-systems, on the other hand, are critical to the survival of businesses. The environment in which businesses operate is always changing as a result of a variety of social, political, legal, economic, and technical variables.

These transformations bring with them new possibilities and difficulties. The capacity of the organizations to recognize and evaluate these possibilities and challenges is critical to their long-term success. Perceiving and analyzing changes that have occurred in the environment, as well as the ability to take essential actions, are all highly dependent on the organizational structure and characteristics of the management team (Olivia et al., 2018). Companies often find themselves in major difficulties because they are unable to see the challenges and possibilities presented by change, or because they are unable to take the essential actions even if they do recognize them.

Outside of its primary recruitment business, over 40% of revenue was earned in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013, according to the company’s financial statements. One out of every five Korn/Ferry workers has joined the company during the last year, according to the company. As a result of its extensive collection of intellectual property and people management products, the firm has enabled its customers to adopt a more complete approach to personnel management. The company is not interested in competing for a piece of the $3 billion to $4 billion U.S. recruiting industry; rather, it is interested in a worldwide market potential worth $20 billion. It was unsure whether or not it would be able to pull off our reinvention at times; it was just focused with surviving. Currently, we believe that the company has discovered a way to increased income while also increasing its relevance to its customers.

Psychologists have just coined the term “decision fatigue.” Many observations and tests, involving everyone from mall patrons to members of the parole board, have proven what most of us already suspect: Decision-making is one of the most taxing endeavors a person can do. Making difficult judgments is practically a prerequisite for becoming CEO; the less difficult ones are often delegated to subordinates (Kattel & Mazzucato, 2018). Individuals who have a greater degree of self-assurance, referred to as “adjustment” in the field of personality research, are more inclined to act because they have faith in their own abilities to make good choices. In general, they are more optimistic individuals, and thus they will make decisions based on the belief that their decisions tend to work out in the long run–whether or not that is really the case.

Today’s world is crying out for fundamentally human management – leadership founded on humility, empathy that goes beyond demonstration to actual empathy, vulnerability to the point of being vulnerable to the point of authenticity, and so on. Even while it is relatively evident that leading in this direction would result in a more joyful workplace for workers, Burnison said that it will also result in increased productivity and success. It is important for people to feel that they are a part of something greater than themselves (Warner & Wager, 2019). What kids want is to learn and develop as people. They also want to be appreciated, and they want to feel that what they do is important to someone else. And data clearly demonstrates that firms who accomplish these things outperform their competitors.

In his experience, Korn Ferry has managed the epidemic well, and Burnison has seen this firsthand. Despite the fact that they had to make a lot of tough choices as a company, such as the dismissals that so many of their workers faced, they did so in the most compassionate manner they could do and tried to ensure to be there for their workers along the way – and as a result, their enterprise levels have fully recovered and are now back to their previous levels.


Burnison, G. (2013). Korn/Ferry’s CEO on Transforming the Company in Mid-Crisis. Harvard Business Review91(12), 45-+.

Kattel, R., & Mazzucato, M. (2018). Mission-oriented innovation policy and dynamic capabilities in the public sector. Industrial and Corporate Change27(5), 787-801.

Oliva, F. L., Couto, M. H. G., Santos, R. F., & Bresciani, S. (2018). The integration between knowledge management and dynamic capabilities in agile organizations. Management Decision.

Schoemaker, P. J., Heaton, S., & Teece, D. (2018). Innovation, dynamic capabilities, and leadership. California Management Review61(1), 15-42.

Torres, R., Sidorova, A., & Jones, M. C. (2018). Enabling firm performance through business intelligence and analytics: A dynamic capabilities perspective. Information & Management55(7), 822-839.

Warner, K. S., & Wäger, M. (2019). Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation: An ongoing process of strategic renewal. Long Range Planning52(3), 326-349.


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