HR Insider Apr 26 2010

Scott Oblow: Duff & Phelps

By kyle stock

Duff & Phelps, a New York-based investment bank, is part of a resurgent breed in the jungle of finance these days. With about 1,200 employees, it's small, flexible and unbiased. Plus, it didn't get washed out by the crisis.

Lately, Duff & Phelps has been advising Uncle Sam and the EU.

The firm is socking in senior talent and expanding its offices in Europe and Tokyo. And it is willing to look at any talented candidates, regardless of whether they fit specific open positions.

FINS spoke recently with Scott Oblow, managing director at the firm in charge of talent management.

HR Insider: Can you discuss your general growth in the past few months and the months ahead?
Oblow: We've continued to look to grow our business. We have generally -- especially given the last few years -- been smart in the ways that we go about it. We look at what's really hot right now. Things like restructuring. Things like dispute resolution.

What kinds of employees are you looking for?
When we go out and look at businesses and individuals, right now we're tending to hire people at the senior levels -- people who can come in and become immediate revenue generators, because we can backfill with support resources from across the company. Those people are kind of fungible.

So you're flexible?
Yeah, and we're looking to enhance our ability to be flexible. We just put in a new software application firm-wide that should really help.

You just announced the hiring of seven new managing directors. What other hiring have you done at the senior level in the past year or so?
We've hired a total of nine managing directors this year. They've been in investment banking, financial engineering and some of our dispute businesses. While there are certain areas that are hot right now, we are opportunistic. If we know someone in the market who's good, we'll definitely meet with them.

What specific roles or capabilities are you looking for?
I probably can't say too much about this, but within all three of our segments -- financial advisory, investment banking and corporate finance -- there are groups that we are all focused on hiring. There's certain products we're looking to increase our capacity with. And we haven't pulled off of campuses. We'll be recruiting back on campus again this year and the numbers will be significantly more than last year.

Have you been hiring more risk managers?
Not yet.

Did you have any layoffs in the past year or so?
We did have some small reductions in force, but we're talking less than 3%. And of that group of people, there were performance issues mixed in there. We identified people who weren't quite at the levels we would have liked. In a busier year, we might have given the opportunity to work that stuff through a little.

We try very hard not to let very many, if any, of those people go. If you think of it as a pyramid structure, as they move up, some of them self-select out or you select them out. If you have a year when you blow out that bottom of the pyramid, you'll find in another year or two, when you're looking for some of those people to become managers, you kind of have a hole in your pyramid.

In my mind, if you have two even candidates, you go with the one who's been with the firm longer.

Where do you expect total headcount to be at the end of the year?
Slightly north of 1,200. What that net number of hires is, I'm not sure.

How does the company find talent?
We have a very skilled internal recruiting group. We also have a fairly decent internal referral process, though we'd like it to be better. We don't use outside recruiting firms.

Are you seeing a lot of folks contacting you from other firms?
At the more senior level yes, especially with the financial advising. We bring in a lot of candidates from the Big Four. On the investment-banking side, it tends to be more from boutique or regional firms. We are more of a mid-market bank, and a lot of the guys and gals from the bulge brackets tend to not play in that space. We don't have a desk. We don't have assets on the balance sheet, so we really look for a different kind of banker.

Are you seeing more qualified candidates than you have in the past?
On the investment-banking side, I would definitely say yes. On the corporate-finance side, I would say yes as well.

Has turnover changed?
Turnover for 2008 was low. Turnover for this year is extremely low.

Has there been any change in your strategy on compensation?
In tough times, you want to make sure that every dollar you spend is a smart investment. There's more talent out there, but I think that top talent still commands top pay. And there's a lot of competition for those top individuals.

While there may have been some disruption in the investment banking and the bulge bracket, there are a lot of boutiques, and even firms like Goldman, that are doing really well and are moving to making investments in people.

When this thing turns, you definitely don't want to find out that you're short-staffed.

Does your hiring have any particular geographic bent?
A good chunk of our recent hires have been international. We continue to look to enhance our international presence in the offices that we have. We are 15% overseas.

What's the best way for prospects to contact the company?
I would tell people to apply via the Web site, but if they know somebody here, that's better. If I get an email from somebody with a resume, even an analyst, I'll take a look at it and pass it along to someone on my recruiting team.

Last year, we had 30,000 people apply through the Internet. Granted, we do have software that helps us look at each resume, but once they get past that, we do have someone looking at every resume. It's pretty hands on.

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