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Miles Broadbent, headhunter who used ‘charisma and contacts’ to find top executives – obituary

The man who got The Godfather made – by making friends with the Mob
Published Time: 15.05.2024 - 16:40:24 Modified Time: 15.05.2024 - 16:40:24

He had a ‘prize-winning telephone manner and a striking resemblance to Derek Wilton in Coronation Street’ Courtesy of Clea Beechey Miles Broadbent, who has died aged 88, was the urbane and supremely well-networked doyen of the London headhunting scene

He had a ‘prize-winning telephone manner and a striking resemblance to Derek Wilton in Coronation Street’

: Courtesy of Clea Beechey

Miles Broadbent, who has died aged 88, was the urbane and supremely well-networked doyen of the London headhunting scene.

The business of recruiting senior executives from one company to another came to the UK from America in the 1970s and was initially dominated by US firms. Miles Broadbent and his business partner David Norman both worked for one such, Russell Reynolds, before forming their own boutique, Norman Broadbent – based on “charisma and contacts”, as one report put it – in 1983.

Broadbent’s breakthrough success was the placing of Colin (later Lord) Marshall from Avis as chief executive of British Airways. Marshall’s subsequent rise to boardroom eminence was “a good advertisement,” Broadbent observed. A later eye-catcher was (Sir) Gerry Robinson’s move from Compass, in catering, to run Granada television in 1991.

By 1993, Broadbent reckoned he had found 72 managing directors for major companies of all kinds –  and across the City of London in the merry-go-round of hirings associated with the formation of new investment banking groups as a result of 1986 “Big Bang” ownership reforms.

: Courtesy of Clea Beechey

Though his office held 10,000 CVs, Broadbent’s technique was more a matter of lunching potential clients or candidates at the Ritz – and advertising his brand in Royal Opera House programmes (“Pretty much our target audience”).

A competitor described his style as “comforting”, while an interviewer noted “a prize-winning telephone manner, a striking resemblance to Derek Wilton the character played by actor Peter Baldwin in Coronation Street and a dark red office with a distant view of Green Park.”

Broadbent dealt suavely with the criticism that headhunting was too often a matter of trying to sell square pegs for round vacancies: “This business is 50 per cent analytical, 50 per cent opportunistic… to do with chemistry, style, culture.” The biggest problem, he said, was whether candidates gave honest accounts of themselves.

“The French lie all the time about salaries and qualifications. And we had one British chap who called himself Doctor, turned out he’d bought a PhD from one of those bogus American places for $25: now he’s chairman of two public companies.”

As for the sort of louche behaviour that might attract scandal, “We’re frightfully careful about that sort of thing”, though the occasional delinquent “got through our net”. Still, he argued, the headhunter’s role was essential: “It’s like buying a house. You could do the conveyancing yourself, but it’s a lot more sensible to use a solicitor.”

: Courtesy of Clea Beechey

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