AHEAD's Muriel Malak celebrates ten years in executive search
Celebrating a decade of consulting with AHEAD in Brussels is Muriel Malak. A commercial engineer from Louvain School of Management (UCL) by training, Muriel then spent 4 years with Air Products in various sales roles. Here she looks back on her ten years with AHEAD, which have passed incredibly quickly. Known for her exuberant passion for life and for her work, HEADWAY explores Muriel's philosophy ...

hw_s12_4It's very simple actually: I really love people. I'm genuinely interested in them and enjoy exchanging views and ideas. Meeting and getting to know people is my core business so I'm very lucky that my profession allows me close contact with so very many admirable and talented people. So it's simply great that I can spend my professional life doing something that I love.
So what candidate attributes most delight you? 
Obviously each search is unique in terms of the mix of professional and personal skills and qualities. However, the personal attributes I most admire and enjoy in candidates are integrity, a deep sense of responsibility, vision and creativity.

Who have been your greatest professional role models? 
There are several, though I would not like to embarrass them by singling them out by name. A few clients immediately spring to mind, in different ways: one particular HRD whom I have helped for many years, who has actually taught me a lot too. She is demanding but very fair; professional, rounded, very structured in her approach. Another who is more of a talent manager, consultant and coach now, who is tremendously empathetic, patient, full of hope and faith in life. Also I admire each of my colleagues in different ways....especially when I need some extra inspiration or a new creative approach to a particularly tricky search and draw on the depth and breadth of the team. In general though, I most admire people who are bright, sensitive and in tune with others, well rounded, whole people.

You are not alone in spending over a decade with AHEAD. Other consultants and all the support staff are long standing. What is the reason in your view?
On top of the content of the job which is very interesting, people do feel good at AHEAD because we seem to share the same values. Ethics matter a lot here… ethics towards our clients and candidates and, of course, towards our teams and colleagues. I, for one, feel at home in an environment which promotes trust and flexibility. Additionally we can choose our schedules, and can work in a flexible way...and that brings the best of us all. In short, we are a team of self-motivated people in all roles who don't need people standing over them to go the extra mile. 

How would you describe the culture or spirit of AHEAD?
We are a boutique search firm. Our clients and candidates matter a lot to us. Every assignment is unique for us and we try to go the extra mile to solve it. Every project is tailor-made for our clients. And, believe me, with the war for talent, our assignments require patience and a very systematic approach to the market… In other words, quality is an important value for us, underpinned by the cornerstones of respect, integrity, reliability, responsibility… That's my view anyway.

Few professions look as simple as recruitment, and particularly search, but are so hard to get right. Why is that?
Identifying and attracting the right profile is not easy. Having the right skill set and experience is simply not enough. Matching the company culture and sharing the company’s values are also critical. And, in addition, the intrinsic unpredictability of the human being is also part of the game. Finally, the scarcity of really good candidates is a big issue. Frankly, search requires patience nowadays.

How do you measure your own success? 
I humbly feel that customer and candidate satisfaction is very rewarding. A candidate having fun and enjoying his new job is a pure pleasure to hear for me. And a client calling back to work again with me is also a very blossoming situation, of course!  I measure success through number of references. People (clients and candidates) calling me for advice because they heard of me, is a good KPI.  I guess I've come full circle to my first answer: sincerely enjoying and liking people are essential.

For years people have said it's not what you know but who you know that matters careerwise.
In this e-networking age, some say it's who knows you that matters most. Do you agree?  
The digital world gives you theoretically access to the whole world. It maximizes your contacts, your network, your access to information. Theoretically, everything is possible, indeed. But in all our AHEAD surveys and individual feedback, we see people do appreciate personal contact. Digital tools like LinkedIn help you extend your network, but it is not enough. You have to develop a real personal relationship with people for it to be valuable. That requires time and energy. Volume is less important than quality and sincerity, in my view.

You are a Commercial Engineer by training and are fluent in 4 languages.
If you had not embarked on an executive search career with AHEAD, what would you be doing now instead?
So many possibilities, indeed! There are often positions offered at my clients that I find very interesting. (I am very curious intellectually, you see.) To pick up on one particular area of interest, I would love to work in Sustainable Development, trying to reconcile social, economic and environmental aspects. It is a very complex topic, very challenging also, for all of us, today, as consumers, producers, suppliers. As it happens, Sustainable Development is one of my areas of expertise in search, so I guess I have the best of both worlds on this.

By the same token, how do you juggle caring so much for your work, yet juggle the demands of a young family?
Like many working mums, I honestly… don’t know. I believe I am intense and dedicated in all aspects of my life. It requires hard work (at professional and private levels), but also generates a lot of joy.

So how do you switch off and relax?
By spending quality time with my family and friends. I also love contemporary dance. I play the piano and I read a lot.

And finally, what makes you laugh loudest?
My son Adrien, who is very mischievous. Oh, and my colleague Alex who has a very special sense of humour...