Executive Search in Austria – 2019 Outlook

Austria Slashes Deficit, Boosts Digitalization

Austria´s growth is expected to be 2.1% in the first half and 1.9% in the second half of 2019, so much slower growth as a result of “plans” which have not actualized in terms of corporate growth, sales, and expansion.

The new political party of Chancellor Kurz is trying to create initiatives for growth, providing family support and cutting a few taxes and he has managed to cut a huge government deficit. The party continues to push start-ups and actively recruit businesses, in particular with a post-Brexit mindset and will now have several accelerators (plug-n-play, talent garden, weAccelerate, etc). Digitalization is the major agenda item of the economic minister across all industries

Economic Outlook

Austria´s economy is dependent on trade with the US, Germany, Russia and the Mid-East. In 2017, the US became the most important trading partner for Austria.  The changes driven by US leadership (i.e. sanctions with Russia, trade embargoes with Asia & the Mid-East), by the slowing growth of the Chinese economy and by the new administration in Germany have all affected European growth and in particular that of Austria.

The Russian sanctions in 2014 affected Austria dramatically in high-end retail, real estate, banking, and corporate investment.   There are rumors that the Russian-owned bank Sberbank Europe will cut its business, that Western Union is selling most of its operations in Austria /EMEA and that two more banks may exit, which all have negative effects. Germany continues to be an important partner for Austria and growth in Germany is key but since this has slowed down, Austria´s growth has been affected.

We have observed that the job market seems to show lower unemployment but, as in many nations, people who are no longer looking are no longer considered unemployed.  We have quite a few 50+ and 60+ workers who have “retired” due to lack of opportunities as well as movement of corporate headquarters to other countries or regions.

In the banking sector, major regional banks continue to restructure, dropping many senior people, partnering with Fintechs or start-ups, and acquiring businesses.

The Austrian Post dropped Fintech Group as its partner and is considering partnering with a retail chain. BAWAG, the Cerebus & Black Rock owned bank, just acquired a health services company.  Addiko Bank is being prepared for an IPO or sale and Western Union has announced major changes regarding its Business Solution (B2B) division, which recently came under the Western Union international Bank.  RBI, the largest regional bank in Central and Eastern Europe, finally divested its Polish operations to BNP Paribas but announced that is now on the look-out for new acquisitions.

The dynamic and public turnover on banking boards continues with next year bringing even more dramatic changes as several regional banks are changing leadership teams. These banks have a very close relationship to all Austrian companies, family offices and regional companies, thus the domino effect on investment.

Important dates/events in 2019

  • Brexit in March is important- While Brexit appears not to have an effect on small countries, this is not the case, especially as the UK is the HQ of Unicredit´s Securities operations, etc.
  • European Election (EU) in May (for Austria)
  • US policy decisions with regard to trade
  • China policy decisions- many of the German and Austrian companies are dependent on Chinese growth and investment

Executive recruiting market

As nationalism increases, the government has reduced formerly “permanent resident visas” for non-EU citizens residing in Austria more than 20 years (& even married to Austrians) to 3 years. Thus, it is becoming more difficult to have anyone who is not EU working in Austria.

This naturally changes the perception of non-EU candidates (already located in Austria or Germany) as well as influences growth strategies etc. While government is eager to have companies enter the local market, these companies will only come here if the wage related tax is reduced and they can bring their leaders as well as hire anyone they want.

In terms of hiring, we expect a slowdown. The fastest growing companies are consulting companies but long hiring processes influenced by client behavior, lowering the salaries from those initially planned, and high travel requirements are challenges with regard to the candidate market. Corporates such as Banks are very slow in decision making as quite a bit of restructuring is expected.

Two trends continue

  1. There is a high demand for millennials in leadership positions as the first group are now mid-30´s. This continues especially because, since 2016, we´ve needed “hands-on” leaders, small teams and a high work load at every level.  Thus burn-out is a common concern. The growth of “mindfulness training“ (Potential Project) indicates that there is concern. Questions about work-life balance and flextime can cause candidate elimination despite the demand increasing. Continuing is the trend in the hospitality, tourism of a severe shortage of qualified staff and a high turnover rate.
  2. There is also age discrimination for people over 50, resulting in many highly qualified people in the market. The biggest challenge in terms of hiring is on the other side – everyone needs highly skilled people for digital initiatives and, with the majority leaving Austria, keeping these standards up requires more foreign candidates or near-shoring

For information contact Lydia Goutas, Cornerstone Vienna