Creating a thriving international business, My Kilpatrick Experience with CEO Jaap Hoekstra

Jaap Hoekstra, together with Cristina Spagna, acquired Kilpatrick in 2003, and soon after, managing partner Claudia Paoletti also joined the team.

As the first headhunting firm in Italy to focus on the international market, Kilpatrick has established itself as a boutique service with a strong client-centred approach. With a global presence and a team that collaborates closely, Kilpatrick has built a loyal and growing client base.

In this interview, Jaap shares some insights into what made Kilpatrick successful, the impact of technology on the headhunting industry, Kilpatrick’s digital solutions, and reveals the secret to building a thriving international business.


What attracted you to the People Business and what led you to acquire Kilpatrick?

I have always liked to manage ‘people’ challenges, no matter if it’s working in the financial or tourism industry – focus has always been on finding solutions to get everybody the best they can get.

We bought Kilpatrick back in 2003 – as the company has an International Look and Feel, even though it was exclusively focused on Italy. There was no search firm, representing Italian companies abroad – in their need for Talent – and this became and still is our core-competence.


With a competitive market and a limited candidate pool, head hunters are increasingly active. So why should a company specifically choose Kilpatrick to find the right candidate for a position?

It’s a buyers market so it’s useless to expect Top talent to knock on your door, if you haven’t answered the question: Why should someone join you?

We need to be able to create a personalised journey where top candidates are challenged with a lot more than just a salary: The magic words are the company’s reputation, the scope of the business and sustainability.

Kilpatrick has a personalised approach where we listen to the client and use a tailor-made strategy to tackle their challenge. The fact that we work with a small international team means we are always in touch with each other. For example, colleagues from Italy work with Mexico, China, Turkey etc. on a daily basis. Kilpatrick consequently conducts a broader search compared to competitors that spreads internationally, has a strong focus on inclusion and diversity and arrives at more innovative solutions because the assignment is considered by a multicultural team with different perspectives. To keep things easy for clients, they are always in contact with just one global client manager.


How would you describe Kilpatrick in three words?

I would describe Kilpatrick as Unique, generous and authentic.

  • Unique, because we are the only one with a team of around 80 employees working together internationally and offering tailor-made solutions.
  • Generous, the willingness to help others without any personal interest.
  • Authentic, because employees at Kilpatrick, can express themselves honestly, we are open to their ideas and they are allowed to try things out.



Can you give an example of a particularly innovative recruitment technique or strategy Kilpatrick has used?

Taskforce, is a subsidiary of Kilpatrick, where we use a new approach and dedicate one or more (international) team members, to manage multiple assignments for the same client. A key difference here compared to other approaches is that we create an agile team where people with different competences complement each other appropriately and challenge innovative methods to deliver the best to the customer. Using Taskforce, the client may expect a quick turnaround of its global assignments.

Additionally we use the oneApp, where our client can see 24/7 the progress of the assignment, the candidates we meet and the level of interest. This gives our clients the ‘real’ insights on how the market sees the vacancy.




Could you explain how Kilpatrick works together globally, for different divisions and with multiple digital tools? 

We’ve been able to build ONE TEAM of roughly 80 people globally –  who work agile together – to match our clients expectations. We invest every year heavily in the Team, to make sure we’re all aligned and deliver the same journey to every single candidate and company.


Can you briefly describe Kilpatrick’s current global presence and expected developments over the next 5 years? 

Bigger is not always better, we are reducing the current 18 offices to 5 regions: Europe, MEA, the Americas, Asean and China. This will make us even more lean and agile – with many of our Team working remotely.



Can you tell us about a time when you had to adapt your approach to a particular client or candidate?

A Swiss client of ours was looking to recruit more than 15 client-focussed IT professionals. This was an incredible challenge as we had to find the right candidates who not only fit the client’s requirements, but were also willing to relocate to Switzerland.

So, we created a unique TaskForce approach with #back to Ticino. We built an adventure that would be particularly interesting for overseas candidates who wanted to be close to Italy. By doing this, we were able to appeal to a wider pool of potential candidates and make the job opportunity more enticing.

In the end, this approach worked, and we were able to successfully recruit the necessary IT professionals for our client. It just goes to show how important it is to be adaptable and willing to adjust our approach to meet the specific needs of each client and candidate.




How do you see the headhunting industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, and how is Kilpatrick preparing for these changes? 

In the headhunting industry we are, as well as in other industries, more and more depending on Technology. At Kilpatrick, we not only recognize the trend towards technology, we have been leading our industry by developing and enhancing our own digital solutions to not only stay competitive, but to remain ahead of the competition.

However, I firmly believe that the key to success in this business remains rooted in personal relationships, trust, and communication. As such, it’s crucial to maintain a ‘vintage’ approach that emphasises these human qualities, and combine them with the latest tech tools to improve our recruitment processes and provide value to our clients.



Could you give one of your secrets away on how to build a successful international business?

Surround yourselves with great people and be generous.