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I have always had a sneaking admiration for that secretive breed, the headhunter. Anyone who can pocket £300,000 in commission on the back of a few phone calls and a handshake must be doing something right.

There is more to it than that, of course, but headhunting is easy to stereotype. There are very few of the truly class acts, and even they grow restless after a while. The rainmakers tend to go it alone.

A good example is John Viney, former European chairman of the bizarrely-named Heidrick & Struggles, who left a year ago to form a new agency, The Zygos Partnership. The name comes from the Greek word zygosis, meaning the act of joining together in balance. Viney’s big-hitting colleagues include Julia Budd, formerly of Egon Zehnder.

Viney is in the same league as Miles Broadbent, often described as the elder statesman of UK headhunting, although they could hardly be less alike. Viney is a chartered physicist and author, while Broadbent worked in industry before turning hunter of scalps. He, too, runs his own partnership, chasing the same gilded prey.

Both men live in St George’s Hill in Weybridge, Surrey. Viney and Broadbent exchange pleasantries through gritted teeth while waiting to catch the train up to London.

Viney is keen to recruit one or two other big names to round off his practice – Michael Portillo’s wife Carolyn Eadie would be a prize catch – but this is easier said than done. Meanwhile, the executive search market continues to improve. Demand is picking up at the chairman and chief executive level, which is good news for the hundreds of headhunting researchers who have lost their jobs in the last couple of years.

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