Whitney Group and O'Neill Associates to merge

The two rival headhunting firms have laid down their spears and agreed to a merger.

Whitney Group and O'Neill Associates have announced a merger of their Asian operations. The new firm will be called Whitney O'Neill and will have an extensive presence in Asia with offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney.

The two firms are the best financial services executive search outfits in Asia, both topping last year's Economist Intelligence Unit's survey on financial services search firms. Whitney came top overall globally while O'Neill came top in Asia.

Although both firms cover the financial services market, they have slightly different areas of expertise. Whitney is best of breed when it comes to investment banking, project finance, private banking and corporate finance work. O'Neill is more focused on the markets side especially debt, derivatives and treasury where its contacts are legendary. Put together, the two firms will have a much wider reach within the financial services market, being able to bring more capabilities to bear for their clients.

This merger is a direct consequence of the consolidation of top-tier financial services firms. With the recent disappearance of names such as Chase, DLJ and Jardine Fleming, there are fewer houses who need top talent. But the houses that remain are huge and they need professionals across the whole range of products. So in the same way that the big banks are becoming full service providers, so the executive search firms that work for them have to follow suit. Moreover, even though globally financial services firms are taking a bit of a hammering, in Asia the battle for top talent has never been more fierce.

Under the terms of the merger, the CEO of Whitney O'Neill will be Stephen Clasper from Whitney while Harry O'Neill will be managing director in Hong Kong and Catherine Andersen will be the managing director in Australia. O'Neill confirmed that the two companies had been talking for over a year but felt that now was the right time to merge. Rumours that Whitney had paid O'Neill $10 million as an acquisition price have been vigorously denied - although any M&A expert who can come up with such a deal should call the firm for an immediate conversation.