Ulrik Rasmussen: “I knew I would get exposure to more opportunities here than in Western Europe, where most things have been done”

When Danish Ulrik Rasmussen first came to Romania 15 years ago, on a backpacking tour of the region, he knew he wanted to return and live here. Six years later, he did that. In the past, he had been playing football, studying and working in Belgium for the European Parliament. He is now a well known head hunter in Romania, partner with executive search firm Pedersen & Partners. The 15-year path was quite filled with changes.

By Corina Saceanu

“It has been a bit of a fairytale, ending up sitting in this position. […] If you asked me five or ten years ago if I though I would end up in the position I am today, I would have said <absolutely not>”, Rasmussen confesses.

He came to Romania after working for several years in Brussels with a Member of the European Parliament. When he had the opportunity to come and work in Romania for a firm which was selling medical equipments and technologies, he took the opportunity.

Six months into the job in Romania, in 2002, he met another Danish – Poul Pedersen. After a ten-minute conversation in which Pedersen told him he was in the wrong industry and that he should try executive search instead, he accepted to join with Pedersen & Partners, which was just starting an office in Romania. Rasmussen was the second team member in Bucharest.  Soon after he had joined, the other team member, Minerva Cernea, left for Canada.  So pretty early on the job, Rasmussen was already sitting in interviews and directly participating in the recruitment process, which is not how the process usually goes nowadays. Had he stayed in Denmark or anywhere else in Western Europe, perhaps he would have still been a researcher, he says. The opportunities here were among the reasons which led him to Romania in the first place.

“I knew I would get exposure to many opportunities, more than I would have got if I stayed in Western Europe, where most of the things have already been done,” he says. “It didn’t make much sense financially to come here but I had a feeling this was the right choice for my life and for my career,” says Rasmussen.

And it was. A couple of years later, he’s sitting as partner and shareholder with Pedersen & Partners. All these steps led him to the right decision. But “if I knew how tough it is to move into this industry and how hard the job is, I wouldn’t have done it,” he confesses.

Still, he seems to be one of those lucky people for whom work is more like a hobby.

“I never think about it as a work. I never felt I had a normal job. I have never had the Monday morning blue,” says Rasmussen. “I have a job that I am really happy to do, it’s like a hobby, the same as when I played football.”

He has been a partner in the firm for four years and from this position, he could have moved anywhere in the world to work. Still, he chose to stay in Romania. “I lived in Paris and in Bucharest and I still prefer Bucharest.”

From playing football in a small Danish village to placing executives in high earning positions

Rasmussen grew up in a village of 900 people in Denmark, where football was almost like a religion. There, all the other kids were playing football. Before, after, during school, everything was about football. But it has not been easy, pursuing football.

“I grew up 30 kilometers away from the city. Even for me, to travel back and forth was painful enough. I used to leave early in the morning to go to school and came home very late in the evening. During the week-ends we were playing tournaments,” he says.

He eventually gave up when he was studying at the university in Brussels. He already had four operations on his right knee and realized there could also be a life after football. Some of the sports side in him remained, though. Rasmussen ran two marathons already – one in New York and the Bucharest marathon a couple of years ago.

Playing team sports has also taught him how to deal with people and face challenges.

“If you are a play maker, you need to know where are the other players and how to use them in the game. You also learn to play strategy and how to maximize the energy of the team. When you can’t compete, you change the strategy,” he says.

His study time in Brussels brought Ulrik his biggest achievement. His philosophy degree he earned in Brussels is his biggest accomplishment, he says, since he had to study in English. “I had never studied philosophy and never in English. Looking back, I see how insane it was to have started it,” he says.

Had he not been working in executive search, nor playing football, he would have chosen to become an architect or be somehow involved in real estate. With Pedersen & Partners, he’s responsible for the real estate and retail practice.

Executive search has been an learning curve for Rasmussen,

“and if you’re not curious by nature, if you’re not excited about all these small victories, and if you’re not an incredible project manager,” you can’t do it. “Every singe time you meet a good candidate, it’s a small victory. This is the incentive to keep doing the work.”

Learning from interviews is another incentive. “You know you’re learning new things all the time. You start connecting different dots in different industries.”

On the job, Rasmussen is “very critical as to the people I like to present to my clients, I am very conscious about jeopardizing the confidentiality tied to somebody’s involvement in the recruitment process and I go at great length to make sure the people we present fit into the profile.” On the other side, he admits he takes failures very personally.

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