Categories Earnings Call Transcripts, Industrials

Korn Ferry (KFY) Q1 2022 Earnings Call Transcript

KFY Earnings Call - Final Transcript

Korn Ferry  (NYSE: KFY) Q1 2022 earnings call dated Sep. 08, 2021

Corporate Participants:

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Gregg Kvochak — Senior Vice President-Finance, Treasury, Tax, Investor Relations

Analysts:

George K. Tong — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Sam — William Blair & Company, L.L.C — Analyst

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

Marc Riddick — Sidoti — Analyst

Tobey Sommer — Truist Securities — Analyst

Tim Mulrooney — William Blair & Company, L.L.C — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by, and welcome to the Korn Ferry First Quarter Fiscal Year 2022 Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded for replay purposes. We have also made available in the Investor Relations section of our webcast at kornferry.com a copy of the financial presentation that we’ll be reviewing with you today.

Before I turn the call over to your host, Mr. Gary Burnison, let me first read a cautionary statement to investors. Certain statements made in the call today, such as those relating to future performance, plans and goals constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Although the Company believes the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such statements. Actual results in future periods may differ materially from those currently expected or desired because of a number of risks and uncertainties which are beyond the Company’s control.

Additional information concerning such risks and uncertainties can be found in the release relating to this presentation and in the periodic and other reports filed by the Company with the SEC, including the Company’s annual report for fiscal year 2021 and in the Company’s soon to be filed quarterly report for the quarter ended July 31, 2021. Also some of the comments today may reference non-GAAP financial measures such as past and currency amounts, EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA. Additionally, information concerning these measures including reconciliations to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures is contained in the financial presentation and earnings release relating to this call, both of which are posted in the Investor Relations sections of the Company’s website at kornferry.com.

With that, I’ll turn the call over to Mr. Burnison. Please go ahead, Mr. Burnison.

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Okay, thank you, Cynthia, and good morning, and thank you everybody for joining us. I guess I’d first say that it’s pretty clear the diversity and the relevancy of our offerings as well as the outstanding effort from our colleagues has resulted in another great quarter. Our strategy and efforts are clearly yielding results as we delivered a 70% increase in fee revenue with really strong profitability, EPS of $1.37 and an adjusted EBITDA margin of 20.7%, and these results are the continuation of our momentum over recent quarters and our performance speaks to our agility and importantly to the purpose for decisions and deliberate actions we’ve taken not only over the last few quarters but over the last several years, and now they’ve come together in a critical mass of opportunity.

As a result, today’s Korn Ferry is poised to seek the opportunities of tomorrow. And those opportunities begin with a world of work that’s in a massive state of transition and may be always will be. Companies reimagining their businesses, from strategy, to people, to culture, career Nomads, aging demographics, a real war for talent, work from anywhere, anytime, and last but not least, the digitization of everything. These are the features of our new landscape of work. And we don’t see that changing anytime soon. In response, companies are rethinking their org structures, their roles, responsibilities, how they compensate, engage, motivate and upscale their workforce, as well as the type of agile talent they hire and how they hire that talent, and they’re all going to need to lead differently. And as I said, this new world is creating opportunities for Korn Ferry.

The mega changes that I described align very nicely with our businesses. Today, wherever and whenever leadership meets talent, Korn Ferry is at that that cross section, enabling agility in a world in transition and driving performance for our clients. To position our Company for long-term success, we remain relentlessly focused on this dynamic world of work. Our scaled capabilities include org strategy, leadership and professional development, assessment, succession and rewards and talent acquisition, and of course, the judgment and expertise built from decades of experience and insight into the questions companies are grappling with across industries. We’re going to continue to drive an integrated go-to-market strategy through our marquee and regional accounts, which represent about 35% of our portfolio. And this facilitates not only growth and enduring partnerships, but also is key to more scalable and durable revenues.

In the quarter, about 30% of our revenue was driven by cross referrals, an all-time high, which I think demonstrates the effectiveness of our go-to-market strategy. Today, the fight for talent is absolutely more profound than we’ve ever seen. This new world is driving a robust market for our talent acquisition expertise, from Executive Search to Pro Search to RPO, we’re helping companies find the right talent, setting the right needs.

And looking at our digital and consulting businesses, we’ve been actively marrying our capability with today’s mega trends. The result is larger projects with greater sustainability and more durable revenue, in areas such as D&I and organizational transformation, as well as core solutions such as assessment, pay and governance, and leadership and professional development. Looking ahead, I truly feel we have the right strategy with the right people at the right time to help our clients drive performance in this new world, and our results are clearly affirming this belief.

With that, I am joined by Gregg Kvochak and Bob Rozek. And Bob, I will turn it over to you.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Great. Thanks, Gary, and good afternoon or good morning, depending on where you’re calling in from. Our financial results in the first quarter were outstanding and they continue to push to new highs. Our unique mix of organizational consulting solutions continue to grow in relevance and it gives us a greater share of strengthening global markets. Clients are embracing our solutions to help them navigate today’s unprecedented and rapidly changing work and social environment, and that’s driving our fee revenue and profitability to new heights.

Now let me touch on a couple of highlights from the first quarter. As Gary mentioned, fee revenue in the first quarter was up $241 million or 70% year-over-year and $30 million or 5% sequentially, and that’s reaching an all-time high of $585 million. Now that’s quite an accomplishment hitting consecutive highs and only the third and then fourth quarter removed from the trough. Consolidated fee revenue growth in the first quarter measured year-over-year was up 81% in the Exe Search, 103% in RPO and Pro Search, 50% in Consulting and 44% in Digital. Also our new business growth in the first quarter was very strong.

Our results continue to demonstrate the success of our go-to-market strategy. Revenue generated from our marquee and regional accounts continues to steadily grow. In the first quarter, revenue from our marquee and regional accounts was up 70% year-over-year and 4% sequentially. And as Gary mentioned, in the first quarter, over 35% of our consolidated fee revenue was generated from these accounts. In addition, cross line of business referrals continue to grow. In the first quarter, about 30% of fee revenue was generated from cross line of business referrals, which is up from 25.5% and 28.5% in the first and fourth quarters of fiscal ’21, respectively.

Now earnings and profitability also reached new highs in the first quarter. Adjusted EBITDA grew $111 million year-over-year and $8.5 million or 7.5% sequentially to $121 million, with an adjusted EBITDA margin of 20.7%. Now, that’s our third consecutive quarter with an adjusted EBITDA margin over 20%. Our earnings and profitability continue to benefit from higher consultants and execution staff productivity and lower G&A spend, driven by virtual delivery processes and reduced levels of related business development spend. Fully diluted earnings per share also reached a record level in the first quarter, improving to $1.37, which was up from $1.56 compared to adjusted fully diluted earnings per share in the first quarter of fiscal ’21 and up $0.16 or 13% sequentially. I would like to point out that in the first quarter our fully diluted earnings per share benefited by $0.07 to $0.08 from a lower tax rate of 23.8%. Now, currently we don’t believe that this rate is sustainable, and for all of fiscal ’22 we’re projecting an effective tax rate in the range of 26% to 27%.

Now turning to new business, which also grew to record levels by accelerating each consecutive month of the quarter. We’re pleased to share that our new business generation in each of the last six months is in our top 10 ever with three of the months occupying spots, one, two and three. Now that’s a clear demonstration of the relevance of our solutions in the world today. Now more specifically on a consolidated basis, new business awards excluding RPO were up 59% year-over-year and up approximately 2% sequentially. New business growth was strongest for Professional Search, which was up 14% from the fourth quarter of fiscal ’21. RPO new business had another strong quarter in the first quarter with $113 million of total contract awards.

Our investable cash balance also improved. At the end of the first quarter, cash and marketable securities totaled $904 million. Now when you exclude amounts reserved for deferred comp arrangements and for accrued bonuses, the global investable cash balance at the end of the first quarter was approximately $614 million, which is up $103 million or 20% year-over-year. Now of that amount, approximately $220 million was in the United States. It continues to be our priority to invest back into our business and that’s to maximize our future growth. This includes the hiring of additional fee earners and execution staff. Over the last quarter, total new fee earner consultants grew by 127, which includes both new hires in recent promotions. Additionally, consistent with our balanced approach to capital allocation, we repurchased approximately $3 million of stock in the first quarter and paid a quarterly cash dividend of approximately $6.9 million.

With that, I’ll will turn the call over to Gregg to review our operating segments in more detail.

Gregg Kvochak — Senior Vice President-Finance, Treasury, Tax, Investor Relations

Thanks, Bob. Let’s start with the KF Digital. Global fee revenue for KF Digital was $81 million in the first quarter, which was up nearly 44% year-over-year and flat sequentially. The subscription and license component of KF Digital fee revenue continues to steadily improve. In the first quarter, subscription and license fee revenue was $24 million, which was up approximately 14% year-over-year. More importantly, global new business for KF Digital in the first quarter was $108 million, with 36% of this new business related to subscription and license services, up 69% year-over-year — on a year-over-year basis. Earnings and profitability remained strong for KF Digital in the first quarter with adjusted EBITDA of $25.6 million and a 31% adjusted EBITDA margin.

Now turning to Consulting. In the first quarter, Consulting generated $148.5 million of fee revenue, which was up approximately $49 million or 50% year-over-year. Fee revenue growth was broad-based across all solution areas and strongest regionally in North America, which was up over 70% year-over-year. Consulting new business was also very strong in the first quarter, growing approximately 36% year-over-year and 2% sequentially to a new all-time high. Additionally, while the volume of engagements over $500,000 has remained strong, in the first quarter the volume of smaller assignments, those under $500 in value grew sequentially, potentially signaling a rebound in demand and spending by our smaller regional clients who tend to buy focus point solutions.

Regionally, new business growth was broad-based in the first quarter with both EMEA and APAC having the best quarter of new business in over two years. Adjusted EBITDA for Consulting in the first quarter was $26.8 million with an adjusted EBITDA margin of 18.1%. Growth for RPO and Professional Search continued to accelerate in the first quarter. Globally, fee revenue was $139.3 million, which was up 103% year-over-year and approximately $19 million or 16% sequentially. Both RPO and Professional Search continued to take advantage of the surge in demand for skilled professional labor. RPO fee revenue grew approximately 98% year-over-year and 11% sequentially, while Professional Search fee revenue was up approximately 112% year-over-year and up 24% sequentially.

New business wins for both RPO and Professional Search were also extremely strong in the first quarter. Professional Search new business was up 14% sequentially and RPO was awarded $113 million of new contracts consisting of $45 million of renewals and extensions and $68 million of new logo work. Adjusted EBITDA for RPO and Professional Search continue to scale in the first quarter, improving to $34 million with an adjusted EBITDA margin of 24.4%. Finally in the first quarter, global fee revenue for Executive Search reached a new all-time high of $217 million, which was up 81% year-over-year and 8% sequentially. Growth was also broad based and led by North America, which grew 1% year-over-year and over 6% sequentially. Our international regions continue to accelerate sequentially. Fee revenue in EMEA and APAC were up approximately 4% and 22%, respectively.

We continue to aggressively invest in expanding our network of consultants in the first quarter. The total number of dedicated Executive Search consultants worldwide at the end of the first quarter was 565, up 55 year-over-year and up 41 sequentially, including 22 colleagues who were recently promoted. Annualized fee revenue production per consultant in the first quarter improved to a record $1.59 million and the number of new search assignments opened worldwide in the first quarter was up 57% year-over-year and 2% sequentially to 1,745. In the first quarter, global Executive Search adjusted EBITDA grew to approximately $61.6 million, which was up $53.5 million year-over-year and up $11.7 million or 23.5% sequentially. Adjusted EBITDA margin in the first quarter was 28.4%.

Now, I’m going to turn the call back over to Bob to discuss our outlook for the second quarter of fiscal ’22.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Great. Thanks, Gregg. As I mentioned, new business in the first quarter grew to a new all-time high. So we’re really starting the second quarter with a strong backlog of work. Now August is historically a seasonal month influenced by summer vacations, but new business for August was up approximately 41% year-over-year and was in line with our expectations.

Now if monthly trends in each of our lines of business are consistent with historical patterns and market conditions remained strong, we expect demand to continue to accelerate with new business up sequentially in September, peaking at a quarter high in October. Additionally, as previously discussed, we’re going to continue to make near term investments in consultants and execution staff to fuel future growth and we do expect employee productivity to remain strong and G&A spend to remain at or near current levels in the second quarter, keeping both earnings and profitability strong. Now assuming no major Delta variant related lockdowns or changes in worldwide economic conditions, financial markets or foreign exchange rates, we expect our consolidated fee revenue in the second quarter of fiscal ’22 to range from $585 million to $615 million and our consolidated diluted earnings per share to range from $1.30 to $1.44. Now as we’ve begun our new fiscal year, we continue on a path of strong financial performance, leaving no doubt about our strategy or the durability of our business model. Today, we stand alone in industry of one, going to market with unique and organizational consulting solutions that continue to grow in relevance. Our robust new business generation over the past six months is a true barometer of marketplace recognition. Korn Ferry has never been better positioned to serve all of its constituencies, colleagues, clients, candidates and shareholders for years to come.

With that, we would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question will come from the line of George Tong with Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.

George K. Tong — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Hi, thanks, good morning. So you delivered strong quarter-over-quarter growth in all of your business lines, but Consulting being the exception. We saw a little bit of quarter-over-quarter moderation in revenue trends there and also Consulting new business growth was strong in the double digits but did decelerate from the prior quarter. So just wanted to see if there are any notable trends that you would call out in the Consulting business that may be a little bit different from the rest of the business that you’re seeing?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

No, I wouldn’t say so. I mean, one of the good problems to have is capacity and we are working very hard on ensuring that we have the appropriate level of capacity not only for years to come, but over the next few quarters. So it’s a bit of a balance. And then the second thing is to make sure that we’re continuously repositioning solutions, trying to anticipate what’s on the horizon over the next few quarters. One example maybe ESG, where we have a brand now offering that we’re taking the market right now and you’ll see more of that in the next few weeks. So it’s really those two things. Our rate per hour was I think very strong and our utilization was very good. And our D&I work continues to flourish.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

And George, the other thing I would say that we saw in Consulting was we saw the smaller engagements actually start to accelerate. We have been talking over time about the large engagements and that’s why we’re seeing the real growth for kind of the first time we saw the small engagements also accelerating in terms of the growth. So I think that’s good news going forward as you think about the smaller engagements, especially internationally we feel very positive about the growth potential there.

George K. Tong — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Got it. Very helpful. And then on margins you delivered very strong flow through in fiscal 1Q, EBITDA margins. As you look ahead, how is your outlook for margins changed over the next one to two years? Previously, you had said 17% and 18%, with 18% plus achievable. How has that changed? And have you been outperforming your expectations with respect to profitability?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Rob, you want to handle that?

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Yeah, I think — I think, George, we have been exceeding our expectations in terms of the profitability. As our new business continues with real strength, as Gary mentioned, we’re kind of chasing capacity to deliver. And so at some point the cost base from the compensation perspective will catch up to some extent in, that will put some downward pressure. We’re still working through some of the real estate and it’s pretty complicated when you think about the number of offices we have and you’re in different cities across the world, you have to negotiate with landlords, you have to think about sublet opportunities and so on, but we still expect to get savings over time on the real estate. And then I would expect the business development, travel expenses are still at depressed levels, I would expect them to come back to somewhere, nowhere near where we were, but maybe to a more moderate level. I mean, I think we still would stick to the longer term 17% to 18%, 18% plus opportunities as we continue to ramp the organization.

George K. Tong — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Got it. Very helpful. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Tim Mulrooney with William Blair. And your line is open.

Sam — William Blair & Company, L.L.C — Analyst

Hey, this is Sam [Phonetic] on for Tim. Thanks for taking my questions here. Your guidance for the first quarter was for revenue of $535 million to $555 million and you beat that estimate by about 7% here. I guess I’m wondering which pieces of the business exceeded your internal expectations? And kind of which pieces of business were more or less in line with your own projections?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would say that in general, the businesses across the board exceeded our expectations and we were very worried about the wave of the virus that we just, it looks like we’ve made it through at least this Delta variant. And so that was clearly on our minds. And I think the other thing is the RPO in the Professional Search businesses. Those are — those are outstanding businesses. Our RPO has demonstrated a multi-year, multi-quarter track record of delivering high quality, high organic growth and that’s certainly exceeded our expectations. And the Professional Search area is one where, that’s a $20 billion, $30 billion market, and that’s one that Korn Ferry is going to become an increasing relevant player.

Sam — William Blair & Company, L.L.C — Analyst

Great, that’s helpful color. Maybe digging a little bit here. With more than $600 million of investable cash, I was kind of hoping you could provide maybe an update on your capital allocation priorities for fiscal ’22 here. Outside of small repurchases and the dividend, how would you characterize your appetite in the pipeline for on the day?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would say; number one, that we have a very balanced and systematic approach to cap a little deployment. And so that’s a combination of number one, investing in the business. And number two, balancing that desire with shareholder returns and part of that game plan is clearly inorganic growth and I would say that the pipeline is good. We don’t feel compelled by any sense of timing that we have to do something. But I believe we’re at the beginning of a journey here, and years and years ago I said this will be a multi-hundred million dollar organization than it was multi-billion. I mean, we’re really just at the beginning. And M&A is going to play a very important role in that.

Sam — William Blair & Company, L.L.C — Analyst

Great. Thanks for answering that.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Mark Marcon with Baird. And your line is open.

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

Hello, everybody, and congratulations on the great quarter. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the opportunity in Professional Search. It is a huge market. And I’m just wondering what are you seeing in terms of your capacity? How many — how are you thinking about additions over the course of this year to he staff there? And where are you getting the folks from?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, you’re right, it’s clearly a large addressable market for us and an adjacent market to that may even be staffing. So we have ramped up and we continue to ramp up very aggressively the number of consultants in that business. And we’ve since January, we’ve probably ramped up revenue generating capacity by about 50% and we’re going to — we’re going to absolutely continue to do that.

The other thing though is that it’s got to be more than just parties and what our RPO businesses told us is that the combination of IP with incredible talent can create a very nice organic growth story. So the second piece is making sure that we’re incorporating our IP into the offering and the — where the consultants are coming from, it is a lot of you what I would call mostly smaller very specialized recruiting firms. There could be some that are larger. But the final piece is that M&A has to play a role in that and you can just do it a body at a time with IP alone. That’s great. But there also has to be an inorganic strategy. And so we’re really pursing all of those three avenues.

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

I mean, how would you anticipate ramping the capacity over the next six to 12 months, Gary.

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

I would continue at this pace. There is — Mark you see it, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen that the mega trend, the changes that are happening right now from Baby Boomers to career Nomads, to upskilling talent to technology and digitization is just massive, massive change and the desire from clients to now to hire people that has those type of technical, technology, digital skills is something that I just haven’t seen, combined with the backdrop of this massive transition and transformation around the world of work and I really believe this is going to continue for the next couple of years. We’re not only companies making changes, but also people making changes, life choices of what they want to do or where they want to live. It’s a pretty, I mean it’s obviously a hard time for many people. But it’s also a very exciting time.

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

What percentage of the of the positions that you’re filling are available on our work from home basis at this point whether it’s in Professional or Executive Search, how would you quantify that?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, it’s a substantial — substantial amount. It’s more than — it’s definitely more than 50% for sure. And I think at the end of the day when you fast forward two years, I think that that’s — the environment is going to be clearly hybrid, it’s going to be flexibility. Obviously, there is some positions where that won’t be the case. But yeah, it’s a substantial amount, Mark.

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

And that should actually increase your competitive advantage, particularly relative to more regional firms given your wide database now?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

I would think so. I mean, I would I would absolutely think so and it’s — change is really good for our Consulting business. And man, we are in the middle of a synonymous change.

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

Great. Then can you just talk a little bit about what you’re seeing on the Consulting and the digital side, particularly as it relates to sales training? And to what extent that may have picked up?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, it did pick up and we’ve made a big push there. We made an acquisition a couple of years ago that was principally anchored around, well two things, project management, the ability to train people to manage projects, but also around sales training, and we’ve definitely seen a pickup in this quarter. And as Bob talked about and Gregg in terms of the uptick in subscription sales, a lot of that was actually driven by the sales training capability. So organizations are now — they’ve come up for air and they’re looking around, okay, how do they — how do they go to market, what is the customer journey look like. And so I would continue to believe that a good part of our professional and leadership development will be around accelerated revenue growth or more simply around customer experience and sales training.

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

Great. And then one last one if I could just squeeze in, Gary. While we have you is — you’ve been through many cycles. Obviously, there is some discussion about — is this is good as it gets, are things peaking? How much of the activity you’re seeing is basically just a surge to make up for COVID versus some of those bigger longer-term trends, whether it’s selling to marquee accounts, cross selling, the baby boomers are retiring, the work from home options, how would you characterize that?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

You know, if you would have asked me five months ago, six months ago, I probably would have said that 50% is — you can call it pent-up demand or you call it companies that may be cut too much. I wouldn’t say that today. I would say that the environment of change is — I just haven’t seen anything like this. And whether that’s the career nomads, whether it’s the digitization of everything, I think we’re in for a couple of year, just massive amount of transformation and change. So I believe that the mega trends are really — it’s really the big part of the narrative today. Whereas five, six months ago, I would have said it’s maybe half the narrative.

Mark S. Marcon — Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst

Very helpful. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question will come from the line of Marc Riddick with Sidoti. And your line is open.

Marc Riddick — Sidoti — Analyst

Hi, good morning.

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Hey, Marc, good morning.

Marc Riddick — Sidoti — Analyst

So I was wondering if you could follow-up a little bit on the — I really appreciate all the commentary and color that you’ve already given. I was wondering if we could spend a little bit of time on the progress that you’ve seen with broad-based recovery coming from smaller clients, and I wonder if you could address that a little bit, maybe if you’re — are you getting a sense that those that have sort of picked up a little bit more lately, maybe what’s been driving that? Are there particular industry verticals that we should be thinking about that is now kind of picked up their activity that maybe lagged others? And how we should think about that difference or that bifurcated activity level that you’re seeing kick in now?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, let me, Bob. You can add to my commentary here. I think on a broad stroke, our desire would be to put a and outside emphasis on larger engagements for a whole side of reasons and coupled with our marquee and regional accounts. So that is still our strategic desire. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t pursue smaller engagements say less than 500,000 or so because we clearly would. But our desire is to definitely have more impactful multiregional engagements, because that’s clearly — we have a global platform with IP that cuts across the world, I would say on an industry basis and this may be intuitive, but what we have seen over the last few months is clearly an uptick in consumer. And you would probably guess that given how we came out of the first wave, that’s — whether that’s travel and hospitality, whether it’s fashion, whether it’s retail, we’ve definitely seen that. And then secondly technology kind of across the board. So that’s — I think that kind of sets the landscape. And maybe Bob, you could comment further on the smaller engagements.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Sure. So, Marc, if you look at the engagements under $0.5 million, we basically break them up into three buckets, less than 100, 100 to 250 and 250 to 500. And we actually saw in total for that those three categories in excess of 50% growth year-over-year and each category was roughly in line with with growth. What we’re seeing is, Marc, in talks about the filling up the jar with big rocks but you still need the sand and the sand is what he refers to as a smaller engagement. What we’re seeing, particularly overseas, in Europe and in Asia Pac, is where the smaller engagements are picking up. And as I think about the business, historically we had strength in those regions, in country dealing with some of the smaller clients, and that was a spending that had really been impacted from the pandemic the hardest, and now we’re starting to see that rebound, which we think is a good signal. Again we still had, as Gary said, our emphasis on engagements above $0.5 million and we saw strong continued growth in those engagements. But this is the first quarter we really saw the small stuff start to bounce back. So I would say its more on a regional basis, if you will.

Marc Riddick — Sidoti — Analyst

Great. And then my next question and I will preface this by saying I admit this is a bit of a squishy question, but I just wanted to get your thoughts on it. You go back a few years ago to when you made a commentary on the investment, you made the decision to brand everything Korn Ferry, you made the decision to step up your branding efforts pre-pandemic, you made the decision to sort of move forward with the Korn Ferry brand across the board, you made the decision to do the golf tour and what have you. All of those things are — I was wondering if you could spend a little bit of time maybe on what your thoughts are there as to the effectiveness? I know it’s — I’ve covered advertising before so I know it’s always difficult to ask somebody what the ROIC is of a branding exercise, but I was wondering if you could spend a little bit of time on sort of where you are today versus when you made those initial decisions and how you think about it going?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would say in Professional Services there is no substitute for knowledge, know-how and insight, and that’s the business that we’re in. And so I think coupled with those branding decisions that the very important — we have been incredibly consistent and purposeful, not over-weeks, not over months, not over quarters but over years. We believe that this is a multi, multi-billion dollar opportunity to create an organization that sits at the intersection of talent strategy in an organization. So ultimately it’s knowledge and its insight and its IP, and that’s what the firm is based on. So I would say that is number one.

Having said that, as I look back, clearly that decision around branding and around thought leadership and all the things that we’re doing, I think it’s been an absolute gamechanger for Korn Ferry. I firmly believe that we have elevated the brand of Korn Ferry more in the last two years than we’ve done in the last 52 years in our history and business. And that’s not just a statement, that’s backed by our data that we track and whether that’s social media or whatever, the data would tend to back that up. Now, if we continue, which we will with a balanced approach to growth around organic and inorganic, there will be times where you make an investment and you run that company with that brand for a certain amount of time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Korn Ferry does that in the future. But I think that the investments we’ve made, the thought leadership we’ve done, the social media presence, all of that has been an absolute gamechanger for Korn Ferry as well as the consistency and the voice that we’ve taken in the marketplace around different types of issues, whether that is gender, whether it is around race, Korn Ferry I think has been a very, very strong voice in the marketplace. And today if you just look out now over the next few months and quarters, ESG is going to continue to be a major issue for organizations and that’s why we’ve been working very, very hard over the last several months to make sure that we can put together an integrated solution for companies that will grapple with this issue as well as the other issue around horizontal leadership. The days of vertical leadership I think are long gone, particularly in this world of work today where it’s hybrid, it’s work from anywhere, anytime.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

And I would add, Gary, you’ve kind of an outside in perspective, but inside out I see just a huge difference in the organization as I interact with people across the company, lines have absolutely been broken down. I think there’s much, much more collaboration amongst the different lines of business and so on. And I think the folks internally present themselves as one Korn Ferry versus where we were four or five ears ago. So I think Gary is absolutely spot on in terms of how we show up in the outside world, but I think also internally I see just a massive difference in how people interact and engage today.

Marc Riddick — Sidoti — Analyst

Its a excellent point. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Tobey Sommer with Truist Securities. Your line is open.

Tobey Sommer — Truist Securities — Analyst

Thank you. I had a question on ESG and I guess D&I. If you consider that part of the same theme, what percent of sales is generated from that currently? And could you talk about the opportunity and what it may be in the future and sort of how you’re [Indecipherable] offerings map against that opportunity or maybe need to be refined to fully capitalize? Thanks.

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would characterize those businesses as being nine digit in total. And so whether that would be P&L, 8%, 9%, 10% of the company’s depending on what you count in there. So it’s certainly not an overwhelming share of the portfolio today, but you know the ESG opportunity, the D&I is not — it’s not an isolated question and it ties to an approach to enterprise leadership. That is; number one, it’s more inclusive leadership, which we have digital offerings for that. It applies to total enterprise. And it’s not just vertical leadership anymore, it’s horizontal. So those opportunities are not just for example around paying governance, which we have a very, very nice business there. But they also see to organizational strategy and organizational transformation and the type of success profiles that you need, whether you’re fit for purpose, whether you — then does the compensation system reward and reinforce that fit for purpose. So it’s not necessarily an isolated question around ESG and D&I, but the way that we are looking at is more around horizontal leadership, enterprise-wide leadership. So I think that we’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last several months, making sure that we bring the different parts of the organization together where we can have an offering that is very, very integrated. How big that opportunity is, Tobey, I can’t speak to that. But I don’t I don’t think this is a fad. And I do think it plays into the mega trend that we’re seeing that fortunately or unfortunately this virus has created and prompted just a tremendous amount of change.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Hey, Tobey, its Bob. One of the things that Gary mentioned earlier is we’re going to be rolling out a new sort of ESG solution. And as part of that rollout when we’re ready to go prime, which is in the next couple of days, we have a slide that actually takes and it’s a little bit broader than ESG, it takes ESG, workforce transformation and so on. And it lines up our solution sets under nine different categories from Board capability and governance to embedding ESG and the operating model, executive goals and reinforcement mechanisms and so on. And so that’s something that we will share with you as soon as we’re again ready for prime time over the next couple of days. But it gives you a real sense for our solution sets and how they line up in — again, it’s not just ESG, but the broader mega trends that Gary referred to.

Tobey Sommer — Truist Securities — Analyst

Thanks, I appreciate that. If it s-is 8% or so today, and I told you — I thought it could double in four. Will that give you pause or is that within the realm of possibility?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, I think the thing that we’re very careful about is whiplash leadership and this is a time of tremendous transition, and we’re not going to just go from happy to glad. So it’s hard to make any kind of declaration or statement today because the world is in transition. But if you told me that, I think that may be on the high side, but it really is it in the realm of possibility, it could be in the realm of possibility. Part of that is dependent on the waves of this virus and the political climate in the world. But there is no question that we’re going through seismic change in many dimensions right now.

Tobey Sommer — Truist Securities — Analyst

Okay. Some other questions have been here. I just wanted to touch on, Gary, the capital deployment. How do you balance having flexibility, which you have ample sort of liquidity, net cash position now and your — I’m sure long-term goal of driving returns higher when you leave that stranded capital there work it odd with that longer-term goal. How do you balance that out? And are there any thresholds of liquidity that yet kind of could draw a line on and say we won’t go above there because that’s just too inefficient? Thanks.

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, I can let Bob speak to the metrics. I would say that; number one, actions speak louder than words. And so I think if you are a shareholder in Korn Ferry and you believe in the strategy that this — we’re creating a company that’s at the intersection of talent in organization and strategy, number one. And number two, then you’d have to say okay, do you believe in the leadership team. And I think as part of that, you would look at the track record and you would say okay, have these — has this company done what it has said consistently over time. And I think the answer would be a resounding, of course, I’m biased, but would be a resounding yes to that question.

Clearly we’ve got a good problem on our hands and you pointed out very subtly, and we’re very well aware of that. But the last thing we’re going to do is to rush into something that in five years could be very, very harmful for the brand of Korn Ferry. And so that is the thing we’re not going to do. We do like having that flexibility, but there does come up point where as you say it’s inefficient. And Bob, maybe you can speak to how we think about the operating boundaries and shareholder boundaries.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Yeah, so Tobey, as we look at the organization and how much cash we’re carrying, I think we — I wouldn’t say we have a specific number that we won’t go above. We talk a lot about our balanced approach towards capital allocation as we see the cash — the investable cash balance is growing and again some of it depends on where in the world those — that cash sits, because some of it is inaccessible to us easily, but where we are today. We got the $220 million I spoke about sitting in the U.S. and we’ll look at the different opportunities that exist for us to deploy that cash, whether it’s looking at investing more into the digital business or hiring more fee earners or what we did at the end of the year last year as we increased our dividend this quarter, our buybacks weren’t as substantial as they have been in the past. But we really look at all the levers and depending on where we sit at the time in trying to achieve a return greater than our cost of capital for shareholders, it will make decisions along each of those vectors to either pull the lever in or and as Gary said, we’ll sit tight if we don’t have an M&A opportunity and we’ll look more towards shareholder returns at that point.

Tobey Sommer — Truist Securities — Analyst

Okay. We’ll be watching for that. Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. And we will take the final question from Tim Mulrooney with William Blair. And your line is open. Hey, guys, thanks for letting us hop in the queue here again. Just a quick one around marquee accounts and that’s been a big topic of discussion.

Tim Mulrooney — William Blair & Company, L.L.C — Analyst

You’ve mentioned over the last few quarters here that marquee accounts had outperformed the rest of your portfolio. I guess I’m wondering if that dynamic occurred in previous recoveries or if this is really due to the extra focus you’re giving to these accounts now?

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well Bob, you can maybe add to this. I would say that yes over the last few quarters they have — that portfolio has definitely outperformed. I mean, the reality is when you go back to the last major recession which was the Great Recession. At that point, our account strategy was nowhere near what it is today. So it’s really not — it’s really not comparable. And so I can’t really answer that question. And it’s not only that the marquee and the regional accounts are absolutely an important part of the Korn Ferry story. But the other thing we do look at is the cross referrals. And that’s not going to go up every quarter. That’s absolutely not going to happen. But when you — it is something we pay attention to and we look at both of those, and those are — that’s not just a KPI, we actually reward our colleagues for those cross referral. So we tend to look at those together. And I think when you look at them together over a many month multi-quarter basis, you would say okay, well this thing it is working. But it’s hard to compare because it just wasn’t in its — it wasn’t in its maturity you know 13 years ago, and we’re still — we still are at the very, very beginning even with the account strategy when it comes to our, what we call our regional accounts.

Robert Rozek — Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer

Yeah, Gary, the only — I would add. You just mentioned the word that I was going to say, I think it’s really just the maturity of the program. You think about the number of account leaders we have on hand, you think about the organization’s recognition of the program, you think about the cross line of business referrals that you mentioned. It’s really just the maturation of that program. And as Gary said, I would say the marquee accounts are further along that spectrum. The regional accounts are much more mature, if you will. They’ve been in existence for two or three years now. And so we expect the performance on the regional accounts over time to catch up and mirror what we’re seeing on the marquee accounts, but it’s definitely the — I don’t think there is anything to do with the recovery. I think it’s just the program maturing itself.

Tim Mulrooney — William Blair & Company, L.L.C — Analyst

Great. I appreciate the color. Thank you, guys.

Operator

Thank you. And Mr. Burnison, I’d like to turn it back over to you for any closing comments.

Gary D. Burnison — Chief Executive Officer

Well, thank you everybody for joining us and recognizing that the world in many respects is still going through hardship and our hearts go out to those that still are experiencing this and to some extent or another we all are. But with that also — with crisis comes opportunity and those tend to come in times of great change and that is the period that we’re in and we are very, very hopeful about the megatrends that are playing out. So I want to thank our colleagues again for their resiliency for the outstanding effort and for our shareholders for listening. Thank you very much and we’ll talk to you next time.

Operator

Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, this conference will be available for replay for one week starting today at 3:00 PM Eastern Time, running through September 14th at midnight. You may access the AT&T Executive Playback Service by dialing 866-207-1041 and entering the access code of 1153639. International participants may dial 402-970-0847. Additionally, the replay will be available for playback at the Company’s website www.kornferry.com in the Investor Relations section.

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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