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Korn Ferry (NYSE:KFY)
Q4 2019 Earnings Call
Jun 20, 2019, 4:30 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by, and welcome to the Korn Ferry Fourth Quarter Fiscal Year 2019 Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Following the prepared remarks, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. And, as a reminder, this conference call is being recorded for replay purposes. We have also made available, in the Investor Relations section of our website at kornferry.com, a copy of the financial presentation that we will be reviewing with you today.

Before I turn the call over to our 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 reports filed by the company with the SEC, including the company's quarterly report for quarter ended January 31, 2019 and the company's soon to be filed annual report for fiscal year 2019.

Also, some of the comments today may reference such non-GAAP financial measures such as constant currency amounts, EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA. Additional information concerning these measures, including reconciliations to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measure, is contained in the financial presentation and earnings release related to this call, both of which are posted in the Investor Relations section of the company's website at www.kornferry.com.

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

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you, everybody. Thanks for joining us. On April 30th, we finished another very good year. We hit the new milestones. The top line was up 12%, constant currency 9%. The actual adjusted EBITDA margin was 16%. We continue to grow our marquee account program, that now represents 20% of the portfolio. We return capital to shareholders. And, most importantly, we maintained our leading industry position in search.

RPO and Professional Search grew double digits for the fifth consecutive year. I mean that's pretty amazing, five consecutive years double-digit. And Advisory grew at 8% constant currency.

We had a very good fourth quarter. RPO is up 25% constant currency, Advisory was up 5%; overall, as a company, we were up 8%, top line was up 8% constant currency. Profitability was strong. EPS $0.88 and adjusted EBITDA margin of 16.7%.

And as I think about Korn Ferry today, I'm excited about what the future holds. I think, we're really just at the beginning. But I think we are the only organizational consultancy that helps companies look at talent and strategy together. We help companies make sure they have the right people in the right places providing them the right rewards and we bring their strategies to life by redesigning their org structures, helping -- motivate, inspire people, helping them hire the best and hang on to the best. And, today, the right reality is, we're more than talent acquisition, we're more than leadership development, we're more than organizational strategy advisors. We purposefully enabled people and organizations to exceed their potential.

And the firm is substantially different today. This is not a hyper-cyclical binge and bust firm, we're now a company for all seasons focused on the long game with our clients, whether that's M&A or going global or some other transformative play, we can help organizations through our five integrated solutions.

First, organizational strategy. That is about 10% of the company. That was the best grower in our Advisory business in the quarter. It was up about 7% or 8% constant currency. Assessment in succession is our second solution area, that represents about 13% of our revenue. We've assessed, believe it or not, almost 70 million people in our history. Third is leadership development, that's about 9% of our company. Every year, we develop 1.2 million executives around the world. For the year, the leadership development business was up about 13% constant currency. The fourth piece is compensation and rewards. We have comp data on 25 million people around the world, 20,000 companies, and our rewards business is about 10% of Korn Ferry. And finally is our flagship talent acquisition offerings where we put somebody in a job every three minutes.

Going forward, our strategy remains anchored on our five strategic pillars. Number one is our go-to-market strategy. And there it starts with our marquee accounts and now what we've added is regional accounts. These are companies where we have greater access and organizational coverage and a strong opportunity for impact. As I said, the marquee account program represented about 20% of the company in this last fiscal year and the growth rate was actually not quite twice but about 70%, I mean 1.7x of the rest of the portfolio. And as I indicated, we're expanding this now to a couple of hundred more regional accounts that I'm excited about.

Second is IP and innovation. What we do with our -- with the IP that we've developed over the years? KF Advance is one of those, where we now have 70,000 members. I think, we could be the world's gymnasium for people's careers.

Third, we have to continue to extend our brand. We have to make the brand more elastic. Yesterday, we announced a partnership with the PGA tour. We're now the umbrella sponsor of the Korn Ferry tour, which develops and advances the next generation of golfers and it's the primary pathway to getting a PGA Tour Card. And that's what Korn Ferry is all about. And if I think about our purpose, about enabling people and organizations to exceed your potential, it may sound strange exceeding your potential, but you don't know your potential until you're (technical difficulty) an opportunity, until you're given an abundance of opportunity. And that applies whether you're coming out of college or in the boardroom. That's what this company is all about and that's what I'm so excited about the Korn Ferry tour, because it represents promotion, it represents advancement. And so, we plan on using this not just as a sponsorship of a sporting event, but we are going to use it to actually tell our story about who we really are and our purpose about providing opportunity for people, for helping people be more than.

Fourth is the -- it's been a pillar of our strategy, M&A. We continue to look at ways that we can be the sole consultancy that's focused on talent and strategy together.

Fifth is our own people and our colleagues. We have to continue to develop talent. 64% of our company today is millennial, 63% are female almost 70% are outside the United States. We're rolling out a brand new global mentoring program that I'm passionate about, but we have to continue to keep that top of mind. So when we've come away -- come a long way on our journey, but I think there's significant opportunity ahead.

So, with that, I'm joined here with Bob Rozek and Gregg Kvochak, and I guess I'll turn it over to you Bob, first.

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

Great. Thanks, Gary; and good afternoon, everyone. Our results for the fourth quarter and the full fiscal year continue to demonstrate the power of our business model and the growing impact our integrated solutions have and driving critical business outcomes for our clients even in challenging operating environments. As the global geopolitical and economic uncertainty continues to escalate, demand for our leading organizational Advisory solutions has remained steady and our financial results, as Gary just went through, continue to improve.

For the full year of FY19, our financial results reached company and industry highs with record levels of revenue, earnings and profitability. Fee revenue moved to $1,926 million, which was up 12% year-over-year measured at constant currency. Adjusted EBITDA with $311 million, which was up $33 million or 12% year-over-year. And our full year adjusted EBITDA margin grew to 16.1%. And, finally, in FY19, our adjusted fully diluted earnings per share grew $0.60 or 22% year-over-year to a record $3.31.

Now turning to our most recently completed quarter. Fee revenue in the fourth quarter grew to $491 million, which was up nearly 8% measured at constant currency. As in recent quarters, growth in the fourth quarter was broad-based with each of our operating segments improving. Exec Search grew 3%, Advisory grew 5%, and RPO and Pro Search grew 25%, on year-over-year all measured at constant currency. In addition, in the fourth quarter, earnings growth continued to be strong. Adjusted EBITDA in the fourth quarter grew to $82.2 million, which is a year-over-year improvement of $6.6 million or 9%, while our adjusted EBITDA margin improved 80 basis points year-over-year to 16.7%.

Now turning to new business trends, Globally, Executive Search new business in the fourth quarter was approximately $200 million and that was up 4% year-over-year, driven by growth in North America, Europe and Asia Pac. New business in the fourth quarter for Advisory was $219 million, up approximately 2% measured at constant currency.

And, finally, in the fourth quarter, RPO and Professional Search achieved another strong quarter of new business with total awards of $84 million, which includes about $50 million of long-term recruitment outsourced contracts. The $50 million of RPO awards consist of about $6 million in what we would call expansions and renewals and those are with existing clients and approximately $44 million of new client contracts.

At the end of the fourth quarter, total cash and marketable securities were $767 million, up approximately $109 million compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal '18. Excluding amounts reserved for deferred comp and accrued bonuses, our investable cash balance at the end of the fourth quarter was approximately $382 million and adds up about $70 million year-over-year. We ended the year with outstanding debt of about $223 million. And, finally, adjusted diluted earnings per share were $0.88 in the fourth quarter, that's up $0.08 or 10% compared to the prior year fiscal fourth quarter.

I'll now turn the call over to Gregg to review our operating segments in more detail.

Gregg Kvochak -- Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Okay. Thanks, Bob. Growth continued for Executive Search segment in the fourth quarter as global fee revenue reached $190.9 million compared to year-over-year and measured at constant currency global Executive Search fee revenue grew $6.5 million or 3.4% in the fourth quarter.

At constant currency, each of our Executive Search regions grew in the fourth quarter. North America was up 1.7%, Europe was up 7.2%. Asia Pac was up 4.6%, and Latin America was up 2%.

By Executive Search specialty practice, growth in the fourth quarter was mix. Compared to the fourth quarter a year ago at actual exchange rates, our technology practice grew 17%, our industrial practice grew 7%, our financial services practice grew 6%, our life sciences and healthcare practice was up 1%, and our consumers' goods practice was down 11%.

The total number of dedicated Executive Search consultants worldwide at the end of the fourth quarter was 565, it was up 24 year-over-year and up 13, sequentially. Annualized fee revenue production per consultant in the fourth quarter was $1.37 million and the number of new search assignments opened worldwide in the fourth quarter was 1,717, which is up approximately 8% year-over-year.

Adjusted EBITDA for Executive Search in the fourth quarter was $49.7 million, up $1 million or 2% year-over-year. The consolidated adjusted EBITDA margin for Executive Search in the fourth quarter of fiscal '19 was 26% compared to 25.5% in the fourth quarter of fiscal '18.

For all of fiscal '19, Executive Search achieved a record high $775 million of fee revenue, which was up 11.4% year-over-year measured at constant currency with strong growth in every region. All of our Executive Search specialty practices grew in fiscal '19 led by technology and financial services, which were up 23% and 14%, respectively.

Additionally, adjusted EBITDA for Executive Search in fiscal '19 was $193.8 million, which was up $34.5 million or 21.7%. The adjusted EBITDA margin of fiscal '19 for Executive Search was 25% compared to 22.5% for fiscal '18.

Now turning to Advisory, where the fourth quarter fee revenue measured year-over-year at constant currency grew 4.8% to $207.1 million. Growth was driven by strength in both the Europe and Asia Pacific regions, which were up at constant currency by 9% and 10%, respectively. As previously mentioned, new business awards for Advisory were steady in the fourth quarter, up approximately 2% year-over-year measured at constant currency.

In the fourth quarter, adjusted EBITDA for Advisory was $38.9 million with an 18.8% margin, both essentially flat year-over-year.

For the full year of fiscal '19, Advisory fee revenue grew to $821 million, which was up $60.8 million or 8% year-over-year measured at constant currency. Adjusted EBITDA for Advisory for fiscal '19 was $151 million, which was up $7.5 million or 5.2% year-over-year. The adjusted EBITDA margin in fiscal '19 for Advisory was 18.4% compared to 18.3% in fiscal '18.

Finally, turning to RPO and Professional Search, where growth in the fourth quarter continued at a high double-digit phase. In the fourth quarter, RPO and Professional Search generated a record high $92.8 million of fee revenue, which was up 25.3% year-over-year at constant currency. All geographic regions grew at a double-digit pace in the fourth quarter with North America up 28%, Europe up 21% and Asia Pacific up 22%. As previously mentioned, in the fourth quarter, RPO and Professional Search was awarded another $84 million of global new business consisting of $50 million of longer term recruitment outsourcing contracts and $34 million of shorter term Professional Search assignments.

Earnings and profitability were also up sharply for RPO and Professional Search in the fourth quarter. EBITDA grew to $15.6 million, up $3.1 million or 25% year-over-year, and EBITDA margin improved to 16.9%.

For the full year of fiscal '19, RPO and Professional Search fee revenue grew to $330 million, which was up $65.7 million or 24% measured at constant currency. Similarly, EBITDA for RPO and Professional Search grew to $54.4 million, a year-over-year improvement of $11.8 million or nearly 28%. EBITDA margin for all of fiscal '19 for RPO and Professional Search was 16.5% compared to 15.6% for fiscal '18.

Now, I'll turn the call back over to Bob to discuss our outlook for the first quarter of fiscal '20.

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

Great. Thanks, Gregg. As we exited fiscal '19 and we're entering fiscal '20, our monthly new business trends have been choppy as global economic issues and geopolitical concerns have escalated. Globally, for Executive Search, new business awards in April were up nearly 5% year-over-year, but up only approximately 1% year-over-year in May. If monthly new business trends continue, we expect year-over-year growth in Exec Search new business awards to remain essentially flat in June and July.

For Advisory, new business in the first quarter is typically down sequentially from the fourth quarter. Similar to Exec Search, Advisory had a good month of new business in April, up nearly 5% year-over-year, but May was soft or down approximately 7%.

For Professional Search, new business measured year-over-year for May was up approximately 4% in constant currency. For RPO, both business under contract and the pipeline of potential new business opportunities remains strong and we expect accelerated growth to continue in the first quarter. Considering these factors and assuming worldwide economic conditions, financial markets and foreign exchange rates remain steady. We expect our consolidated fee revenue in the first quarter of fiscal '20 to range from $466 million to $486 million, and we expect our consolidated good (technical difficulty) earnings per share to range from $0.73 to $0.81.

So, with that, Gary, anything you want to add before we go to questions?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

I would just -- I'd reemphasize that for any CEO or for any Board, talent without strategy is helpless; strategy without talent is hopeless. I mean, it really does come down to those two elements and how you synchronize strategy and talent to drive superior performance. And I think that this is the company that we're building. We have to continue to move our firm toward a more solutions and industry orientation, which we're going to do. But I think the opportunity is truly ours for the taking. As we continue to extend the brand and the partnership with the PGA Tour, I think it's going to pay off for us in telling our story and as we continue to broaden our solutions.

So, now, I think, with that, we'll turn it over to the operator and love to have your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our first question is from Tobey Sommer at SunTrust. Please go ahead.

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

Thanks. I was wondering, if you could talk to us about what you're hearing from clients across your businesses frankly given the more choppy and kind of mixed economic data in outlook now for rate cuts? Thanks.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

I think, it's -- two earnings calls ago we laid out what we thought the economic climate would be and I think we've turned out to be more right than wrong. There clearly I think US GDP growth is going to be substantially less this quarter than last quarter. Clearly, the trade skirmish has impacted the business in China. And it's also impacted our industrial search business in the United States, that's not coincidental. There's tremendous decoupling of supply chains in China. And so, I would describe the environment as sluggish as evidenced by Central Banks around the world debating on whether they would cut rates, which undoubtedly they will, toward the end of this calendar year, which should be the right thing to do. And that's what we're seeing and I think that's pretty good generalization.

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

Yeah. Toby, this is Bob. The only other thing I would add to that is, as we prepare for Board Meeting last week in this call today, we talked about folks in the field and the level of business interaction with our clients remains high. People are just taking longer to agree and sign an engagement with us, which I think we're seeing -- we're not doing what we're seeing, I think other firms are experiencing the same phenomena.

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you for that context. And how do you approach your internal headcount growth across the businesses in this environment? It looks like Advisory up year-over-year after a few quarters of being down, and now in search I think close to mid-single digit, so how do you think about that and manage that going forward?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

We are going to continue to promote from within and we will have a whole slew of promotions that will happen this quarter that we're currently in. So we'll continue to do that. Secondly, we are very aggressively looking for account leaders that could be from within the company or from outside. So, we'll continue to aggressively recruit there.

Three is people that have organizational consulting, strategy capabilities, we're very aggressive in the market recruiting. And we are, obviously, always interested in fee earners. We're going to continue to do that. In the Professional Search area, we have a high focus on technical skills. Recruiters that are recruiting in the technology area, the digital area, so we're going all out there. So those would be kind of the front line and what you would -- I think what you're going to see is that, below that we will moderate the headcount growth.

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you. And I'll ask one more question and get back in the queue. Could you talk about how you're seeing the maturation of the company's ability to grow its product sales and those elements of your business licenses, et cetera, related to the IP at a faster rate than the company as a whole? Thanks.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We haven't yet. We've made two adjustments that I think is going to get at that. The one is that there is a piece of the IP that deals with engagement. And we have entered into -- on March 6th, and actually so a few months ago. We entered into a partnership with Qualtrics SAP, kind of joint go-to-market and using their technology on that engagement business. Since we've done that, our win rate has gone up dramatically. And so, we saw some leakage in the year on that part of the business, so we teamed up with a real technology player to scale that business.

And then, secondly, is on the assessment side, we're making some changes there to be able to scale that with multi-thousand employee companies. We've got to increase our abilities there. So those are the two things within the product business and obviously continuing to incorporate the entire IP. So compensation, development, assessment is an integrated licensing offering.

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Next question is from Kevin McVeigh at Credit Suisse. Please go ahead.

Kevin Damien McVeigh -- Credit Suisse AG -- Analyst

Great. Thank you. Hey, Gary, you talked about, kind of, I think about having 20% of the revenue in the key account program. How does the margins kind of sit with those folks as opposed to the core business overall?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, the margins, we think, are better, because you don't have the customer acquisition costs. And what you'll find is that many of those clients, well, first of all, almost all of them use all lines of business cases. So they're truly integrated clients, where we're having a real impact on the company. So, that's number one.

Secondly, many of them would involve either some sort of RPO or project-based work that over time will have very, very good margins and you don't have the selling cost. So, we think that when you look at any world class professional services organization, what you're going to find is 35% to 40% of the portfolio is proactively determined. So, in other words, loyal enduring clients of scale, where you're putting tens of people, a multidisciplinary team against a client from all lines of business. And what it really does, it provides a more stable house over time, but it also shows to the organization what the vision looks like actualized. So we are very happy with where we are with the marquee accounts. We've got to -- again, we've got to do more. So you've got that representing about 20% of the portfolio. This last year it grew 19% constant currency, the company for the year grew 12%, so it beat the portfolio. There's a fair amounting of outsourcing in those clients.

What we're doing right now is, now, we're rolling that out to another 200 clients that we're calling regional accounts. And that's obviously not a one quarter exercise and that's why we're aggressively in the market or promoting from within account leaders.

Kevin Damien McVeigh -- Credit Suisse AG -- Analyst

And then, Gary or Bob, couple of -- I just wonder for your thoughts around kind of the current environment. Does it feel like we're going to another recession here given the uncertainty or just any thoughts around that? And then given the uncertainty, can you frame out a little bit of the guidance in terms of how we should think about it geographically and then across kind of search versus in future step.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Let me take. First of all, we're not predictors and that would be very dangerous. We only guide on (multiple speakers)

Kevin Damien McVeigh -- Credit Suisse AG -- Analyst

Listen, I can't barely do my job, Gary. I'm not asking you to predict, just more of, I guess (multiple speakers)

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. This is not my first rodeo. So I -- there has been numerous times over the course of my career here. I think of a couple of head and shoulder fakes, there was one around Brexit, there was one around the Presidential Election, there was one around the Greek debt crisis in '11. And so, the real question is, are you facing a cliff or is this a head and shoulder fake.

I do believe that banks are going to be much more accommodative. We said that two calls ago. I really do believe it. And so, I -- in the next quarter, where, obviously, I think our guidance reflects head and shoulder. I think some of our operational decisions, we're being more conservative on headcount below the fee earner, below the consultant, and we obviously want to play it a little bit safer. But I would also say one other thing, and that is the company today is substantially different than -- I'd even go back to the last crisis, which was severe, deep, really bad.

The company, at that point -- revenue fell almost 50%. We've done a lot of modeling. And if that deep kind of recession happened today, you'd find that the top line would probably go down 28%, 30%. So substantially different, because we have a product business, we have a consulting business, we have an RPO business that has more scale, so I would say that number one.

And, secondly, I don't think even if you were going to take a doomsday, you would pencil in that kind of 50% decline to begin with. Remember, at the trough 10 years ago, this company went down to $100 million in revenue a quarter. We just came off a quarter of almost $500 million. So this is a different car today, no question about it.

In terms of the guidance for the quarter, our -- and I'll let Bob talk about the big picture, but our guidance assumes that we're going to see China search down, then we're going to see some softening in the UK, and then we're going to see RPO continue to have like a really, really good quarter.

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

Yeah. I would -- just -- maybe elaborate, Kevin, a little. Further, when you think about the issues out in the -- the macro issues out in the world today with the trade wars and Brexit and so on, now as we looked at the guidance, obviously, we had the month of May under our belts and we're really feeling a bit more of the pinch in those geographies where the issues manifest themselves. So Gary's point China, the guidance reflects some downward pressure there, UK, a little bit in Germany and so on. So it's the places where you would expect there to be the downward pressures, where we provide for those in our guidance.

Kevin Damien McVeigh -- Credit Suisse AG -- Analyst

It's super helpful. So if I -- just quick recap, it sounds like the guidance is a bit of a head fake, Gary, but operationally maybe a little bit more, not necessarily a recession, but a little bit more than a head fake in terms of the way you start to manage a business.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, absolutely. You just have to be -- you've got to have eyes wide open, right, because none of us have the crystal ball. And so, we're going to go after the strategic errors, where I said, for sure, that grow the top line. We're going to be much more conservative below that.

Kevin Damien McVeigh -- Credit Suisse AG -- Analyst

Awesome. Thank you, all.

Operator

Next question is from George Tong at Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

George Tong -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- Analyst

Hi, thanks. Good afternoon. On a constant currency basis, Advisory revenue growth decelerated a bit to 5% in fiscal 4Q from 6% in fiscal 3Q. Can you discuss if there were any unusual or one-time items contributing to the slowdown? And factors that could drive a reacceleration in the coming quarters?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, you were talking -- are you -- were you talking sequentially, George?

George Tong -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- Analyst

Year-over-year growth?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. In the fourth quarter of last year, we did have some big pops in the product business. So, it's a little bit of a tough comp. We had a number of assessment types of product sales and engagements a year ago. So, it definitely was a tough comparable. But in terms of the go forward, I would say that the partnership that I talked about earlier with SAP is one lever that we have to pull. The second is getting our assessment platform for Hunter (ph), the other handle, tens of thousands of employees at a time.

I think the third is, we've made a strategic push in that Advisory business toward bigger more impactful deals. And, with that, some of the smaller clients we've purposefully jettisoned, playing the long game that you want to create real scaled relationships. I think, you've probably -- you probably see that too playing in the last three or so quarters.

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

Yeah. And, George, this is Bob. We had a -- one particular client engagement that was centered around a merger transaction. They had -- for our business, we had a very large fee. And the other thing I would add is, we also were still selling perpetual licenses to our IP, which are one-time hits to revenue versus where we're going now with the sort of software-as-a-service model where you get the revenue over time. So those are additional items that have impacted.

George Tong -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. That's helpful. In the Executive Search business, fee revenue per consultant this quarter was $1.37 million, which declined 3.5% year-over-year. Can you elaborate on why consultant productivity fell in the quarter?

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

Yeah. George, I can do that. So if you look at the year-over-year headcount, it's up 24. 13 of that 24 came during the fourth quarter. And so, people come on board and it takes a little bit of time for him to ramp up to be productive. And so by those folks coming in so late in the year, it weighed a little bit on the productivity per partner, it's really just timing of bringing those folks on board.

George Tong -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. That's helpful. Thanks very much.

Operator

And next question will come from Mark Marcon at Baird. Please go ahead.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Hi. Good afternoon. Just wondering if you could talk a little bit about the RPO and perm placement or professional placement business. Obviously, you're doing extremely well there. Of the new business that you ended up signing up during this quarter, how much was coming from brand new accounts that have never had an RPO versus wins relative to the competitors? And how are you thinking about what anywhere in the game as it relates to RPO?

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

Yeah. Hey, Mark, it's Bob. So we did $84 million in total new business for our hubs. We did 54 RPO, 44 of that was new clients and 6 of that were -- was either renewals or a lot of times they will expand business in an existing client. So the combination of those two was the $6 million. So the 6 and the 45 obviously gets you to the 50. Listen, I think on the RPO side, I think it's still early innings. It's an area that we have a much differentiated product offering. I think that business has done a really nice job of taking the intellectual property that we have at the center of the organization in integrating it into their service offering. They've built a technology platform that integrates into essentially any HCM that a client has in place that provides them with the information data reporting that they wouldn't otherwise have. So, I think it's early innings and those we've talked to the folks in the business. I think they remain very bullish on the opportunities go forward.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

And, I mean, of the 44 new clients like how many of those -- they're new clients to you, but how many of them have had an RPO before where they might potentially be disengaging somebody else as opposed to their -- they've never had an RPO before.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I don't know the exact number. I put -- my hunch would be that the majority of them are shifting over from other providers.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. And then with regards to what you're seeing and particularly in Europe, I mean you mentioned that during the last quarter in Executive Search Europe 7% in constant currency, which is really good considering the environment. Was there a really dramatic shift as it relates to going from the last quarter and going into April and then May, particularly in the UK and Germany?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We've just seen the pace. The real the pace of new business has moderated and it's -- I think, it's reflective of, obviously, what you read.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. And then with regards to Advisory, can you talk a little bit about the different areas in terms of what the trends were there? Because it does sound like you're seeing differing trends between organizational strategy versus assessment versus leadership development. I was wondering if you could get a little bit more granular? What's the most encouraging? What's the area that you need to work on the absolute most?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, I certainly feel good about what we're doing in the consulting area. So we've got a number of proposals around the world around org strategy. So I'm feeling good about what we're doing there. So we did see in the quarter a nice pick up in org strategy. So M&A, post-merger integration kind of transformation engagements. where we're definitely seeing that. So that happened in the quarter. For the year, there was definitely leadership development was the best grower. D&I as well in the fourth quarter, but for the year it was probably 12% or 13% constant currency. We have a 1,000 people doing leadership development every day. So that was certainly nice to see. We're very aggressive in the market trying to bring in consultants into North America, I think we're subscale. We've had success doing that and we're going to continue to do that, for sure.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Great.

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

And Mark, this is Bob. I think the -- where Gary was talking about a lot of proposals out there and what the way that the business is now going to market is through our -- and we have our five-core solutions obviously, but they're weaving them together into an integrated solution that deals with a real business outcome, whether it's M&A, D&I, digital workforce. The things that companies are wrestling with today, we're able to pull our core solutions together into an integrated solution that's meaningful and help solve whatever the company's particular business issue is.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Right. And then within North American Executive Search, I mean it went from 11.2% growth in the third quarter to 1.5% growth in the fourth quarter against an easier comp. We've got a 22% comp coming up here in the first quarter. Are you expecting North American Executive Search to be flat or potentially even down in the first quarter?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Certainly flat. I would say, it's going to be flat industrial, again it's not coincidental. I mean, it's linked to decoupling of supply chain. So I -- clearly industrial is a big part of our business and I'm not expecting the growth there until this thing gets sorted out.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. That's fair. And then with regards to the tax rate that you're expecting for this coming year, what should we think about from that perspective?

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

Yeah. Mark, I tell you, pencil in right around 25% to 27%, midpoint 26%. They are still wrestling with some of the legislation, there's new regs coming out, new interpretations coming out constantly. So as we think about our plan for next year, we're already around 26% plus or minus range.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, great. And then, lastly, just capital allocation. Given your macro comments, how should we think about deployment of capital?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

I would continue to think about it how we've been doing it in a balanced approach. And so we are -- we did -- we repurchased about percent and a half of shares this last year and had a dividend. We're continuing to look at M&A opportunities. So I would think it's going to be the same kind of game plan, obviously it's going to be market dependent.

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thanks a lot.

Operator

And next question will come from Tim McHugh with William Blair. Please go ahead.

Tim McHugh -- William Blair -- Analyst

Hi. Thanks. Just maybe one more question on Advisory. I think you talked about Asia and Europe being high-single-digit growth. So the implication is the US, I would guess, is probably pretty flattish this last quarter, but I guess just what was the growth rate for Advisory in the US? And is there any different dynamics, I guess, happening there? Why you're seeing just better growth outside the US? And how do you change that dynamic, I guess?

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

Yes. So -- hey, Tim, it's Bob. I think, you're right. The North American Advisory was pretty flat. And it really goes back to what Gary had mentioned earlier in terms of just being undersized. We have been very, very aggressively recruiting into all areas in the Advisory practice and they've been successful. We've brought on a number of new folks whether it's in the -- our strategy area, rewards and benefits and so on. It is just a data point. Obviously not a trend, but we were very happy with the many new business that we saw in North America on the Advisory side.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Particularly consulting.

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

Correct.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah.

Tim McHugh -- William Blair -- Analyst

Okay. And then RPO, obviously, the near-term financials look good? I guess, how do we think about overall new business? I know 2018 was a particularly strong new business period, but -- and then 2019, it's much higher than 2017 but much far below 2018, I guess, right. So recognizing it takes time for this, convert some of these clients into revenue, I guess trying to think about the continuation of growth a couple of quarters out from here as we've worked through the pipeline of stuff you've already won -- any meaningful ramp, again, in the new bookings?

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

Well, it's hard to -- because the transactions or client relationships come about and they vary in size. If you go back to '18, we had one particular win that year that was north of $60 million over five years, right. So that obviously has a huge impact on the new business in FY18 . I would -- as I think about that business, I would expect the growth to continue to be high double digits that we've seen over the past three or four or five years.

Gregg Kvochak -- Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Yeah. I see nothing to back off. RPO and Professional Search we're now got a focus in Professional Search around technology and skilled positions, I wouldn't -- I don't still need to back off that at all.

Tim McHugh -- William Blair -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thank you.

Operator

And next question is a follow up from Tobey Sommer at SunTrust. Please go ahead.

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

Thanks. I was hoping you could elaborate a little bit on your posture for the balance sheet in capital deployment. You're now at a pretty substantial net cash position. It wasn't too many years ago that people were clamoring saying that that wasn't particularly efficient. How do you think about it now particularly given the economic juncture we're at?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, I've always thought you save in summertime and invest in wintertime. And investing is not just returning capital to shareholders. So we've made our best moves during head and shoulder times or worse times. And I think that's how you run a business. Now, if time goes along here and we're not able to find an acquisition, that makes sense for us. We have to do something with the capital. I mean, I think it's really that simple. So we, right now, are postured around kind of a balanced approach. We're going to continue that and obviously that could change for sure, because you cannot have hundreds of millions of dollars on cash on your balance sheet that is not being deployed. So we're going to be very agile and the great news is that we've repositioned this company. And so the business mix today is pretty sturdy. You've got a 250 million, 260 million product business that we don't think is very cyclical. It produces incredible profits. We think we've got an RPO business and Professional Search that look really good with substantial backlog and pipeline and different quality than 10 years ago.

Arguably the consulting business is not as cyclical as the search business and the search business is even more balanced geographically. So I think you've got a completely different company today. And we're coming from a position of strength. And I love times like this, because you can actually make moves. And so, I'm kind of excited.

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

So we're about a decade after the Whitehead Mann acquisition, which might be sort of that winter you were describing there. If this head and shoulders as it was described can then actually creates opportunities for you, perhaps?

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

It could. It absolutely could, for sure. So I kind of love the environment we're in. Personally, it's -- when the sky is blue it's kind of boring.

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Operator

It appears there are no further questions, Mr. Burnison.

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Listen, to our colleagues that are listening, just a great year for us. Nice quarter. I thank our investors for listening to the story and, hopefully, focusing on the long-term and thank you for all your time and we'll talk to you next time. Bye-bye.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, this conference call will be available for replay for one week starting today at 7.30 p.m. Eastern Time running through the day June 27th ending at midnight. You may access the AT&T Executive Playback Service by dialing 800-475-6701, and entering the access code 469220. International participants may dial 320-365-3844. Additionally, the replay will be available for playback at the company's website www.kornferry.com in the Investor Relations section.

That does conclude today's conference. Thank you for your participation. You may now disconnect.

Duration: 53 minutes

Call participants:

Gary Burnison -- Chief Executive Officer

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

Gregg Kvochak -- Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Tobey Sommer -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc. -- Analyst

Kevin Damien McVeigh -- Credit Suisse AG -- Analyst

George Tong -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- Analyst

Mark Marcon -- Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Tim McHugh -- William Blair -- Analyst

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