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Lifelong Learners

06/18/2014 09.17 EDT

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I come from a family of teachers, and as a result, we grew up in an environment that encouraged all of us to become lifelong learners.  My parents have been incredible role models for me and my siblings throughout our lives.   As time has marched on and they have moved into their 80s, my parents’ personal growth and learning has prospered.  My father just published his second book – annotating a diary of a Civil War soldier – and he is now working on his third book.  On top of that, he just delivered a PowerPoint presentation to more than 150 people in their life care community!  (Yes – he knows how to use PowerPoint.)  He also reads The New York Times cover to cover every day!  My mother is a voracious reader and a day doesn’t go by without her completing a crossword puzzle.  She has been an active and engaged member of a book club that has been meeting for more than 20 years.  The club consists of women in their 70s, 80s and 90s; they read a book orally, discussing it for hours.  It’s a great approach – no need for “homework” or assignments to read several chapters before the next meeting.  They just enjoy discovering the book and its content as the story unfolds.  My mother truly enjoys and values the company of these extraordinary women, and their love of reading and learning knits the group together.   So, with such lifelong...

What Really Matters When Hiring a Leader?

05/29/2014 02.45 EDT

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This post originally ran on Modern Distribution Management.  To view it, click here.   Ask anyone who runs an enterprise of any size what he or she looks for when hiring a new leader and you will get plenty of different perspectives, insights, opinions and theories.   You may also hear the opinion that critical executive competencies differ widely from industry to industry.  On the surface, it makes sense.  It seems logical that the critical skills needed to successfully lead a $200 million private distribution company in the Midwest are different that those needed to be successful in a multi-billion-dollar financial services company in London.   Turns out that might not be true.   Our firm recently participated in a global survey that asked executives the world over what they considered the most desirable attributes for a senior executive in their organization.  We heard from 1,270 business leaders around the globe.  What we found surprised us.   First of all, there were very few differences in responses from different industry sectors.  Maybe more surprisingly, there was almost no correlation between desired attributes and the part of the world in which the respondent worked.   It turns out that by a margin of more than 2:1, the ability to motivate and inspire people is considered the single most important attribute for a senior executive.   After motivational ability, the senior executive traits most valued by organizations were: strong ability to manage change, ability to identify and develop talent, and innovative...

5 Considerations When Leaving Corporate for Non-Profit

04/16/2014 03.50 EDT

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This article originally ran on Non-Profit Information.  To view it, click here.   It’s an increasingly common trend: After making their mark in the corporate world, senior-level executives want to give back by taking on a leadership role within a non-profit. The good news is that 73 percent of non-profits surveyed said they value for-profit experience in candidates, and 53 percent have significant for-profit management experience represented on their senior leadership teams.   But the transition from corporate to non-profit comes with some particular challenges. Here are the five most common that executives mulling a transition should anticipate:   1) Understand that there may be many more stakeholders involved in a non-profit – and the opinions of each matter. The biggest adjustment for corporate professionals entering the non-profit world is often the number of stakeholders involved in a non-profit – each of whom has input to share. While corporate professionals’ primary focus is almost entirely on three groups (shareholders, customers and employees), non-profit leaders must consider a significantly larger audience that could include funders, employees, elected officials, patients or clients, families of patients and clients, alumni, etc.  Successfully navigating the various relationships of the non-profit world requires a careful understanding and concern for all parties involved.   2) Be prepared for a different culture at a non-profit. The culture of a non-profit generally has a far more collaborative leadership style than for-profit organizations.  Unlike the corporate world where decision-making typically rests with one individual or a small group of executives or directors,...

8 Ways to Advance Your Career to the Next Level

03/13/2014 09.46 EDT

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It is always refreshing to speak to students, young professionals and mid-career executives.  I find it broadens my thinking, and the group shares great ideas throughout the collaborative process.   At a recent Drexel University Alumni event, I spoke to fellow attendees about how to advance their careers to the executive level.   Here are eight suggestions we shared on advancing careers:    Know your career objective and pursue it with vigor:  If you are fortunate enough to have found your interests and passions in the workplace, do your best to understand and become an expert in the field.  Determine how you can continue to advance your skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis. Competence alone won’t advance you in your career:  Speak up.  Ensure you ask for what you need and don’t be shy about “tooting your own horn.”  You need to be noticed for a job well done; don’t assume your boss or other key leaders know what you have accomplished. Take some career development risks:  It is important that you take charge of your career.  Be proactive.  Have discussions with your boss about what you’d like to do next.  Partner with him or her and develop recommendations on your next steps.  Make it easy for your supervisor to say “yes” and help you move to the next level. Network, network, network:  You should network even if you are not looking for a new job.  Networking can expand your thinking – learn what others are...

How to Stack the Deck for Success

02/10/2014 02.57 EDT

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I recently read a very interesting piece by Jean Martin, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review: For Senior Leaders, Fit Matters More than Skill.  Jean writes about the need to evaluate an executive’s “network fit” when considering him or her for hire.  By “network fit,” she means “how well the potential hire will fit with the way his or her new colleagues work.”  This is distinctly different from “cultural fit,” which predicts how well the executive will align with the corporate culture more broadly.   Jean points out that executives who fail often do so because of a problem with “network fit.”  She goes on to examine whether internal recruiters are better able to sense network fit when compared to external search partners.  I think it’s fair to say that she doesn’t think either party does a particularly good job on this critical aspect of evaluating external executives for key leadership positions.   The article got me thinking – always dangerous – so I thought I would share a couple of reactions.   First – the obvious.  You can’t evaluate network fit if you haven’t met the network!  For all of our searches, we try to meet as many stakeholders as possible when we begin the search.  It takes time to do this, and sometimes clients push back, wondering why it matters.  We generally are pretty insistent about this step in the process.  We have always known how important chemistry is with the team; if you...

10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

01/13/2014 11.13 EDT

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It may be a little bit late, but nonetheless, I am announcing my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014.   I will stop creating retaliatory traffic problems for my rival colleagues near my office by moving the big plant outside my door into the middle of the hallway. If it becomes necessary to create that bottleneck, I will not send an email to my assistant asking her to move the plant for me. I will stop waiting for the sky to fall every time there is a weak jobs report.  I will convince myself that we will never have another recession as severe as the last. I will put a small amount of the money I buried in my garden back into the bank.  At some point. I will take Twitter more seriously. I will submit at least one proposal response to an RFP in the language of Farsi, just to see if anyone notices. I will agree with everyone who tells me that LinkedIn is going to put us out of business. I will never say “I told you so” when they call in two months in need of immediate help on a search. I will stop explaining the business model of retained executive search to well-meaning people who do me the “favor” of sending me resumes of their unemployed friends and neighbors. I will submit my blog entries in a timely manner to She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed so I don’t have to resort to listing my New Year’s Resolutions...

Say-on-Pay Simplified

12/04/2013 04.24 EDT

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With “Say-on-Pay” and Dodd-Frank being practically household names, perhaps it is time for a 101 version in case you missed it.   With the financial crisis in 2008, the United States government developed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was set up to buy assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen the financial sector.  It was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008, and it was a component of the government’s measures to address the subprime mortgage crisis.  TARP originally authorized expenditures of $700 billion.   Out of this same financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) was born, with its fundamental purpose being to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  It also reduced the amount authorized by TARP to $475 billion.  Barney Frank has described TARP as “highly successful and wildly unpopular.”   Fundamentally, over several years, tons of risk was being taken in the housing market by financial institutions that did not suffer any consequences.  These actions created significant economic change, which required a BIG change in legislation.  Translation: loans were made by people who were going to sell the loan, with the incentive being to issue many loans with little concern for borrowers’ ability to pay them back.  Not a good thing.   We saw the Lehman failure followed by the AIG failure.  None of the debts for Lehman were paid, while “all” of the debts for AIG were paid.  However,...

Land of 1000 Welcomes

11/18/2013 12.15 EDT

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One of the wonderful opportunities in being part of a global association is the chance to meet and build relationships with others around the world.  Through Salveson Stetson Group’s affiliation with IIC Partners, we have joined annual meetings in interesting places; last year, our meeting was in Thailand, and this year we met in Ireland.   I was excited about visiting Ireland, as I heard it is called the Land of 1000 Welcomes.  I thought that was just a nice slogan made up by a marketing firm, but I was wrong.  It truly is very fitting!   I’ve highlighted a few thoughts on what I learned during my visit in Ireland:   Yes, it does rain or drizzle often, which makes the landscape very green.  However, the sun does shine as well!  We were fortunate during our trip to have enjoyed sun-filled mornings.   The pubs are the best places to meet people.  Of course, we had to test this out, and test we did.  The locals go out of their way to talk to you, give you suggestions of places to visit and are filled with pride to show you the country.  They are great ambassadors.   Irish dancing truly is what it’s cracked up to be.  I was amazed at how exciting it was to watch them.  It looks like a great form of exercise, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself so I only observed – maybe next time.   The taxi drivers in...

Why Would You Want to Work for a PE-Backed Firm?

10/24/2013 11.35 EDT

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This article originally ran on CFO.com.  To view it, click here.   For CFOs who may be of a mind to hook up with a private equity-backed company, open your eyes wide and tread very carefully.   When speaking with senior financial executives about their career aspirations, the conversation often turns to a desire to work for a private equity-backed company. I am talking about a large majority of respondents here – at least 70 percent. When I ask why, the answer invariably focuses on the opportunity to participate in a transaction and the potential financial rewards to be reaped by doing so.   That is a pretty naïve answer. For every success story out there in private equity-backed firms, there are many more failures. Working in private equity is difficult, particularly for a CFO. Any financial officer contemplating making this type of move for the first time in his or her career must to go into it with eyes wide open. At a bare minimum, consider the following:   1. Not all private equity sponsors are created equal. The industry is not monolithic. In addition to industry specialization, private equity differentiates by what type of asset each firm considers. Is the firm buying the asset to clean up the balance sheet and quickly turn it over? Is the investment for long-term growth? Does the private equity firm have a habit of breaking up the companies in which it invests? CFOs contemplating such a move should investigate how the private equity...

An Unscientific Assessment of the Economy

09/26/2013 11.52 EDT

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Relying on economists for predictions about the tone of our economy can be a frustrating business. After all, everyone knows the First Law of Economics:  For every economist, there exists an equal and opposite economist. The Second Law is that they are both wrong.   So what’s a person – who works in a business that is intimately tied to the economy, but who never once stepped foot in the business school during both his undergraduate and graduate school years – to do?   Rely on unscientific, subjective information, of course.   So here is my hot-off-the-press amateur assessment of the economy: things are improving. Here’s my case:   We just closed a search in which the placement received a sizable counter-offer from his employer when he went in to resign. They are a professional services firm that is swamped with work. The line at Starbucks is definitely getting longer. I met a very senior-level executive last week who decided to leave a high-paying job, purely voluntarily, so she could conduct a job search to take a different direction in her career. We recently closed two search assignments for a client company with candidates who had multiple offers in hand, leading to a mini bidding war. I do not consider it idiotic that I am buying organic, boutique food for my cats. Our firm is hiring again, for the first time in about five years. The new iPhone just sold about 100 million jillion units in 23...