Emerging Issues in Executive Search

04/29/2015 03.16 EST

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Last week I attended the annual Global Conference of the AESC – The Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants – in New York City.  This is the sole organization that represents the $11 billion global executive search industry.  The mission of the AESC is to serve as the voice of excellence for executive search and leadership consultants worldwide.  This year’s conference was attended by about 200 search professionals from 23 countries, and it was organized around three themes – innovation, inclusion and intuition.   I have attended this conference for many years and served on the Americas Council of the AESC, so I have a rather good sense of where our industry has been and where it is going.  Here are some observations about things that have changed – and some that have stayed the same – over those many years.   When I first began to attend this conference in the late 1990s, there were only a handful of participants from outside of the US, and a handful of women attendees as well. It was truly the land of old, white men.  This year, about 40 percent of the participants were women.  The average age was far younger, and I spent time with people from Brazil, Ireland, Dubai, South Africa, Venezuela, Canada and Belgium. In my 20 years in the executive search industry, the word “innovation” has rarely passed my lips when discussing our profession. Last week’s meeting didn’t change that.  The basic foundation of...

The Leadership Skills Companies Want

02/12/2013 03.34 EST

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In this year’s Women on Boards report, Philadelphia’s Forum of Executive Women found that while board seats at companies across the region actually dropped, the portion of board seats held by women have increased by nine percent since 2006.  Over the same time period, the number of top executives who are women jumped by 25 percent.   While the progress for female leaders across the country is slow, there is a growing business case for change.  At Salveson Stetson Group, where we place executives in senior-level roles at corporations and non-profits, a number of our clients have expressed interest in hiring more women into senior leadership positions to diversify their talent pool.   What are companies looking for when they are targeting leadership hires, specifically women?   As an executive search consultant, I hear a common “wish list” when identifying talented female leaders.  First and foremost, candidates need to have a proven track record in managing large, multi-site and global teams.  Secondly, they need to have strong talent management skills as well as possess the necessary emotional intelligence to effectively navigate in their roles.  The ability for a leader to juggle all of these responsibilities across a company is a tall order.   Many emerging female leaders continually ask for advice on ways to accelerate their development.  I have highlighted several recommendations that may facilitate being considered for future executive leadership roles:   Take on a stretch assignment.  If your boss is suggesting you move into a...

What I Learned on My Trip to Thailand and Vietnam (Part 2)

12/12/2012 02.00 EST

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You may have read the latest blog post from my business partner, John Salveson: What I Learned in Bangkok (Part 1). We traveled to Bangkok in October for the annual meeting of IIC Partners, a group of independent executive search firms across 39 countries. This gathering provided us with an opportunity to better understand global business issues, share common practices and learn from one another.   John gave several interesting – and humorous – reflections on our trip in his blog entry. I thought I’d give a bit of a different perspective. Since I last traveled to Bangkok more than 20 years ago, some things have changed dramatically and others have stayed relatively the same.   What has changed? The city has grown and the infrastructure has expanded – there is a more complex and paved highway system today than two decades prior. But because of this, traffic has become so congested that it’s challenging to navigate the city except via its waterways.   What has stayed the same? The people continue to be gentle, kind and generally happy – you can tell their sense of joy just by looking at their faces. They are incredibly friendly and have a wonderful sense of humor. If you smile first, they will smile even more broadly. They are simply happy, regardless of their financial circumstances. It was a breath of fresh air.   After visiting Bangkok, my husband and I traveled on to Ho Chi Minh City – or...

What I Learned in Bangkok (Part 1)

11/26/2012 10.19 EST

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  A few weeks ago, my partner Sally Stetson and I spent a week in Bangkok, Thailand attending the annual meeting of IIC Partners.  Our firm is a member of this global network of independently owned retained search firms and this meeting is devoted to sharing best practices, developing relationships with each other and generally working together to strengthen our businesses.  We also do things like elect new board members and select board leadership.   Attending the meeting with us were about 70 colleagues, all of whom own and operate retained executive search firms.  They come from virtually every part of the globe: Europe, the UK, Asia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia – you name it.   For those who couldn’t join Sally and me in Bangkok, the following are 18 takeaways from our international trip.  What have you experienced in your overseas travels – in Bangkok or elsewhere?   It is a bad idea to eat a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese after getting off a 15-hour flight over the North Pole. Pepto-Bismol is the staff of life but is unavailable anywhere in Asia. (It is very good to have experienced traveling companions with you who pack lots of Pepto.) The airports I travelled through in Hong Kong and Thailand were huge, spotless, beautiful, new and comfortable. If I lived in Hong Kong, I would go to the airport on Friday nights for fun. JFK International Airport in New York is cramped, dirty, ugly, old and inconvenient....

In Praise of Non-Profit CEOs

10/10/2012 03.35 EST

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A while back, I was contacted by a journalist who was upset about CEO compensation for non-profit executives.  He thought many of them made too much money, which he found especially galling since he thought they had cushy jobs.   Specifically, he said things like:   “It’s not like they have shareholders!” “They don’t have to worry about competition!” “They shouldn’t expect to be paid well for their work – they are in a non-profit.”   I’ve written before about non-profit organizations and I serve on the boards of several right now.  I also spent the first few years of my career in non-profits, first in the mental health sector and later in a social services agency as a fundraiser.  But it’s really my board experience, including serving on or chairing several search committees for non-profit leaders, that has formed my views on the issue of compensation for non-profit executives.   First things first – I fully support the notion that non-profit CEO compensation should be transparent and should not create an undue burden on the budget.  However, I think we also have to be realistic about the unusual, complex skill set required for success in this sector.  In fact, I contend that it is probably a much more difficult job to run a $50 million non-profit than it is to run a $50 million private company.  Here’s why:   The non-profit has many more stakeholders; clients, foundations, board members, politicians, donors, customers, regulators – the list...

The Biggest Misconceptions about Executive Search

05/10/2012 01.26 EST

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I’m starting to think I am in a profession that almost no one understands.   Sixteen years ago, my partner, Sally Stetson, and I started a retained executive search firm. The field existed long before our entry into it and the essential service offering has changed very little. Employers retain us to find the best talent available to fill critical roles in their companies.   That’s about the only thing that hasn’t changed. Most of our clients now have substantial internal recruitment functions so that they can fill as many jobs as possible without outside help. As a result, we tend to be tapped for more senior level assignments or to fill positions that are particularly vexing for some reason or another.   Another big change is the internet of course. In 1996, when we opened our doors, we did research using various directories and reference books. We still have a few of them lying around, but I can’t find one dated after 2004.   How about email? When we started, the phone was everything. Of course, it was sometimes tough to get past the secretary who answered it – but that person has gone away, as well, by and large. With email, we can contact people directly and discreetly – and they can respond when and if they wish to.   In 1996, air travel was a lot easier and videoconferencing was just gaining traction. People tended to work in their offices and not their homes....

What Companies Are Looking for in their HR Leaders

11/28/2011 02.45 EST

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In the executive search world, I often hear several “ideal profiles” when companies are looking for new human resources leaders; however, most companies have one thing in common: they want a solid human resources generalist who “knows their stuff” across a variety of functional areas.   In addition to broad-based human resources skills, talent management, leadership development and sometimes executive compensation expertise are critical.  While the most frequently discussed traits in the ideal description include business-oriented, passionate, trusted advisor, emotionally intelligent and high-energy, the importance of these competencies vary based on the business – is the company global or domestic?  Growth-oriented or contracting?  Publicly or privately-held?   Some questions you may want to ask to help clarify the ideal human resources profile for your company may include:   Do we need an executive who will be a confidante and advisor to the CEO and senior team? Will the leader need experience in evaluating potential mergers and acquisitions as well as being engaged in integrating new businesses? How involved will the leader be in increasing the level of engagement with the workforce to ensure the company retains its talent? Will this person inherit a seasoned team or will they need to develop employees and identify new team members? How much building or reshaping of the organizational structure will be needed? Will benefits need to be scrutinized to ensure there is a balance between quality of offerings and cost efficiencies? How much time will this individual spend on major...

The Ideal Retained Search Relationship

11/21/2011 12.27 EST

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While conducting the search for a Vice President of Human Resources for an international consumer goods company last year, I had the hardest time convincing the hiring manager to interview one of the candidates we surfaced for the position.  She had fewer years of experience than he was seeking, her industry exposure was related but not a one-to-one match and she had several moves early in her career – something he reacted negatively to.  He just did not want to interview her.  After going back and forth with him as the search progressed, I finally said “Brian, trust me. She’s the right person for the job.”   He begrudgingly acquiesced and, after three rounds of interviews, enthusiastically offered her the role.  He promoted her within six months of her start date.  While speaking with him recently about his reluctance to grant that first interview, he said “I would never have interviewed her based on her resume.”  At that point, I knew I had earned my fee for the assignment.   Retained search did itself a disservice during the pre-information age when it held up the mysteries of candidate development as one of the key differentiators for the industry.  The message was “we can find people that you can’t.”  The industry made it seem like there was some black box—locked away in the safe at corporate headquarters—that held the names of executives who somehow couldn’t be accessed by those not initiated into the executive search club.  As candidate...

A Mid-Year Report on Executive Employment: What We Are Seeing

06/29/2011 03.11 EST

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According to most of the national press, the Great Recession of 2008 has been followed by the Great Jobless Recovery of 2011. No one seems to know when we can expect job growth significant enough to make a major dent in the current unemployment numbers, but most all agree that it will be a while before we see the unemployment rate dip to pre-recession levels. If you’re up for a particularly sobering read, check out McKinsey’s thoughts on the topic. However, based on our experience through 2011, all the news isn’t necessarily gloomy. We’ve seen an uptick in search activity from the beginning of 2010 through to the midpoint of this year and our numbers are by no means unique. The Association for Executive Search Consultants (AESC) saw a dramatic increase in search activity in 2010, reporting a 28.5 percent increase from 2009. Obviously, that’s coming off one of the worst years in this industry’s history but still ranks 2010 as executive search’s third best year… ever. AESC’s reports from the First Quarter of this year were equally promising. As to our particular experience, SSG’s search activity is up over 50 percent in the first six months of 2011 vs. the same period last year. Here are some encouraging signs we have observed over the past six months: An increased level of competition for talent – The candidates we are pursuing for our clients are telling us that calls from executive recruiters and potential employers are up...

The Candidate Experience

05/25/2011 08.58 EST

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I am often asked to speak at events where my audience is comprised mainly of executives in transition. Sometimes these are employed professionals seeking better opportunities, but the majority of these individuals are, for one reason or another, unemployed. Invariably, at some point in the conversation, I feel the need to apologize for the way they are often treated by people in my profession. From the candidate perspective, working with retained executive search firms can be a frustrating process. I hear stories of candidates never getting feedback on interviews, communication that is intermittent at best, and a general sense that the individual is a commodity – and these stories are from the candidates who are actively working with a search firm on a real opportunity. For those who are trying to build a relationship within executive search, the stories are even bleaker. I haven’t done any grand research on the topic, but the general consensus I have gathered is that the executive search profession on the whole just doesn’t treat people very well; and in my mind, beyond the fact that its bad behavior, it’s also just plain bad for business. We are extensions of our clients. How I treat a potential candidate will have a direct impact on that person’s perception of the company I represent. And, whether that executive ends up being a bona fide candidate for the position I am seeking to fill, they will remain a potential customer or business partner for my...