The Growth Company CFO – What Works and What Doesn’t

06/03/2013 09.05 EST

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This article originally ran on CFO.com.  To view it, click here.   Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of assisting in the selection and placement of a good number of Chief Financial Officers for a diverse set of clients.  Throughout this experience, I’ve seen senior financial executives make successful transitions from industry to industry, from public to private companies and back, as well as adapt to wildly different cultures from company to company.  By and large, top-notch CFOs are a smart, flexible and pragmatic group of professionals.  However, in my experience, there is one divide that very few seem to successfully bridge – the transition from a large company to a small one.   By “small” I generally mean a growth-oriented company, usually backed by venture capital or private equity, which has designs to grow exponentially (i.e. not $25 million looking to grow to $50 million, but $25 million looking to grow to $500 million or more, usually followed by some type of exit via sale, IPO or some other transaction).  These companies present a unique challenge to a large-company CFO: they require not only a high level of financial and business sophistication to handle the complexity of managing rapid growth but also a high degree of self sufficiency and a strong hands-on orientation.   Regardless of how well these companies are funded, their resources are constrained relative to the level of support a big company CFO is accustomed to.   Therein lies the rub.  Finding...

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....

The One That Got Away: Why Some Companies Just Can’t Land Superstars

09/20/2012 09.33 EST

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“We need to win the war for talent!”; “People are our most important assets!”; “The only capital we have is human capital!” blah blah blah   Insert CEO’s name here and these statements could come from the leader of any Fortune 500 company.  Ask one of these leaders what their top five priorities are and invariably a talent related issue will be in that group.  So, if talent is so important, why are so many companies so bad at recruiting the cream of the crop to their companies?  Mostly, they can’t get out of their own way.  Their recruitment processes aren’t designed to differentiate themselves from the crowd and often end up frustrating high performing, high potential candidates who could be difference makers in their organizations.   Listed below are some of the major stumbling blocks:   You can’t recruit a 100 mph candidate with a 55 mph recruiting process. Great talent is always in demand and, more importantly, always in play.  If it takes you two weeks to get a candidate on the interview calendar, another week to get that candidate feedback on her interviews and three more weeks to schedule second round interviews, don’t be surprised if she calls you up in week five of this marathon to tell you she has taken another position.  Many companies, particularly large companies, just can’t make the wheels turn fast enough for a superstar candidate, even when they really want to bring her on board.   Stars are...

Lessons I Learned in Kindergarten that Apply to Business

09/06/2012 10.35 EST

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Many life lessons were learned when we were in kindergarten. It was a very impressionable time for us, and to this day, I bet you still remember your teacher! Mine taught me many lessons, but the ones that rise to the top for me are:   – How to share – Learning to be kind to others – Cleaning up your own mess – Don’t run with scissors.   I can relate to all these issues having started my career as a kindergarten teacher. Hopefully, many of my students still remember my name! As my career progressed and I transitioned into human resources, consulting and then starting my own business, I have continued to use many of the same lessons along the way.   Share – Sharing is one of those key elements that ensures your team meets with success. Do you pass on your knowledge and expertise to others? Do you share the credit with other team members when a job is well done? Are you open to collaborating? By involving others, people develop a deeper understanding and commitment regarding the issues and goals in front of us.   Be Kind To Others – Have you ever worked with a colleague or boss who was rude or mean-spirited? That kind of person sucks the life out of you and the team. Taking the time to be kind sounds trite but we naturally gravitate toward nice people. We want to work with and support them and at...

How’s the Job Market?

08/08/2012 03.51 EST

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Being an executive search consultant brings with it a variety of occupational hazards.  When people discover my profession, they immediately work the word “headhunter” into the conversation and then apologize to me in case I’m insulted by it (I’m not, but I don’t embrace it).  Or they send me copies of resumes from friends and family members who are out of work so I can find them jobs (not what we do).  Or they tell me they have been thinking about “making a move” and ask if I will meet with them to help.   But the biggest occupational hazard in my profession is having a snappy, relevant, current answer to a question I get many times each week:   “How’s the job market?”   People ask this question with the expectation that there is one discrete answer.  It turns out there is one answer, but it isn’t the answer people want to hear.  Because the real answer is this – “It depends.”   First of all, it depends on where you want to live and how much money you want to make.  Secondly, it depends on your skills and the demand for those skills.  It also depends on how up-to-date those skills are.  Could you write an article for a business publication about where your profession is going in the next five years – or would you be more likely to write about how your profession has lost its way and will never be as good...

Are Companies Still Looking for Young Leaders?

07/26/2012 10.10 EST

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In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many of our clients eagerly sought candidates in their mid-thirties.  They wanted executives with high energy levels, excellent educational pedigrees and – most importantly – runway.  They wanted potential leaders who had a lot of room to grow and expand.   Today, in post-recessionary times, companies have broadened their focus.  Although they are still interested in “up and comers” now, more than ever, they are looking for leaders with the maturity, a proven track record and seasoning to be successful in their organization.  What does this mean?  Why have organizations shifted their focus?  I’ve summarized below my theories on this topic.   50 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 30:  People are living longer and, as a result, working longer.  Most of us are taking better care of ourselves through diet, exercise and a focus on overall well-being.  We look and feel better, and it shows!   Mature is now “cool”:  Maturity or seasoning is now viewed as a good thing.  The more experience you have, the more you can share with others.  A seasoned leader is often less focused on climbing the corporate ladder and is motivated more by sharing knowledge and coaching others to be successful.  These workers don’t feel as much of an intense competitive nature with their peers, allowing them to relax, let others be successful and revel in their own accomplishments.   Lean Organizations:  Throughout the past decade, organizations have become leaner...

The Hiring Manager Has No Clothes

07/12/2012 09.19 EST

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When swapping stories with fellow talent acquisition professionals on assignments that yielded less-than-satisfactory outcomes, the question usually comes up as to when the search went awry.  The answer almost invariably is that it went wrong from the start.  Whether it was the position not being filled or the placed candidate ultimately failing in his or her new role, if you trace back through the steps in the process, there was something that happened early on in the search that spawned a problem.  Often it’s the Hiring Manager to blame, with a view of the position – or himself – that is divorced from reality and no other stakeholder can muster the managerial courage to confront and correct the problem.   It is not unusual for a Hiring Manager to have a different view of a role’s ideal candidate profile than might a peer, partner or subordinate.  When a healthy debate is facilitated among these stakeholders, most often a clear and accurate view of the requirements for success in the open position are identified and incorporated into the search strategy.  However, as you move higher up in the organization, occasionally you will encounter a few archetypical hiring managers whose orientations can reduce the likelihood of a successful outcome.  Here are a few “types” I’ve encountered during my career and some suggestions on how to deal with them.   The “This Is My Hire” Hiring Manager This Hiring Manager doesn’t want you to talk to anyone but her about...

An Overlooked Professional Development Opportunity

06/26/2012 08.53 EST

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When clients engage us to conduct a search to fill a critical position in their organization, they have almost always considered internal candidates for the role. Sometimes they just don’t have the internal talent needed for the position or they are specifically seeking an “outsider” – someone who is not from their company and may not even be from their industry. Outsiders are attractive to organizations because they bring a fresh perspective and have a different take on things like corporate culture, strategy and leadership style.   So how can a company try to develop that “outsider” perspective in high potential leaders in their own company? I would like to suggest a very effective, inexpensive strategy that will benefit the executive as well as the reputation of the company. Encourage your up-and-coming leaders to serve as board directors for non-profit organizations in your region.   There are countless non-profit organizations, large and small, working to improve the quality of life in your community. They focus on any number of things – education, child welfare, senior citizens, the arts – the list goes on and on. All of them are hungry for board leadership and need volunteers with business skills to help them achieve their missions while maintaining their margins.   I joined my first non-profit board when I was in my early 30s and about ten years into my career. I have been involved with one board or another ever since. Right now, I serve on four...

Five Steps Every College Graduate Should Take to Find and Land a Job

06/12/2012 03.27 EST

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This is the month for college graduations, and after the celebrations are over, roughly two million new alumni will be out in the “real world.” Although it is quite an exciting time in the lives of these students, it has also become a time of great anxiety. Students and their parents worry about the job market and which potential opportunities may be available. Many students leave college with a great deal of debt and, as a result, are even more nervous about finding the right job to not only lead them on a positive career path but also put them on stronger financial footing. The job market has been challenging for new graduates overall in the past few years, but there are some hopeful signs as it appears the market has slightly improved for the class of 2012.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently surveyed employers and found that companies expect to hire 29,237 new graduates this year, a 10.2% improvement from the hiring of 26,529 college graduates from the class of 2011.   Although the market is still not robust and needs to improve, many students are completely unprepared to conduct an effective job search. Making the process even more difficult, this year’s graduates face competition from 2011 grads who are still seeking a job in their field. Many students have not taken advantage of the career services offerings on campus and have become reliant on applying for jobs online. Unfortunately, their resumes become...