GM Ryan International

Market Ambassadors for Transformative Companies

Software    Internet    Media

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Early in my career, I was hired as an entry-level salesperson in the telecommunication industry. It was an incredible business training ground in retrospect and I'm very lucky to have had an opportunity to learn and achieve success in that environment. Like a lot of emerging tech industry sectors and a lot of upstart companies in those sectors, everything seemed to move FAST. The office culture fed on the fast pace and anyone who wasn't up for for that sense of urgency eventually washed out one way or another. There were some people who appeared "slammed" all the time but yet their performance wasn't all that great. One of the more tenured salespeople (he was really old, maybe 30!) coined a phrase that has stuck with me some 20+ years later. His saying was "creative avoidance". 

Creative avoidance was that salesperson reshuffling their desk around getting organized instead of picking up the phone and making a sales call. Creative avoidance was that Sales Director scrutinizing client service issues instead of letting the Client Success team handle them. Creative avoidance was the Service Director spending all his time reacting to a client billing issue instead of educating the client on a self-serve solution or creating one. Creative avoidance was the GM focused on bashing the under-performers instead of recruiting more qualified backfill, which would have sent a clearer message to the under-performers and entire organization. We can all get as busy as we want to be but that doesn't mean we are working on the critical inch necessary for success. Busy does not equate to effectiveness nor efficiency.

  • Task mastering will keep you busy but not necessarily prioritize results. Invest your time ON your business, not just IN your business.
  • Going by instinct vs. metrics isn't trackable so you can't validate accomplishments for a year, month, week, or day. Leverage a simple SYSTEM, don't wing it.
  • Don't equate 'doing' with 'accomplishing'. You must prioritize your most critical goals or they'll never get done.
  • Stop talking about how busy you are. Results do the talking.
  • Don't say "yes" too quickly. Take initiative towards your goals first or they simply won't actualize.

Of course we can all get sidetracked on issues or opportunities and sometimes we need a down day but we all need to be conscious of our tendencies to execute what is easiest and least painful. At this half-way point through 2017, it's a good time to examine our business plans and goals stated at the turn of the new year. Have you been extremely busy yet your progress isn't where it needs to be? Perhaps you've creatively avoided the more critical elements which contribute the most towards your goals. If you've creatively avoided the tasks or effort necessary to achieve your objectives for this year, why is that? If you're not on track, what specific measurable tactics can you implement now to achieve your stated goals for the year? It's up to you. Nobody falls on top of the mountain - they climb to get there.    
The price of success is planned perseverance. The price of failure comes cheaper but is far more expensive.

Don Kennedy, Managing Partner

I’ve been thinking a lot about talent retention and career development through a few different lenses lately. As an operator for the better part of the last twenty years, I took a lot of pride in the teams we built and the talent we developed along the way. I made more than my fair share of mistakes as a manager and leader, and hopefully grew and learned from those missteps. Anyone who has managed a team has been through that dreaded conversation when one of your top performers walks into your office and says “I’m leaving”. It’s often a jarring and brutal punch to the gut. It’s personal. It’s emotional. It’s sudden. It’s unexpected. Should it be?

One of the questions I tried to proactively think about, and ask, when having this tough conversation (and ideally before this conversation ever happens) is “Are you running TO something, or FROM something?”  Is the next opportunity you are taking on something that you are enthusiastically and passionately running towards? Is this a culmination of a personal training and development process that has resulted in a career step forward?  Or, are you running from your current role to make a lateral move that, while maybe not an increase in comp or responsibility, is just a change of scenery?  Have you really thought this through, or do you just hope the grass is greener at this new opportunity?  There are a lot dynamics at play here, but at a high level, one could take Top Talent running TO something as a compliment to the work you have done as a manager and leader, and Top Talent running FROM something as a clear sign that something is broken and needs to be addressed immediately.

I now manage a practice that focuses on working with companies and venture organizations to find and land senior level talent to take their companies to the next level.  I’m an executive recruiter, and it’s amazing how transparent and honest people are about their career situations and aspirations while talking to them about new opportunities.  It’s in these conversations where you see the impact that great leadership can have on an individual, and conversely, the negative consequences that come along with poor management.  As a recruiter, I am looking to work with companies that can offer candidates a transformative career opportunity, and I am looking for Top Talent that wants to run TO their next role, but I come across a shocking volume of very talented people that are looking to run FROM their current role.  
There are some very consistent themes that I hear from Top Talent looking to make a move FROM their current team or organization, and should serve as food for thought as you assess your current team and plan for the future.      

As a leader…….

  • Be consistent and transparent in your expectations.  The most common complaints I hear from candidates I speak with are things like, “I don’t know what’s going on”, “I don’t know what’s expected of me”, “Our strategy isn’t clear”.  Ambiguity and indecisiveness are killers.
  • Don’t let your own personal ambitions and/or insecurities get in the way of developing your people.  Embrace the career path and development of your team members although it may mean they eventually leave your team or the company all together.  Great leaders have a “coaching tree” of people around a given sector that they are responsible for developing.  It’s not a coincidence that some companies export a huge volume of talent.  It’s cultural, and starts at the top. 
  • Your best players are watching how you manage those that are underperforming or not living up to the expectations.  Have a backbone.  Make a tough decision.  Inconsistent leadership and lack of accountability destroy morale.  Don’t make it an easy decision for an “A” player to leave your team because you don’t have the backbone to hold “C” players accountable.
  • Always have a succession plan.  Don’t shy away from this exercise.  A good leader is thinking multiple steps ahead, especially as it pertains to the composition, well being, and development of their talent.
  • If you are “shocked” when one of your top performers walks into your office and tells you that they are leaving, you have already failed them.  If you have really invested time and energy into understanding the goals and aspirations of your team members, and put plans into place to develop them accordingly, you will not be shocked if and when they decide to move on.  Being “shocked” when someone tells you they are leaving shows a lack of true awareness. 
  • Acknowledge that truly transformative talent is in high demand and treat it as your most valuable resource.   There is no shortage of B and C level performers in the world.  Individuals who can truly make a material impact on a company and industry are few and far between.  Don’t take this for granted.  Recruiters are aggressive, and are paid to find the best of the best.  Your best people are targets.

The practice I run gives me an interesting perspective on what motivates and discourages Top Talent.  I relate their feedback to my own experiences, and see a lot of things I did really well as a leader, as well as instances where I kick myself for not being better.  The feedback and advice above scratches the surface of this topic, but as you enter the back half of 2017, I challenge you to build out a culture that Top Talent runs TO instead of FROM.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I don’t understand people who don’t try to carry their weight. I don’t really want to understand them. Lack of talent is one thing, but lack of effort is inexcusable. If you asked every one of your co-workers “do you have a strong work ethic?”, I’d bet very few if any of them would say “no”. I’d go further and suggest that if you asked everyone in your entire office building “do you have a strong ethic?”, very few would admit their work ethic isn’t all too impressive. Yet we don’t believe every one of these people maintains a consistently strong work ethic because we all have our personal opinions on other peoples’ commitment and efforts to their work. So these varying opinions on work ethic mean that we all have our own attitudes of how ‘work ethic’ is defined.

The dictionary describes work ethic as a noun meaning the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous and worthy of reward. Hard work. Intrinsically virtuous. Worthy of reward.

Hard Work
Hard work can be physically demanding labor – sod a lawn all day, chop wood for a few hours, or perform plyometric exercises for 60 minutes every day for a month. This is tough work on the body, which additionally requires mental toughness as physical fatigue sets in. Hard work can be problem-solving challenges requiring hours or days or weeks or even years of analytical scrutiny, trial and error, growing pains and setbacks. Edison’s light bulb, Ford’s vision for a twin engine, and Salk’s polio vaccine required grueling effort and diligence to achieve success. Meeting deadlines, resolving challenges, seizing opportunities. This is hard work.

Intrinsically Virtuous
The work itself feeds our industrious nature. We feel better about ourselves because we strived, struggled, and win or lose, we left it on the field. Easy tasks do not provide the same personal satisfaction that a full day, year, or career provide. Self-esteem and heads held high stem from our personal knowledge that we set out to do something, we grinded it out, we accomplished something, and we lived up to our own moral standards. We may or may not have been a raging success by societal standards, but maximum effort was put forth.

Worthy of Reward
If someone is asked to perform a job in exchange for compensation or some other currency, that is the inherent reward for the completed job. However this component of the definition is a little more suspect. Somebody might work hard at something, but lacks the necessary competencies to accomplish a meaningful result. Hard work + solid results are worthy of reward – promotions, salary increases, acquisitions, funding, recognition – those events don’t happen for effort alone. Effort trumps talent over time, however effort alone is not enough. A homebuyer wouldn’t purchase a poorly constructed house upon inspection regardless of any ‘hard work’ a contractor may have put forth to build a quality structure. The quality of the work dictates the worth of the reward.

So hard work motivated by personal fulfillment and incentives make up work ethic. If this is easy to define, why is it not everyone possesses a robust work ethic? What does it take?

This is part of the virtue of the definition, the honest quality of your effort. You can’t cut corners, you can’t hold back. Your moral standards towards the commitment to task are never questioned because you’re focused on a truthful quality outcome. Everyone around you – your board, your team, your clients – they know you’re about team, transparency, and delivery.

It takes a certain level of commitment to follow-through on your obligations and tasks each day. Staying highly organized promotes personal accountability, task-mastering, and follow-through. “I forgot” isn’t something you say. “I meant to knock that out, but I’ll do it tomorrow” is not a consideration. You get s@%# done or you don’t go home. It’s part of who you are, you don’t avoid the less interesting or painful necessities. Assignments get done.

You took on the role you’re in to carry out a larger mission. It’s ok, actually, it’s great if you took on your role for your own interests – to take your company public, to sell your company, to get promoted, to get rich, or to achieve a more altruistic objective. You don’t lose sight of those larger goals, you remain dedicated to that cause. You embrace that your efforts today will yield your future status. You’ll grind because you’re motivated by your goals. Work ethic might also manifest in taking the time and effort to plan a new course to reach those macro objectives. It’s difficult., it takes unwavering commitment.

Some people are more talented than others, some are more athletic than others, some are better at math than others, some are taller then others, but none of these circumstances are within our control. Our work ethic on the other hand is entirely dependent upon our own self-influence and personal attitudes. 

Is your work ethic taking you where you need to go?

Don Kennedy, Managing Partner

My experience in the advertising technology world dates back to late 1999 when I was first getting to know the founding team at Since those early days, I have had the privilege to work with thousands of clients and partners across various industry sectors. I’ve had the privilege to attend countless industry events (and some pure boondoggles) around the globe and learn from some transformative business leaders. I’ve also had the privilege to go head to head (yes I consider that a privilege) with competitors big and small, many of whom I greatly admire, and many that frankly left me scratching my head as to how they would stay in business (editor’s note – many did not). The ad tech space is messy and complicated, and these dynamics have been a double-edged sword for companies big and small. Chaos can certainly create opportunity, but it can also create an industry that can collapse unto itself.

Over the past couple of years, there have been countless “The Death of Ad Tech” articles written. They aren’t particularly difficult pieces to craft, as the industry has provided more than enough background material, but how different is Ad Tech from any other industry sector? As I spend my days now working with venture backed companies, investors, and Fortune 500 companies to help build their senior level leadership teams, I keep coming back to four simple questions that I wrote down about fifteen years ago as the ad tech world started to get exponentially more crowded and complicated. At times when we would debate new product offerings, entertain potential acquisition targets, or even look at organizational structures, these questions were my guidepost and personal sanity check.

Could there be a simpler question? You’re probably thinking, “Of course it works, how do you think we got here? An investor even gave us money!” Not so fast. What are the SPECIFIC and CLEAR proof points that define success? Middling ad tech companies trade on taking a cut out of the ecosystem while providing murky value propositions for their clients. Strong companies provide straightforward benefits (not just features) for their client base and manage their internal business with the same simplistic rigor. The best companies in the space can clearly answer whether something “works”. Seems simple, but it’s far from it. I met with a start-up recently and after hearing a word salad of a value proposition, I asked “How do you know if it worked and what are the metrics to define success for the client and for you?” After a pregnant pause, I was told, “Well, we have a lot of data that we look at.” Continuing my line of questioning, it was clear that they had not yet delivered a knock out proof point externally, nor a set of defined metrics internally that really drive strategy and measurement. “Does it WORK?” may seem very simple, but I challenge you to ask it of yourself and of your partners, and write down the proof points. You may be surprised by what you see.

For anyone in the ecosystem that created something that “works”, one of the natural next questions needs to be “Does it SCALE”. The Ad Tech space is littered with companies with good technology and smart teams that failed because they couldn’t scale their offering with the same proof points they were able to provide on a smaller sampling. One of the main challenges for early stage companies in the ad tech space is simply getting the attention and time of an agency or client partner. There are only so many hours in the day or lines on the plan. It’s a lot harder to get the meeting, and even harder to get the buy if you can’t show that you are not only solving a problem, but you can do it at a material enough level to move the needle for a customer. A product offering that delivers phenomenal ROI on a small scale may get you a “test”, but lack of a ramp will immediately put you in a category that just isn’t as compelling for clients (and potentially future investors or acquirers). Most companies and/or products don’t launch delivering massive scale, but they certainly have scale at the top of the list as they determine their product roadmap and future strategy.

Assuming you’ve built something that works and can scale, it’s now time to talk about how to deliver consistently over the long haul and look at applications across industries and audiences. Your solution just killed it during the holidays for your retail client. Now it’s Q1, and the consumer landscape is very different. Can you drive relative results at scale for your client in this new environment? How do you repurpose your offering for other industries? Can you perform at a high level with scale month in and month out while the needs and expectations of your customers continue to increase? Your product works really well domestically. Is there a global play here? If so, how do you do it, and is there scale? There have surely been success stories in the ad tech space born out of seasonally, industry specific or niche audience focused offerings, but the majority of the winners have been able to replicate their results from a consistency and broader application standpoint.

This question is at times tougher to answer, as it takes a keen sense of conviction when it comes to trends, and the ability to pivot and adapt (often in real time). Once again, the industry is full of former high market cap darlings that were about to answer the previous three questions in the affirmative only to collapse due to their inability to adapt to changing market dynamics. Think about companies that were riding high while advertisers place heavy value on last view attribution metrics. Based on those point-in-time metrics, these companies were wildly successful. However, it didn’t take long for advertisers to start to redefine those metrics, and the manner in which they were valued. This caused a massive change in the industry and “thinned the herd”. Companies that could pivot and adapt their product suite to this new reality flourished. Those that couldn’t entered a death spiral from which they couldn’t escape. There are countless examples of companies that built successful desktop based offerings only to see things implode when they didn’t fully anticipate or execute against such a rapid shift to mobile devices.

  1. Does it WORK?
  2. Can it SCALE?
  3. Can I REPLICATE it?
  4. Will it EVOLVE?

These four questions don’t delve deep into complex financial dynamics or utilize Harvard MBA case studies (I like things simple sometimes). They are also not specific to ad tech per se. “The Death of Ad Tech” is an easy story, but isn’t that what an industry deserves if the bulk of their entrants can’t answer these questions in the affirmative? Are things any different for any other industry? Think about a company, product (or person) you admire and ask these four questions. It’s less about the sector and more about common sense accountability and transparency. The Ad Tech sector is still very young in terms of being an industry, and digital marketing will continue to grow. What’s happening now is a lot of “Lumascape” entrants are being forced to look in the mirror and answer a few simple questions. Can’t be that hard….right?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

You’ve got a lot on your mind. Both personally and professionally, we all lead demanding lives and find ourselves pulled in different directions, responding to different pressures both constant and unanticipated. Life can be stressful. Some of these stresses are amazing opportunities – a promotion, an entrepreneurial pursuit, competing for funding, working a major client project, scaling your business, maybe a baby on the way. Some other stresses are not a labor of love and are less pleasant but necessary tasks – delivering a tough conversation, managing your teams inadequate performance, working with an unrealistic client or boss, finding a next position when between opportunities, dealing with a divorce or other family challenge. Some of the stresses are more perpetual – the P&L of your business, emails, board meetings & reporting, travel, personal expenses, professional interruptions on your personal time or personal interruptions disturbing your business focus..

We all have hectic days, weeks, months, sometime even a year+ depending upon the confluence of events, opportunities, and responsibilities going on in our lives at particular time periods. Busy is good. Inefficiency is not good and only adds more stress. Here are a few keys to reducing your activity while driving your productivity:


Ask any parent of a middle school aged child who has given that child an iPhone and they’ll likely tell you it’s like an addiction. These kids unknowingly build attention deficit challenges through a psychological dependency on the damn mobile device. Kids can’t effectively clean their room or do homework if they’re constantly checking for Instagram updates or hearing the bing or buzz of incoming texts. This is no different for busy professionals. You’ll never work on your business if you’re always working in your business. It’s critical that we all schedule time to completely detach from electronic devices and incoming phone calls to study, ponder, create, write, or do whatever we need to do to define strategy for our business and life. Turn your mobile to silent, turn your email and email notification off, for god’s sake turn off Facebook, turn off the laptop altogether if feasible (the constant screens also take away from our concentration), let your team know not to interrupt you until X time, embrace the silence or put on mood music or white noise to help channel your mind on what’s happening. Change your logistics if necessary, it works. Try going to a university library for one morning every month and you’ll be astonished how the change in venue helps provide a change in clarity. Stop reacting, start thinking, make simple plans – constant responses will never alleviate broader ideation. Sometimes we simply need to slow down and get away in order to speed up.


A lot of the stress on your shoulders really isn’t all that important. Create a couple (not a lot) of key folders where you can put emails in proper place for review. You want to keep up on your industry so you likely have inbound newsletters, LinkedIn notifications, and other insights-driven material that is important to read and keep up to date. Narrow it down to only a couple that matter and unsubscribe from everything else. In your settings, create delivery mechanisms so those emails go straight to your labeled folder and not in your main email view. Only read those at a single time of day or better yet, a single time of day only one or two days per week – put in on your calendar and don’t deviate. Create another folder for emails you know you need to respond to and drag/drop them for review at 2 or 3 specific times of day (think 7am, lunch, 5pm), put in on your calendar and don’t deviate. When you do review your emails your goal should be to only read it once whenever possible and take action – respond right away (and delete), place in folder if necessary, or simply delete anything that isn’t a priority. Email is an incredibly effective tool, but can be a productivity killer – manage your email, don’t let it manage you.

Embrace “no”

Whether you’re looking at an entire year or a single day, you shouldn’t have more than a few critical macro goals because as soon as you add too many, you dilute the focus on the most important priorities. It’s much more important to perform with excellence towards the critical objectives than to be merely good at any number of objectives. Say “no”. “No” frees you to focus on what is most critical. Of course we need to be responsive to our employees, clients, some colleagues, and family, but many times another’s request simply can’t be your priority and/or not in that moment. I do countless favors for people and I’m not suggesting we be curt with anyone, but we shouldn’t take on tasks that are going to take away from our top priorities. Sometimes the person you need to say “no” to is yourself – don’t get distracted by ‘in the moment’ shiny quarters off the main road, save those ideas for time at the university library as noted above. Keep your focus on the task at hand. Say “no” guilt-free.


This isn’t a new concept. Compartmentalizing your day into time blocks is crucial. Decide what tasks and responsibilities are critical for you to perform with excellence, prioritize those events into a daily plan, incorporate the plan into your CRM or digital calendar with reminders/alarms, and simply follow-through. If you’re not leveraging daily organizational systems through your CRM or Google Calendar, you’re doing more work than you need to – technology can do all the heavy lifting so you don’t have to worry about recall. And after each day review your calendar – did you execute what you needed to? Groom your tasks for the next day or if you didn’t do them that day, perhaps it’s really not all that important and you should delete it altogether. Organize your day and your stress will go away.


Dude, get some exercise! You need time for yourself and I’d argue nothing provides more value to sharp cognitive ability than expending some physical energy through cardio training, strength training, and/or playing sports. Endorphins are released when we exercise, notifying receptors in our brain that trigger positive feelings not dissimilar to the impact of morphine (no, please don’t go find morphine!!). Exercise literally makes pain go away. We sleep better, we think more clearly, our metabolism works more effectively, we have more energy – this is a no brainer. Schedule time in your week, ideally 5+ days, dedicated to uninterrupted exercise FOR YOU. Some days it’s tough to get up early or find a gym on the road or whatever the challenge, but nobody ever regrets following through on their workout once it’s complete. No matter what, make the time to test your body and exercise.

I’m sure you all have other ideas around focus and efficiency, I’d welcome your comments.

Don Kennedy, Managing Partner

“Well done is better than well said” is something my dad often said to me while I was growing up. Whether it was school, sports, or personal relationships, he made it clear that while it's critically important to develop and communicate your intentions, real success is determined by our actions, and how we deliver on our promises and plans. Like anyone (especially in my teenage years), I didn’t always succeed in living up to this saying, and made more than my fair share of mistakes.

Early in my professional career, I always kept “Well done is better than well said” in the back of my mind. It was not a coincidence that the most successful people that I came across had an innate ability to not only develop and articulate a vision, but could also execute on a consistent and repeatable basis. More often than not, these individuals possessed many behavioral traits that can’t be taught (work ethic, accountability, curiosity, humility), and surrounded themselves with people with the same traits. Good people know good people.

I spent the past sixteen years in various leadership positions with (sold to AOL in 2004 for $495MM), and AOL (sold to Verizon in 2015 for $4.4B) and not a day went by where I didn’t see validation of “Well done is better than well said”. Large scale, repeatable success (personal and professional) doesn’t just happen by chance. It happens when an individual or team has the right mindset and confidence to establish a vision, and the right discipline and talent to execute upon the vision. It’s easy to tell someone what you’re going to do. It’s a lot harder to make it a reality.

In early 2016, I made the decision to move on from AOL. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next, but I did know that the most fulfilling aspect of my career has been around team building and development. I’m really proud of my track record of surrounding myself with people who represent “Well done is better than well said” on a daily basis, and started to think about how valuable this could be for other businesses as well. I truly believe that “operators know operators”, and this led me to joining GM Ryan as a Managing Partner in October. My business partner, Brian Mitchell, is also a former operator of a large organization, and has built GM Ryan into one of the most successful boutique recruiting practices in the space over the past decade.

This move is incredibly natural. Having been called upon by countless recruiters over my career, I could almost immediately tell which of them were looking to “make a sale and fill a seat” versus those who were businesspeople with the acumen and experience needed to make an impact on their clients' businesses. Brian and I have both been in the trenches, have managed large scale P&L’s, and have been in the hot seat for both start-ups and publicly traded companies. Together, we bring a set of differentiated skills to the table that few (if any) other practices possess. We can and will make a positive impact on the partners we work with and the candidates we recruit. More importantly, we will operate our business on a daily basis knowing that “Well done is better than well said”.

Happy New Year!

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

For a number of years, I’ve written at least one blog a month for our newsletter, which is typically focused on my industry (internet, SaaS, and marketing technologies), my profession of executive recruiting, or varied business topics. I’m taking a diversion this month and simply sharing a simple and motivating poem I’ve loved for many years. I came upon it again recently and remain inspired in its’ message and literally get chills when I read it. If you’ve never read it before, enjoy. If you’ve not read it in a long time, enjoy it again for the first time. Read it to your kids before bed or when they wake up. Read it to yourself before bed or when you wake up. GET UP and win your race!

The Race by Dr. Dee Groberg

Whenever I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face, ?    
    my downward fall is broken by the memory of a race. ?
A children’s race, young boys, young men; how I remember well, ?    
    excitement sure, but also fear, it wasn’t hard to tell. ?
They all lined up so full of hope, each thought to win that race ?    
    or tie for first, or if not that, at least take second place. ?
Their parents watched from off the side, each cheering for their son, ?    
    and each boy hoped to show his folks that he would be the one.
The whistle blew and off they flew, like chariots of fire, ?    
    to win, to be the hero there, was each young boy’s desire. ?
One boy in particular, whose dad was in the crowd, ?    
    was running in the lead and thought “My dad will be so proud.” ?
But as he speeded down the field and crossed a shallow dip, ?    
    the little boy who thought he’d win, lost his step and slipped. ?
Trying hard to catch himself, his arms flew everyplace, ?    
    and midst the laughter of the crowd he fell flat on his face. 
As he fell, his hope fell too; he couldn’t win it now. ?    
    Humiliated, he just wished to disappear somehow.
But as he fell his dad stood up and showed his anxious face, ?    
    which to the boy so clearly said, “Get up and win that race!” 
?He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit that’s all, ?    
    and ran with all his mind and might to make up for his fall. ?
So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win, ?    
    his mind went faster than his legs. He slipped and fell again. ?
He wished that he had quit before with only one disgrace. ?    
    “I’m hopeless as a runner now, I shouldn’t try to race.”
But through the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face ?    
    with a steady look that said again, “Get up and win that race!” ?
So he jumped up to try again, ten yards behind the last. ?    
    “If I’m to gain those yards,” he thought, “I’ve got to run real fast!” 
?Exceeding everything he had, he regained eight, then ten... ?    
    but trying hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again. ?
Defeat! He lay there silently. A tear dropped from his eye. ?    
    “There’s no sense running anymore! Three strikes I’m out! Why try? ?
I’ve lost, so what’s the use?” he thought. “I’ll live with my disgrace.” ?    
    But then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.
“Get up,” an echo sounded low, “you haven’t lost at all, ?    
    for all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall. ?
Get up!” the echo urged him on, “Get up and take your place! ?    
    You were not meant for failure here! Get up and win that race!” ?
So, up he rose to run once more, refusing to forfeit, ?    
    and he resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit. 
?So far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been, ?    
    still he gave it all he had and ran like he could win. ?
Three times he’d fallen stumbling, three times he rose again. ?    
    Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.
They cheered another boy who crossed the line and won first place, ?    
    head high and proud and happy -- no falling, no disgrace. ?
But, when the fallen youngster crossed the line, in last place, ?    
    the crowd gave him a greater cheer for finishing the race. 
?And even though he came in last with head bowed low, unproud, ?    
    you would have thought he’d won the race, to listen to the crowd. 
?And to his dad he sadly said, “I didn’t do so well.” ?    
    “To me, you won,” his father said. “You rose each time you fell.”
And now when things seem dark and bleak and difficult to face, ?    
    the memory of that little boy helps me in my own race. ?
For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all. ?    
    And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall. ?
And when setbacks or bad breaks shout loudly in my face, ?    
    another voice within me says, “Get up and win that race!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I am in the conversation business – I talk with people over the phone, video calls, meal and coffees, in my office, in their office, at industry events, and other formal and informal scenarios. I really enjoy meeting new people as well as speaking with long time colleagues who’ve become friends. The long time colleagues know me, know my style, know it’s not an angle, and that I truly care about the community I serve. After 10+ years in executive search, we’ve earned a strong reputation for execution, integrity, and polish without arrogance. Still, executive recruiters in general tend to have a “credibility proof-point” to overcome with new introductions and acquaintances. Given the minimal barrier to entry for someone to say “I’m a recruiter now” and start reaching out to people, a lot of less than fully proven recruiters come and go. There are also plenty of firms, particularly contingency and staffing firms, that have a volume oriented factory line approach to business development as well as candidate development. And along the way, these transactional experiences seed an impression with the marketplace, which is often less than stellar. Executives are contacted by recruiters who may lack education, domain industry knowledge, or business acumen; they may be inarticulate or simply unprepared; they may be transactional, they may lack any system or methodology, they may be apathetic beyond that initial interaction, and they might be unethical and not worthy of your assumed trust. They might also be a fantastic resource for you.

Doesn't matter if you’re with GM Ryan, KornFerry, a startup firm, or a variety of other firms large and small, anyone in the recruitment industry understands that the clowns taint the pros. Sadly, the majority are closer to the clown department and many wash out when the overall economic market turns south.

The flip side is that the variance in professionalism and ability among recruiters provides the proven, competent pros the platform to quickly and consistently differentiate themselves from said clowns. Knowing what to do, stating what you’ll do, and executing what you’ve said you’ll do is a basic standard for performance any credible search professional must ‘own’. A hiring board or CEO wants a few key criteria met from his search partner:

  • Market exhaustion – A qualified search partner knows the industry landscape, has unique insights learned over years of experience, has access/credibility to key influences in the candidate community, and is willing to thoroughly exhaust external communication to ensure the very best prospective candidates are approached for consideration.
  • Brand ambassadorship – A hiring executive wants a positive impression of her company in the marketplace. This requires an ability to concisely articulate the values of the company and the compelling draw of the opportunity. An effective executive recruiter will interview dozens of candidates, present a small percentage of those to the client, calibrate to 2, 3 or 4 top candidates, and only 1 will be hired. A quality company wants the dozens not hired to walk away with a positive impression of the company regardless.
  • Prioritization – The CEO wants her search to be a front and center. They don’t want corners cut, but they do want efficient urgency and transparent communication about the progressive status of the search and details on the candidate pool. Transparent reporting by the search partner is key.
  • Peace of mind – The hiring CEO has a lot on his mind, this search is critical but plenty of other important priorities are going on simultaneously. Having the comfort and confidence that their search is being executed with care, competence, and appropriate pressure allows them to focus on other meaningful CEO responsibilities. They also want unique insights revealed, pros and cons, along with instinctive perspective and counsel. Trust is paramount to a successful outcome.
  • Outcome – Ultimately the CEO wants an important gap filled by infusing outside leadership talent who will have a material impact on the business. They want a superstar. They want an immediate impression and more importantly, a sustaining positive ripple affect on the company. This can be measured in multiple ways depending upon the function, company, and charter of the role (all of which should be defined BEFORE the search begins). And given the predictably unpredictable nature of human capital, they want guarantees from their search partner. All goods are perishable at some point, but an extensive 6-9-12 month guarantee period shouldn’t be a concern for any executive recruiter who follows a qualitative process.

There are certainly other experiential preferences by hiring executives, however these are a few of the essentials. If you don’t feel good about these search partnership criteria being met, find a different search partner. Don’t work with clown recruiters.

What other important criteria do you require as an executive hiring authority?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Summer is over. Hopefully you were able to take some time off the grid, go on vacation, and spend some overdue time with loved ones. It’s important to take a little bit of down time to relax and recharge your battery. However, September is not that time and once Labor Day has passed, it’s time to labor at your craft.

With less than four months to go in year 2016, are you on track to reach your goals? You dedicated the time and energy around the Christmas holidays last year to think through and document your objectives for the imminent year to come. Are you on track to achieve them? Are you blowing them out? Are you falling short? This is a good time to dust off that “action plan” you put together last December, review and take inventory of your efforts and results. If you’re not where you want to be, IT’S NOT TOO LATE! Whatever your stated goals, professional or personal, you have plenty of time to impact 2016.

Your revenue teams are not at quota? Commit to doubling your calls, meetings, hours – whatever metrics work – from now through November.

You’re not in shape? Commit to going to the gym early every morning for 60 minutes of a specific workout routine from now through November.

Your engineering and QA teams are inefficiently slowing your product launch? Commit to identifying and hiring an upgraded CTO before the end of November.

Whatever the objective – launching your startup, raising capital, hiring a key staff member, buying a house - the key is to TAKE ACTION. Recommit to the next 90 days and see where you are in early December. You can still have a massive impact on this year, but the key is consistent and dedicated action NOW. Worst-case result, you will have a swell of momentum heading into 2017 and be that much closer to your long-term objectives.

Nobody is going to do it for you so just get it done.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

You believe you’re at an inflexion point in your career. You’ve been successful, you’ve taken on increasing responsibilities, you’re earning good money, and feel respected within your company and industry. You don’t have complaints per se, however you feel you’re ready for ‘what’s next’. So what is next for you? What is most important? How will you evaluate the criteria you’ve defined as being important as you discern these ‘next step’ opportunities?

As a tenured executive recruiter, I’ve shared 1000’s of conversations with seasoned professionals at varying stages and levels of their career. I always try to use my mouth and ears in proportion, and listen to where people have been, where they want to go, and learn the why behind the forward objective. In my 11th year of executive search, I’m still perplexed by the frequency in which people – often proven senior people – talk to me about the importance and emphasis of title. “I’ve been a VP for 3 years and I want to be an SVP….”. Ok, I get it (on the surface), a bigger title equates to a bigger job which equates to career advancement. Optics are not irrelevant and who wouldn’t want a better title in general? But digging deeper, is it really the best next step in your career?

Consider the following two composite scenarios: A current VP at a 100M company reports to the CEO. The company is growing at 25% CAGR, growing profitably, and is generally perceived as an industry leader in their sector. The VP has built internal brand equity and respect with her peers and the CEO, but her scope is narrowly focused on marketing and she has very limited insight at the board level. As the company continues to scale, the VP has been told by the CEO she’s a valuable asset and in a strong position to take on increased responsibilities, compensation, and visibility. But she also knows this CEO is not going anywhere and there is only one CEO. The VP respects the CEO and has learned under him, but has been frustrated that some of the other CEO direct reports have a C in their title and she doesn’t.

In scenario two, the same VP is being actively recruited to be the President of a 10M startup that has experienced a couple pivots along with fits and spurts of growth and setbacks. This startup has prominent VC funding, they’re in a relevant tangential industry sector, and some of their competitors have validated it’s a significant growth market. The board is leading the search and the position will report to the founder/CEO who is a technology genius but not a seasoned operating CEO. The board is frustrated with the lack of revenue objectives being met for 4 straight quarters although the trajectory has been modestly improving. The board wants to align the tech focused founder/CEO with a revenue/sales/marketing oriented President. The VP does not have any personal history with the current startup leadership team nor the board, and has limited backchannel information outside of the extensive interview process. The VP is excited about the possibilities and the broader President scope but concerned about some of the unknowns.

Now these two scenarios are not at all uncommon, but what truly matters is what does that current VP want and why. Perhaps the VP can take on the President role, completely turn around the business, scale it to a 50M+ business and be the central reason for it’s 200M sale to IBM. Or maybe the 10M startup has more problems than any one person can fix and a founder that can’t get out of his own way. If the VP takes the President role and the company continues to fizzle, that is not a marketable move, it’s not advancing a career, and in hindsight will be a misstep instead of a next step. Alternatively, staying with a successful company and reporting to a flawed yet positive and successful CEO with a company on a really solid course might be best. Sometimes the grass you’re already standing on can be the greenest but it’s not always obvious until you look back at it once you’ve moved on to another pasture. Regardless of a title, it’s all about your impact and contributions to a successful company. There is nothing more marketable for a next step than working for a successful company at a strategic level. Your impact and reputation, and the impact of your company in the market will elevate your ‘next step’ possibilities much more than being called X or Y or Z in a title.

My point is this – don’t overweight title for scope and the quality of the company. Those will be absolute springboards for your career if you do it right.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I had a former boss who used to say, “Persuasion is getting other people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” Persuasion is part of salesmanship but the concept always struck me as manipulative, self-serving, and generally a one-sided transactional thought process only based on the short term. Maybe you close a deal, but do you earn a relationship? If your aim over the long-term is to ‘win relationships and influence people’ then follow these basic principles:

Basic Philosophy
 An old Japanese proverb says, “If he works for you, you work for him.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a boss and subordinate, co-workers, industry colleagues or friendships in general; it’s about reciprocity. And when you demonstrate this philosophical principle, you’ll become known as a leader. All of which helps you.

Value Exchange
Takers dry up the support of givers. If you only call someone when you need something, you are a taker. If you are unresponsive to someone requesting your help, you are not a giver and are inherently a taker. Even those most generous with their time ultimately shun the taker, forcing the taker into perpetual new building mode because they’ve worn out their welcome elsewhere. Unselfish givers on the other hand have indirectly built relationship equity that lasts a lifetime. It feels good to support others and it helps you.

Open Closed Doors
Introduce people without an expectation of a return. Bring some intel or unique insights to a colleague that aids them and their situation. Provide a conduit between colleagues and your colleagues become your friends. Friends go out of their way to be helpful to one another, and so goes the wheel of positivity. Again, supporting others feels right and it directly brings benefit to you.

Don’t Transact
In one form or another, we are all in sales. We sell solutions, ideas, and opinions in both our personal and professional environments, but there is no such thing as closing a relationship. You can sign a deal or win a debate or convince someone of your point of view, but you can’t close a human being. Human beings value treatment as much as, if not more than, results. When you hard-close or bulldog your way to a transactional result in your favor, you frequently win the battle but lose the war because the other people involved don’t want to support you in the future. I’m not suggesting a lack of assertiveness to ensure you’re being heard and sometimes other people are so absurd you need to walk, but listen first to be understood later. Treat people with care and you’ll find an ongoing level of reception... which again, is best for you.

You can call all of this karma, but it’s really just the law of attraction – professionalism begets professionalism, kindness earns kindness, favors come full circle with indirect dividends. So of course focus on your vocation first and maintain prioritized efficiencies in your activities, but if you want to build quality support and true relationships for years to come then go out of your way to demonstrate support for co-workers, industry acquaintances, and friends today. It pays.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

We are all different but all have a similarly physical human experience. We are born and dependent on others to feed us, keep us warm, and nurture us along. As we develop in our early years, we are inherently clueless about the world but we explore our surroundings, we test our leg, arm, and core strength as we crawl and stumble and walk and ultimately run. As we grow, we use those muscle groups more and more frequently and it becomes a central part of our daily existence without our even thinking about it. Some go on to leverage their bodies in sports and become particularly skilled. Some of us are born with genes that provide us strong muscles, size, and speed. Some of us are not gifted with those genes but physically train our bodies to maximize their potential by running, lifting weights, or other cardio or strength-training activities. Some people are neither born with strong muscles nor make any effort to build them and they remain physically behind. It’s ironic that the body builds muscle by stressing itself via resistance, which literally tears the muscles. Those small muscle tears heal and are replaced with stronger muscle fibers than we had before. In turn we become able to run faster, kick a ball farther, shoot a ball more accurately, or lift more weight. And as we get older, physical atrophy can set in if we don’t complete minimum exercise rigors every day or a few times a week. Those that stay physically fit also tend to stay cognitively fit for a greater part of their lives. The bottom line is that our bodies build tolerance to muscle strains and grow stronger as a result of the new physical tests we introduce to it, while inactivity leads to muscle and strength loss.

I believe company trajectories can follow a similar path. Companies are certainly born with more preparation than an infant but it’s all about the basics. The early business operator is ambitious and naïve much like the baby first learning to walk as it explores the room and falls down, he gets back up because the desire to learn and explore is greater than the temporary discomfort of falling down. The business operator goes through trials, ups and downs, endures many learning experiences and grows stronger. She studies and learns her craft, starts to zero in on real growth opportunities, builds infrastructure and staff, establishes process and systems, invests in technology and people, scales the business, and all the strain and hard work can become realized into a strong company body. But much like a strong body can be built, it won’t stay that way unless the company continues to test itself, endure new strains, breakthrough with new strategies to stay healthy, fit, and strong. And just like age will deteriorate the human body in the long run (father time is undefeated!), competitors will arise and out-execute our company with new innovations or business models or other threats so we must have ongoing ‘exercise’ (and it’s possible that simply won’t be enough either). Yes, companies need to exercise or they will experience atrophy, a loss of muscle, size, and strength. Doing the same exercise routine over and over leads to a plateau where additional growth becomes impossible. The same methodology that brought your company forward is not the same strategy to get to the next level – the exercise regimen needs to be disrupted for additional growth to occur. Your company will be out-flanked, out-paced, or run over if it does not continue to grow and adapt to new conditions, opportunities, and threats. Just like the guy at the gym who is fairly fit and worked hard to get that way, but continues to do the same routine over and over and doesn’t get any more fit, he doesn’t get stronger. As a company, if you’re not getting stronger, you’re most definitely getting weaker because competitors are looming with the fired up motivation you once had, they are planning to take you down. Market conditions are changing where you need a different approach just to keep your clients, let alone win new ones to grow. But that guy at the gym thinks to himself “hey, I’m pretty strong so I’ll stick to the same routine” and there are MANY executives at companies who think the exact same way. They don’t realize that this type of thinking leads to certain atrophy, weakness, and potential obsolescence.

I read a LinkedIn blog by someone a few months ago that was observantly mocking the hypocrisy of many established companies. The writer had a line similar to “I want you to find a bold and innovative way to do everything exactly the same as we’ve done it for the last 25 years”. It was a commentary on many mature companies who claim they want to be innovative but the reality is it gives some of those executives real pause when it comes down to making changes themselves. Status quo will not get it done. Ask the founder of MySpace. Purposeful disruption of exercise routines stimulate new muscle growth and purposeful disruptions to your company via innovations in process, people, or product are essential to your company’s muscle growth. If you really want change agents at your company, then you need to embrace and welcome change yourself. If you’ve been doing the same exercise routine (or none at all) for a long time, the good news is you’re still alive and it’s never too late to start. You can improve your health immediately by adopting an exercise regimen and straining your body. And it’s never too late to begin. You can adopt real change at your company by adopting the willingness to change your company in the first place. One can’t happen without the other. If you’re not sure if you’re one of those execs in its own way, create an anonymous survey among your employees and/or in your client/prospect marketplace to gain feedback on how your company is perceived. If the majority suggests your company isn’t progressive or innovative, then you must believe that data over your own opinion and embrace change. Initial discomfort is irrelevant or we’d all stay crawling all of our lives. Do not delay.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

What is your vision? Such a reasonable question but one I’ve found many (most) people cannot clearly answer. As an Executive Recruiter for over a decade I’ve shared thousands of conversations with hiring execs and would-be candidate execs in search of ‘what they’re looking for’. In an effort to truly understand individual circumstance and scenarios with prospective candidates, it’s necessary for me to probe and qualify what an executive candidate desires in their future and why. I typically ask simple open-ended questions such as “what’s important to you?” or “what criteria are you using to discern a good opportunity from a mediocre opportunity?” or “where do you want your career to go?”. These are not overly analytical questions but require previous analytical thinking to generate a salient answer. Triggered responses around money or benefits or (perceived) security suggest you want a “job” but you are not managing a “career”. Maybe that’s exactly appropriate and you really need to prioritize home/work life balance for personal reasons but most of the time people respond with those statements because they simply haven’t thought about it deeply enough. This is your livelihood, your vocation. It deserves a thoughtful approach!

I also ask prospective executive candidates why they want to leave where they are now, why were you compelled to join XYZ Company, why was that decision in lockstep with your career. I often get responses such as “I was recruited” which has nothing to do with the why, it was merely a how mechanism. The logic behind the decision to move from one company to another is the why which dictates the vision the individual has for their career. Sometimes circumstances can’t be predicted and people find themselves between opportunities without their choosing - companies get bought or go bankrupt, your division has a RIF, your hiring manager gets fired and your new one is unbearable, your scope of responsibility has been changed or reduced, the product loses its competitive value, and a myriad of other scenarios impact your current situation. In this professional era, quality people sometimes get terminated through no fault of their own or leave companies they regret going to. Most employers recognize this current reality but will seek to understand any patterns of being fired or patterns of bad decision-making by the professional to go from one company to the next. If hiring executives are seeking patterns, why aren’t you introspectively seeking patterns in your path as well? Hindsight can sometimes be blindingly obvious and sometimes it’s still difficult to identify personal patterns especially when YOU are the common denominator and you’re analyzing your own situation(s) through your experiential lens. Difficult or not, each of must seek to identify our own situational patterns and track records if we are going to improve our professional (and personal) future. Past predicts the future so review yours, do it with an open-mind and self-awareness. If you’re not exactly where you’d like to be, welcome to the majority club, and scrutinize the steps that have gotten you ‘here’. These insights are the most critically useful information you could ever leverage to get back on track. Once introspectively educated, you can apply those insights to a designed plan to reach your goals. That is your vision.

And hiring CXO’s, you need to explain your vision as well. If you explain a “job” to your senior candidates, you’ll attract candidates who want a “job”. Is that what you want? It’s certainly not what the most marketable candidates desire because they can find solid employment at many places. The most capable and impactful hires don’t want “solid” – they need inspiration, they need a path, they need intellectual stimulation, they need a challenge. They need to know your vision! Don’t underestimate the power of a coherent vision when articulating your opportunity because your competitive suitors are courting the A-players (you want on your team) in no small part due to their plan and the forward vision they paint in the candidate’s mind. Know your vision.

So I’ve been fairly preachy in the last few paragraphs in offering my learned opinion on why you need to know your vision and be able to convey that vision. Well after 20+ years of highly relevant professional leadership experience, I recently had a humbling occurrence on this topic. Someone I respect asked me what my vision was and although I absolutely have one, I offered a 3-path scenario and I think it came across as if I didn’t have clarity. It forced me to reexamine some of my thoughts, tweak my forward framework, and re-document it in print. It was incredibly cathartic, clearing, and motivating. Alternative options and a level of some ambiguity should be an embraced reality but only if it’s identified after deliberate consideration and examination. Regardless, you and I need to identify our finish line first and build a working plan with milestones built in to get us there. Yeah yeah, I know you’re thinking “of course, that’s obvious” but it doesn’t matter how obvious it is unless you actually do something about it. Invest the time with yourself; identify what’s important to you and how you’re going to achieve it. It’s your vision to identify and actualize. Get it done.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

20+ years ago I started my career in telecom sales. This was back in time when the telecom industry was actually dynamic and interesting in its rapid evolution. Products changed quickly, go to market models changed quickly, personnel (especially sales) also changed quickly. A group of consistently high performers in my office used to share a quoted expression from a famous yesteryear rapper named Chucky D who philosophically said “adapt or die”. Ok, so maybe Charles Darwin wasn’t actually a rapper but somehow it seemed cooler at the time to generate the nickname “Chucky D”….though fairly unimportant to my upcoming point. ‘Adapt or die’ is a fundamental principle of Darwinian theory suggesting species – human beings, animals, plants – that endure survival and growth are not necessarily the strongest nor most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change. Think about that. The comparative analogies and real-world examples are all around us as evidence to this truism yet certain species continue to dwindle or thrive despite this knowledge. As human beings, we are (supposedly) evolved beings with frontal lobe development enabling our ability to think and reason. Despite that enormous advantage many of us still ignore this evidence that ‘adapt or die’ reveals.

Translate this concept into our professional lives. We all have careers, businesses, opportunities, setbacks, growth periods, lulls, diverted paths, unanticipated decisions, stresses, wins. Many of our circumstances are self-created, good or bad, past, current or permanent. We take on a new role of sorts and when faced with challenges, we either rise or we fold. And plenty of external influences impact our lives too – our company gets sold and we make some windfall money or our company goes bankrupt and payroll stops coming one day. Who gets impacted by these outcomes doesn’t necessarily correlate with smarts or strengths. A lot of these conditions can’t be controlled but our response, our ability to adapt, to these situations dictates everything else. To quote another smart philosopher, Gandhi simply suggested that “the future will depend upon what we do in the present”. A simple powerful statement about NOW and impacting what you can control TODAY. The reality is the bankruptcy setback example above can serve as a springboard to a massive next step success, it all depends upon how we adapt to the new environment we are in. And conversely, the one who lands an interim windfall might take her foot off the gas, dull her skills and drive, and once that windfall runs dry she’ll be lost with no momentum behind her. Circumstances change but we are all the single common denominator in whatever it is we do in life. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are inherently the single common thread of our situational circumstance.

Take a step back, examine your daily routine, scrutinize your habits, and ask yourself if you’ve adapted to improve. Are you on pace to your personal and professional objectives? What threats exist that could derail you? How can you move faster or change the method of your movement so you beat that competitive threat? What iterations or pioneering initiatives have you developed to ensure you continue to respond to your surroundings? An adjusted model? An additive technology? A tweaked process? More hours? More people? Quantum changes might not be necessary but nuanced changes are necessary no matter who you are and regardless of the vocational path you’re on. Waiting and watching is equivalent to dying. Act.

Side note: 429 of the original Fortune 500 companies (1955) are no longer in business.

“Adapt or die.” – Chucky D.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Relationships, personal and professional, are the fabric to the canvas of our lives. Relationships obviously fulfill us through family bonds and close friendships. In fact, I’d bet most people would value their personal relationships higher than any material or monetary asset. Our love for those closest to us transcends everything else and the cornerstones of those important relationships include mutual trust and reciprocity. We all inherently know that we can count on the other person and they care about our happiness and success, and they’re willing to help us if and when needed. It’s an awesome part of our lives. It’s understood.

In the professional world, trusting, reciprocal relationships certainly happen but not at the same level. Of course we don’t love our paper supplies vendor or an infrequent client like we love our spouse or child, but the tenants of a productive business relationship should remain the same. Trust and reciprocity requires full participation from whichever parties are involved or it simply doesn’t work. Beating up a vendor on pricing and expecting exceptional service isn’t sustainable. Charging too much for inferior service isn’t sustainable. Manipulating credit for your co-workers results or demonstrating minimalist efforts vs. your co-workers striving efforts doesn’t work. You can’t take advantage and expect a relationship. I believe a beautiful correlation exists whereby the most selfish thing you can do for yourself is to be unselfish. When you sincerely take into account other people's business interests, it comes back to you with indirect dividends: you retain clients despite competition, you get recommended, your colleagues will hire you or want to work for you, your reputation as a trustworthy business advocate precedes you.

Listen to and perform for others, do favors for people without a desired payback, take care of people and you’ll be amazed at how it takes care of you.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I have received great value from LinkedIn as an executive recruiter and business owner. The original premise of the platform is genius in its simplicity and impact: enabling professionals to promote their vocational profile in a public yet unintrusive platform. Brilliant! I’ve reached out to people through LinkedIn and had others reach out to me on RELEVANT business opportunities, questions, ideas, etc. Relevancy is the key cog in the LinkedIn wheel. And the appropriate method in reaching out is a “message” between professionals including a concise and clear purpose of the correspondence.

But lately I’ve been inundated with LinkedIn requests from people I don’t know with the default invite message “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” No actual reason, no mention of why, no relevancy. If you’re going to request my acceptance to be professionally “linked” to one another, shouldn’t we have some minimal level of collegial status? Do these same people send Facebook friend requests to people they’ve never met? It’s all a bit creepy.

And worse are once some of these requests to connect are accepted, what comes next? An immediate transactional sales pitch. We’ve never even spoken and you want me to buy your widget??? C’mon dude, please demonstrate some level of effort and insight and personalization if you want my attention. We are all in sales, one way or another, but don’t try to transact with me as your starting point. Does anyone actually buy from you with that approach? Professionalize your approach with something relevant to MY interests, not yours, and you’ll have much greater effect getting through. Otherwise the perception of spammers and scammers will be tough for you to shake.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “but you’re a recruiter and recruiters are among the most annoying abusers of LinkedIn!” No argument. All the more clarity to understand that LinkedIn has become littered with irrelevant marketing overtures from lazy sellers to desensitized recipients. Stop the madness! If you want to sell something, that’s totally cool, I respect it but I don’t respect (and I’m unwilling to engage) in a canned effort to get my attention. It’s weak, it’s corny, and it doesn’t work. You can’t build an acquaintanceship through a computer screen and you can’t build a relationship without a reason to acquaint. You can do better, try harder.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Another calendar year is in the rearview and the possibility of a fresh start is in front of us. It’s a new year and a new you! Or is it? Let’s face it, this transitional time – a day, a month, an annual period – is arbitrary as it relates to any “new day” or “ new you” reflection point. The time of year is irrelevant. What matters is you. What is different in you, right now, that would suggest a change should be made? What is different in you, right now, that would suggest a change could be made? How could you improve some personal or professional aspect of your life? Why is it important to you? What are you willing to give (or give up) to achieve this change? How can you ensure it sustains?

Yes, these are broad transferrable questions, both practical and introspective but necessary to understand. If you don’t have a burning desire to change, to improve, then it’s difficult to achieve anything meaningful and/or sustained. If it’s not truly “important” by your own definition, then the odds are against you.

You’re going to wake up one day and be 60. Are you going to launch your entrepreneurial startup then? If it’s important, get going on it now. If not now, when?

You’re going to wake up one day and be married for 20+ years. If it’s important to you, why not work more on that relationship now? If not now, when?

You want to learn to play guitar? Learn how to speak Chinese? Get your MBA? Get out of sales to become a teacher? Double your income? Whatever it is, if it’s important to you, it’s time to get going on it NOW. If not now, when?

And if your “new you” goals are less grand, they can ironically be more difficult to achieve. Subtle shifts are easy at first but most people fail to stick to “new year’s resolutions” like working out, not watching TV, volunteering once a month, work an hour more each to get ahead (or perhaps working an hour less each day to reduce stress). But even though we all know that sticking to small improvements leads to big, cumulative changes, most still fail to follow through. There is a direct correlation between our personal failure to follow through (on our own smart ideas) compared to the level of importance which we hold the results we say we desire.

If it’s truly important to you, you’ll start now. Start your plan, build an outline, perform due diligence, get going. How will you hold yourself accountable to drop an unproductive habit or develop a productive habit? How will you ensure you’re not building the same wish list this time next year? You have great ideas and big dreams, but you must take action or they’ll never self-actualize. Don’t put it off. Start your journey today. Document your objectives in big, bold, visible writing and read it to yourself every day when you wake up and before you go to bed. Ingest your goals so they become a part of you. Desire creates focus, focus stimulates action, action leads to results.

I realize this is a bit of a lecture but I received similar preaching at a couple of points in my life and career and it has made all the difference.

Happy New Year...if not now, when?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Those not in the Executive Search profession typically have one of three perspectives on this business. Some outsiders, particularly as candidates, perceive it to be a highly mysterious, behind the scenes “game”. Other hiring executives or candidates believe there is a real and tangible value working with a qualified 3rd party ambassador for their mission critical roles. And many others have formed opinions that all recruiters are the same based on their individual experiences receiving calls from transactional recruiters over the years. Before entering the executive search business ten years ago, I had also experienced numerous calls and courtships by headhunters as both a hiring executive and as a prospective candidate. I had a formed opinion on all recruiters and figured I knew what (quality) search professionals did for a living, but now I know most of my assumptions were inaccurate. The best recruiters, the ones that build long careers, follow a well-organized methodology balanced with their own instincts and initiative. Myths and realities include:


Yes, third party recruiters place a candidate with a company and get paid a fee for that transaction. However, the best search professionals earn the great majority of their business from repeat clients, references from clients, and word of mouth reputation. Top-producing recruiters see way beyond the closest fee and know that when they perform at an efficient pace with unwavering integrity, and deliver exceptional results, they’ve further cemented their reputation. Nothing drives business for a recruiter like a sterling reputation. The best recruiters regularly provide business insights to their clients for free because they want to help. That’s what any decent colleague should do. When a CEO calls me for my opinion or advice on a topic, I know I’ll definitely get the call when she needs her next CFO or VP of Sales. The best recruiters are unselfish business colleagues who care about their clients’ success. For anyone interested in long-term success, executive recruiting is unequivocally a symbiotic relationship business.


Companies retain a third-party search firm to help them identify, attract, qualify, court, and secure uncommon talent they can’t find on their own. Companies pay recruiters, candidates do not. The recruiter’s objective is to serve the paying client. The overwhelming majority of candidates placed by recruiters are gainfully employed, often happy professionals (if this isn’t your experience as a hiring exec, find a new recruiter!). Typically, the best candidates are immersed in excellence at their office, not combing job boards. Helping someone advance his/her career is a wonderful benefit of this vocation, but it is not the focus of a qualified recruiter.


Well, sort of. Small talk at networking events may be a strategy for some recruiters, but not the top producers. Top producers are certainly well-networked in their niche and attend industry events and conferences, but their relationships are built through many meaningful business-centric conversations. Friendships and trust built between busy senior executives most often stem from an initial business value and rapport. Value and credibility start professionally and personal relationships grow from that foundation. So it’s critical for the rising or tenured executive recruiter to have an additive point of view that helps that CXO and leaves a consistently sincere impression of expert competence.


Sure, however top-producing recruiters regularly choose to put in 60-70+ hours a week and require a lot of self-discipline. Top recruiters compartmentalize their days to include: phone time (conduct interviews, new client development calls, candidate recruiting calls), meeting time (clients, candidates), admin time (emails, proposals, contracts), and planning time (who will you call, what will you say, research). One perk of executive recruiting is the ability to work your schedule around other meaningful life events, however it’s a full-time vocation for anyone serious about it. It’s rarely golf and steak dinners; this is a time-consuming methodical business requiring grind and the will to be great.


Mostly true, however the process is much more consultative and more about subtle influence vs. hard-core “closing”. Winning the opportunity to represent a company and the executive hiring authority on a strategic role takes salesmanship. If you can’t effectively represent yourself with a well-articulated expression of your value, no prudent CEO will have you represent his interests in the marketplace. best recruiters are not necessarily career sellers, rather they have competent business skills and they are confident and concise communicators.


This can be a difficult business for some, particularly the first year. Unlike any other business I know of, a successful executive search assignment takes three main decisions to get to closure. First, you need to win the right to represent the client and get a suitable agreement in place. Then you need to get both a candidate and hiring authority to say “yes,” mediate terms, secure a start date, and ensure a smooth sustained transition. A lot can go wrong. The process can be predictably unpredictable. We are dealing with human beings, a frequently fickle product. Personalities, timing, location, spouse influence, counter-offers, and other circumstances are not often controllable, but they can be anticipated. The best recruiters embrace this reality, flush out variables early in the process, perpetually build alternative candidates into their workload, consistently earn new search projects, and succeed through the challenge. Easy? Not at all, but there is a path that works.

Once you have been exposed to a truly professional, well-executed executive search process, you will recognize that the best recruiters are trusted advisors whose influence in the corner office or boardroom cannot be underestimated. For those business-builders who embrace a professional process, work hard, and stay focused, it is an incredibly rewarding career.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Some people aspire to climb the corporate ladder taking on bigger scopes of responsibility, headcount, budget, or territory. Some people aspire to have a greater balance between their professional and personal lives – success defined less by income and promotion and more so by reduced stress and time to do other things more frequently. And some people want to go their own way – they want to build, evangelize, operate, and own their own business.

Perhaps you’re the next Zuck with a billion dollar idea that will catch wildfire, but probably not. Most entrepreneurs reach a vocational inflection point where they want to leverage the accumulated collection of their expertise into a new venture. Maybe it’s an industry disruptor based on technology or maybe it’s a service approach that outperforms existing competitors through speed or execution. No matter what your new business is about, there are a few golden rules every successful entrepreneur follows regardless if they are starting a small business or building the next Wall Street unicorn. They include:

  1. Belief. If you don’t have an unwavering belief that your product or solution is different, nobody else will care. Nobody wants to hear about your “me too” model. You can enter a mature industry but something MUST be different if you’re going to get a footing. When you’re in the early days, possibly alone, nothing will be more powerful than your own belief in what you’re doing. If you have that underlying belief then you have a foundation for everything else.
  2. It’s not going.That big deal you’re on the brink of closing? Sorry, but it’s not going to close. That partnership you just signed? Nope, it’s not going to produce any sustaining revenue. And the hotshot you just hired to run/build/sell your widgets? Turns out that she is not as strong as she appears. The point is to expect setbacks; nothing is as good as it often appears. The upside is that even your bleakest hour isn’t that bad either, but you have to keep grinding. Don’t let up. Stay a little paranoid about your threats.
  3. Selectively invest.Yes, it would be cool to have a conference room view of the Hudson or top to bottom glass separating office spaces, but it’s much cooler to have money in the bank. It doesn’t matter if you’ve received big institutional funding or are bootstrapping your company. You want to build up reserves of capital (and enthusiasm) for when setbacks occur. Invest in your absolutes such as culture and vision and people, but go easy on the nice to haves.
  4. Be careful of shiny objects.Entrepreneurs are inherently scrappy. They grind and work incredibly hard, and are proud of their fight. They also tend to chase shiny diversions well off the path of the business plan. Sometimes wonderful unintended opportunities present themselves, but much more often chasing what looks like a shiny quarter turns out to be a rock. A lame rock, which takes time to uncover and takes the operator off the designed path. Where we elect to spend our time is within our control, so be smart about it and stay on course.
  5. Know your why.Document your goals, strategize how you’ll get there, document your plan in detail, and build contingencies. But “why” are you doing this? What is your purpose in this venture? Why is this important to society or industry? Why is it important to you? And who does your venture impact in a personal and meaningful way? Never ever lose sight of these answers.

What other keys to entrepreneurial success do you put into practice?

Steve Touhill, Partner

My brothers and I were great at getting the best candy at Halloween. We got out right after dinner, started at the houses that handed out the best, full-size goodies, and we moved with speed to maximize the number of doorbells we rang before having to report home for the evening. The late-starting, unfocused, and slow-moving kids had to be satisfied with whatever was left over after the wiser, experienced Trick-Or-Treaters did their damage. Now and Laters were for losers! Snickers, Milky Ways, even cans of Coke and dollar bills went to those of us with a plan and a sense of urgency.

The hunt for top talent in the marketing-technology and advertising world is not all that different from those childhood Halloween days: those companies that land truly exceptional executives commit to a process, have a sense of urgency, and move swiftly and decisively. Those that don’t will have to be satisfied with whoever is left over.

You must do the following if you want to attract the best possible leaders in a candidate-driven market:

  • Identify The Hiring Team and Assign Specific Responsibilities: decide up-front who has a voice in the hiring process and make sure that each person will vet the candidate for a specific reason. For example: a board member for strategic thinking ability and financial acumen, the CEO for leadership, peer department heads for teamwork, head of HR for cultural influence, etc. Too many interviewers or vague interview questions muddy the process and turn off qualified executives.
  • Be Clear On The Role’s Requirements and Goals: before the first recruiting call is made, the key members of the hiring team must be on board with the scope and performance expectations for the role in question. Best to resolve discrepancies in expectations before the process starts, rather than surfacing at the end and slamming the brakes on a search with many hours already invested in it.
  • Make Interviewing A Priority: Clients frequently ask, “how long does a search take?” The answer is, it largely depends on the schedules of the interviewers. If time kills all deals, then rescheduling or lack of prioritization are the poisons. The best executive candidates have multiple options so if they receive the message that they’re not a priority, they’ll respond in kind.
  • Make A Decision: See Point 2. There is no back burner in an efficient search process: the candidate moves forward, or he doesn’t. Use the criteria you established in setting forth the requirements as your guide. If you’re not getting 90%+ of what you’re looking for, move on. But be realistic about who you are, too – your expectation for the ideal executive must be in line with an objective view of your organization’s value proposition, competitive position, and financial footing.

There’s still good candy out there, but the neighborhood is getting crowded. Are you going to get the good stuff?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

The last couple of weeks have proved to be an economic roller coaster as it relates to the stock market. It has served as a microcosmic reminder for me to focus on the things I can control or influence and that despite ups and downs, things tend to work out in the long run when we zero in on the fundamentals. I’m not Warren Buffet; I don’t have the time or clinical interest to learn all the nuances that a professional investor understands. But I do want to build financial security and leverage investments over time to assure my family is taken care of. That said, hiring a financial advisor whom I can trust and measure his/her results over the mid/long term is in my control. Once set up, I need to get out of the way as it does me no good to sweat the short-term ups and downs. I need to focus on what I can actually impact, the elements within my control. We all have factors that impact us both personally and professionally which aren’t controllable yet most of us become very concerned about what might happen. Of course we can’t obliviously proceed or ignore challenges in our path, but we need to focus on fundamentals, adjust where necessary, and simply stay the course.

We’ve developed a simple yet universal framework at GM Ryan for how we approach individual challenges/opportunities, our day, month, year, and career. This is our simple sequential formula:

DESIRE > PLAN {Objective > Strategy > Execution > Result} > PLAN

Napoleon Hill said, “desire is the starting point of all achievement” and must be backed by a “definite plan”. When you start a new project, build a business plan, make a sales call, pursue a promotion or new position, launch a company, seek funding, take a company public, or nearly any other strategic task – all of the elements of our basic framework apply. Whatever outcome you desire, you must REALLY want it for it to truly actualize otherwise it wasn’t very challenging to begin with. For anyone with that burning desire to succeed, they’ll surely invest the time to plan towards the achievement. You’ll define your objective with specific and measurable timetabled goals. You’ll evaluate several different strategies and choose the best one for your purposes. You’ll execute your top strategy. You’ll evaluate the outcome and results to discern what you need to do next. Now here is the rub – it may or may not work! Sometimes we will execute our strategies flawlessly, but many more times we won’t and some attempts will be absolute train-wrecks. Do any of the challenges change the starting point - desire? No, not a true burning desire. Whether it’s one of 100 nuanced steps toward the ultimate goal or the macro goal itself, one must assess the result and start planning their next step again. This simple sequenced framework applies.

Taking action is within our control. Planning is within our control. The choice to persevere is within our control. Our long-term success is inherently within our control. Just like the stock market fluctuates, so will your successes along the way, but if the burning desire to succeed is strong enough there is nothing that can prevent a positive long-term achievement…not even a 1,000-point drop in the DOW!

Don’t panic when the rug comes out from under you. Leverage this simple framework, take action, focus on what you can influence, and keep moving until you arrive.

Steve Touhill, Partner

My dad and I generally see eye to eye on most issues, so imagine my shock when I learned that he was a very satisfied user of Adblock Plus. How could my dad, a PhD-educated engineer and an Eagle Scout, refuse to hold up his end of the tacit bargain that obliges him to accept ads in exchange for access to free content?

Neither appeals to his sense of fairness nor reminders that his grandchildren’s college tuition was funded as the result of my career in online advertising moved him. Matters really went downhill when I called him a thief. When reasonable people like my father feel this way about online advertising, what can we expect for the future of the industry?

It is fair to say that the rise of ad blocking software is a monster of the industry’s own creation. But in the long run, ad blocking software could actually benefit the online media industry if we respond to it intelligently and with the consumer as a partner in the process. Here are a few predictions I’m willing to throw out there:

  • The Return of Premium Media Brands: Undifferentiated content farms that are experts at gaming search algorithms and programmatic advertising are, in my opinion, also the lousy sites that drive people to install ad blockers in the first place. Therefore, these businesses have the most to lose. Ad blockers, along with better tools for marketers (e.g., fraud/bot detection) will combine to drive these bottom feeders out of business. Consumers and advertisers will spend more time and money with trusted, respected media brands, and CPMs will climb.
  • Consumers Will Become Partners: I can’t believe the average American has a clue just how much of their personal data and digital behavior is being tracked and used to target marketing messages to them. When they do, they won’t want to give it away without something in return. I predict that consumers will be willing to trade personal data for free content, and honest media companies will ask for and receive exceptionally specific information that they can monetize in exchange for providing consumers access to valuable editorial content and special offers. Loyalty marketing will grow.
  • Free Mobile Phone Plans: Consumers have a legitimate beef over fat mobile ads that tie up bandwidth and eat into their data plans. The carriers (Verizon/Aol first?) will do the math and offer a plan for free or at least significantly subsidized mobile coverage in exchange for ad exposure. Imagine the value of the lock screen across hundreds of millions of phones, with each message personalized to the individual user, several times per day. Pure, unblockable gold.

In the history of electronic media, those businesses that have tried to fight technology-facilitated consumer behavior through legal means (cassette tapes, VCR’s, DVR’s, and now, ad blockers) have failed. Those that accept the horse has already left the barn and adapt their business models to the current reality will be the first to benefit from what should ultimately be a better experience for consumers, media companies, and marketers.

What do you think? What are you doing to adapt to a world of increasing consumer control?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I sat down with an active client this week, a rapidly scaling marketing-tech company focused in brand-side optimization, attribution, and analytics. I have a long history with the CEO and already this year I’ve placed their Chief Data Officer and SVP Client Success. This is a company that was once focused in media and now is an enterprise software solution. The pivot in business model to SaaS required some obvious changes in personnel and he was curious if bad commentary on was something I put a lot of stock into when evaluating the quality of a company (I don’t btw). This client wants to attract great talent at all levels so I appreciated the question and concern. He then asked a simple yet provocative question which I also appreciated: “what can we do to make our company more attractive to true A-players at all levels?” This is a great question every thoughtful CEO should be asking. Having placed 250+ executives over the past decade, I have some thoughts on this subject from a culture building perspective:

  • Don’t bullshit. Vision for the future is inspiring and current successes are clearly worth talking about, but don’t brush over the challenges. Nothing is more frustrating to an A-player then being misled about the health of the business, their scope of responsibility, the viability of earning bonus outside of salary, cultural challenges, ops/product/delivery issues, etc. In fact, the most sought after professionals and leaders are typically in pursuit of a challenge and expect problems needing to be resolved, that is part of their interest. If you sell someone a bag of goods to get them in the door, they’ll just as swiftly walk back through it to go elsewhere. And they’ll tell anyone who asks why they left.
  • Empower people. Employees talk - they talk to other employees and they talk to their industry colleagues and they talk with their non-industry friends about what they do and where they work. This gets around. If you want a great reputation for your company it's essential that employees at all levels be given clear expectations, but with room to make decisions, some of which will be engrained learning experiences disguised as “mistakes”. Mistakes are good! No, I’m not saying an Account Manager two years out of school should make a major P&L decision, but don’t box them in too much within their own influence and position scope. They don’t want to work on an assembly line devoid of strategic and creative thinking so allow them reasonable freedom. Probably most important – this empowerment principal begins (or ends) at the top.
  • PTO, see #2 above. Many internet and other tech companies have adopted “unlimited paid time off” for their employees. Yes, you can do the standard 2 weeks first year of employment, 3 weeks the second year, etc., but there is something empowering when the employer entrusts the employee to get their job done without restrictions. Liberate your people and you’ll ironically find this benefit will drive MORE time dedicated to your company. Clearly if someone doesn’t do a good job and still takes a lot of time off, this is easy to remedy – fire them for performance.
  • Fire people. This may sound harsh, but it's not. Consider this scenario: there are 5 people on a team and 4 of them are carrying their weight while 1 is a weak link, or worse an apathetic link. The team delivers a quality result despite the fact that the weak link contributed very little to that result. The workers don’t appreciate that the slacker gets the same recognition for the result. The team could be in sales, product, marketing, ops, tech, etc., it’s applicable across all functions. And in the executive room, it’s equally obvious when a senior leader doesn’t consistently possess the competence and/or will the other department heads are bringing forth. When the CEO/manager of the dead weight fails to see it or remedy it, the contributors lose respect for that CEO/manager. It's been said that “eagles fly with eagles and moles burrow with moles”. To be respected, a proper leader has to have the ability to let their moles go if they want to keep the eagles flying.
  • No jerks (see "fire people" above). Yeah, maybe you can deal with a prima donna salesperson at 200% to plan every quarter if they work remotely, but in nearly all other scenarios it's usually not worth it to have jerks at your company. You know that guy who makes inappropriate jokes only he finds funny or the yeller who believes everyone works for her and seemingly goes out of her way to be rude. Root this out in all interview processes regardless of position level, really dig into reference checks and validate people value him/her at their previous employers. Results are critical, but it's tough to obtain great results without some respectful internal civility if not harmony. Maybe this one should go without saying, but just because it's obvious doesn't mean it's always put into practice. And if you, the CEO, are the jerk then you're going to have perpetual attrition problems.

Many other ideas, methods, and practices are employed at a number of quality companies. What are some of the favorite elements or perks you appreciate at your company?

Steve Touhill, Partner

Recently, I had the honor of attending the 80th birthday party for the father of a lifelong friend. As I listened to the stories, toasts, and accolades directed toward this newly minted octogenarian, I observed that not a single anecdote had anything to do with his professional life. Even though he built a very successful professional services firm and inspiring stories could have been told of his business accomplishments, the party attendees talked about conversations cherished, moments experienced, and laughs shared with “Big Al”.

I am sure my friend’s dad would not apologize for the decades of long hours he invested to create a financial legacy for his family. Somehow, though, he still found time to raise three well-adjusted children who have built successful careers of their own; build a huge network of friends; and travel the world. How did he do it?

It’s too easy to ascribe his personal and professional success to “work-life balance” – those lines blur for anyone running his own business. Rather, I think it had more to do with what Napoleon Hill, the author of personal development classic, Think and Grow Rich, describes as a “Definite Purpose,” a burning desire to succeed in a life work. The foundation of that purpose, combined with self-confidence, initiative, action, enthusiasm, and concentration, among other factors documented by Hill as common among all successful individuals, enabled Big Al to provide so much to his family, friends, and community. In other words, a person on a mission, happy in his work and living with a purpose, can provide not only many of the material things that money can buy, but also serve as an inspirational role model for others and attract the things that money can’t buy: friendship, respect, and love.

I am a big believer in the works of Napoleon Hill, and find myself referring regularly to his Laws of Success to stay motivated and focused. In addition to using his principles for self-development, many managers leverage Hill’s principles to help employees define their own “Definite Purpose” and build upon that to inspire, guide, and maximize performance. As we hit the year’s midpoint, now is a good time to reflect on our “Definite Purpose” as individuals and teams, and make sure that we stoke that burning desire to achieve our professional and personal goals.

If you haven’t read Think and Grow Rich yet, get it. It’s a classic for a reason.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Ever heard of Marlana Vanhoose? Neither had I until this past weekend. Marlana is a sixteen-year-old girl who recently gave an amazing rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" to open a University of Kentucky women’s basketball game. In the era of American Idol, we’ve all seen some amazing young singing talents, however Marlana’s controlled range and powerful voice are truly unique. Even more remarkable is Marlana is blind and autistic. Here is a child singing in front of thousands of people, an experience that would make most adults very nervous, yet this kid was laser focused on her performance and crushed it.

She was born with Cytomeglovirus (CMV) and by the time she was only a few weeks old it was discovered that she was blind. Her optic nerve never formed. Due to the virus, she wasn’t expected to live past one year. So she’s had to fight for herself since her first days. I wondered what sort of challenges she and her family have faced in that first year before the virus healed. I wondered what sort of challenges they’ve overcome in her subsequent fifteen years.

Here is a child that wasn’t supposed to be here, who can’t see, with intellectual disabilities, demonstrating how talent and relentless determination can beat anything. ANYTHING!

Do you think Marlana even recognizes words like “difficult” or “can’t” or “impossible”? Now apply this mindset to whatever professional challenges you face. Do you have the unwavering desire to achieve your goals like Marlana does? Even if you don’t have the “how” figured out yet, will you stop until you reach your objectives? I’d bet Marlana and her parents didn’t have a fully baked plan when she was born either so don’t let that prevent you from achieving success. Didn’t get the funding? Find another way. Didn’t get the promotion? Find another way. Whatever is in your way is only an obstacle, not the end of the road. If Marlana can beat her challenges, you can certainly beat yours. Get it done.

Here is a link to Marlana’s inspiring video:

Steve Touhill, Partner

Regardless of the macroeconomic climate, it’s always a candidate-driven market for top executive talent. It takes acumen, persuasion, and sensitivity to penetrate this sterling group, who are difficult to extract and invisible to job postings. But getting the executive candidate to the table is only the beginning. You must remember three key points to maximize your ability to make the best possible hire:

  • They’re Candidates, Not Applicants: Because elite executives aren’t active in the job market, the interview process must be more courtship than cross-examination. While it’s obviously important to discern whether the candidate is an objective and cultural fit, putting the candidate under the microscope in early stages, before he’s even concluded how seriously he want to pursue the position, is guaranteed to drive him out of the process. The foremost burden is upon you to explain why the candidate should leave his perfectly good job to join you. Once that foundation is established, it is critical to maintain the dialogue with the candidate as an equal, not a subordinate.
  • Top Talent Doesn’t Always Interview Well: It’s a simple fact that active candidates interview better early in the process. It makes sense: they have more practice, and have often been “coached” by transactional recruiters to concentrate on key points to increase the likelihood of being placed. On the other hand, amazing candidates have been prematurely ruled out because they “didn’t demonstrate a genuine interest” or “lacked interview polish”. Don’t be fooled. The best candidates get better in subsequent interview rounds, while weaker ones expose their true nature. You owe it to yourself to give them a chance. The next bullet explains why.
  • Short-Term vs. Long-Term Motivations: Active candidates are often motivated by the need to replace lost income, period. This short-term view increases the risk of misrepresentation of ability and/or interest and if hired, often ends in disappointment. Truly exceptional candidates are focused on the long term. They are approaching your opportunity in a strategic, logical way, and by the time an offer is extended and accepted they will have completely thought through the value of the position to their career trajectory and are willing to make a long term commitment. As a result, they are more likely to succeed and contribute for a long time. Listen to the nature of your candidates’ questions and they will reveal which motivational category they belong to. Much better to have an executive run to your opportunity than just land there running from the last one.

There are countless variables that can influence the outcome, but the basic methodology you choose will have a dramatic impact on the quality of the search. Remembering the above keys, combined with an exhaustive effort to identify the best possible candidates from a well-defined and thoroughly researched universe, will mitigate your risk of making anything less than a stellar hire. If you don’t have confidence in your approach, seek out the counsel of an exceptional executive recruiter who will provide perspective on methodologies that stick.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

A client recently asked me why my blog entries rarely include insights on a topic about which he considers me a subject matter expert – recruiting. I thought about my own evolutionary path over the last 10 years in the recruiting industry and some of the common questions I’ve heard. One in particular is where people want to understand the differences between retained vs. contingency recruitment models.

At the surface, retained requires money-down in exchange for minimum commitments from the recruiter whereas contingency effectively provides no commitments from either party. A few of the pros and cons from these models include:

Retained Contingent
Performance guarantees Yes No
Extended replacement guarantees Yes No
Candidate Exclusivity Yes No
Devoted full-time resources Yes No
Shared risk with recruiter & client Yes No
Low-risk for client No Yes
High-risk for recruiter  No Yes
Commitment to fulfillment Yes No
Multiple recruiters OK No Yes
Client shares all ideas including candidates Yes No

You may notice “cost” or “value” is not on the list, but it is clearly an important element. But how we perceive cost/value varies. If a slew of contingent recruiters conduct a surface search for a couple of weeks and come up empty, they simply move on to another assignment. What has a client “saved” in that scenario? They are under no obligation to send you any candidates or make a single recruiting call on your behalf. They are in a speed-focused race “shopping available candidates” to as many potential companies as might buy. That is the model. Qualitative filtering is actually against their interests because it decreases their odds of making a placement. With 3 decent candidates and 3 decent companies, the contingent recruiter can generate 9 first interviews, which fits into some historical formula towards their success. Contingent recruiters drive volume to make placements.

Retained recruiters help build great companies one impactful leader at a time. The retained recruiter understands the role is critical or the hiring CXO/board wouldn’t have entrusted them in the first place. The spirit of retained contracts dictate that the recruiter is obligated to contact and compel the very best professionals for the role, not simply skim who is available and “looking”. Very rarely do retained recruiters place unemployed people. In fact, their candidates are much more likely not only to be gainfully employed, but heads down, immersed in excellence and kicking ass wherever they currently work. The impact player is who companies want to hire and those are the candidates the retained recruiter must be able to bring to the table. The retained recruiter knows that the quality of their candidates and their sustaining impact on client companies is how their reputation is built. For me, a retained recruiter, I’m maniacally focused on my client’s experience and my placed candidate’s impact in their hired position.

Answer two questions: Have you ever made a mishire? Can you afford a mishire on this search? If you answered “no” to the first question, you’re lying. If you answered “no” to the second question, scrutinize a few retained firms and hire one.

Steve Touhill, Partner

We are in the midst of an unmistakably Darwinian era in digital marketing. The pace of large-scale staff reductions within digital sales teams structured on a traditional media sales model is accelerating and those "old school" jobs will never come back. At the same time, there is a race to reload organizations with executives deeply experienced in advertising/marketing tech, creating an economically unsustainable environment if we limit ourselves as an industry to the current supply of "LUMAscape" candidates. As one CEO lamented in a recent conversation, "if a kid can spell 'programmatic' he expects $200,000."

There is a solution, but it requires a more creative approach to defining the universe of candidates. Here are three methods that our clients are leveraging to successfully scale their organizations without breaking their balance sheets:

  • Target Enterprise Skills: data-driven and programmatic technologies require a consultative, enterprise software approach that most transactional media sellers struggle to grasp. Recruiting executives from enterprise SaaS organizations who have demonstrated success developing, marketing, selling, and supporting platform technologies into the C suite injects a new level of competence into the hiring organization that accelerates growth and permeates the company culture.
  • Target Relationships: CEO respondents to a November 2014 Gartner Group survey identified digital marketing as their Number One priority in 2015. So it's no surprise that the most strategic activities once handled by ad agencies are increasingly moving in-house to the brand marketers themselves. Recruiting from businesses that market their solutions to CMO's is fertile ground.
  • Target Proven Adaptability: within the current digital media landscape there are a handful of executives who will successfully adapt to the new realities of digital marketing, and their institutional knowledge is critical to ensure the continuity of existing relationships as well as the success of incoming enterprise software executives who are new to the industry. A proven history of risk-taking and successful adaptation through previous career inflection points is a strong indicator that you have a candidate who will thrive in today's environment.

The above tactics may seem obvious, but they are easier to list than to execute. Every hiring decision carries with it an element of risk, and hiring someone who has already "been there, done that" feels safe. But safe is becoming increasingly expensive, and smart executives who expand their supply ultimately have greater control over the price of talent and can compete more effectively in the marketplace.

What are you doing to adapt?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Stop saying you or what you’ve done is "intra-prenurial". Nobody is buying it and it’s undermining your actual achievements. I’ve repeatedly heard senior executives use the term “intra-preneurial” to describe a new(ish) internal business channel or some other incubated initiative within an established company. Many of these same big company execs believe that this experience mirrors a start-up. It doesn’t. Many of these same execs also believe that their accomplishment of growing an existing revenue stream from say 50M to 60M at a 1B company is comparable to growing a startup from pre-revenue to 10M or 10M to 20M. It isn’t. Entrepreneurial settings are much different. Entrepreneurs often build something out of nothing more than an idea, they plan and actualize that idea, and grind the growth until it becomes meaningful…and then it gets even harder because the expectations are to scale aggressively. Oh, and it’s all time sensitive as payrolls need to be met.

Big company executives might be incredibly dynamic and can thrive in a startup as well as they do at a 1B+ company, but until there is a proof point it is an unknown. It’s different. The so-called intra-preneurial experience is not as relevant as they might believe. If an internal initiative doesn’t flourish, the company as a whole continues. Whereas if an entrepreneur doesn’t succeed, the company dies. The intra-preneurial initiative has significant capital behind it, existing resources to pull from, and likely an external brand for immediate credibility. The entrepreneurial venture must secure external funding – a full-time job in and of itself – or bootstrap it or it’s over. The entrepreneur needs to identify resources, consultants, new employees, and their networks become exhausted – building the right resources is also a full-time job. Hopefully the entrepreneur/founder has some personal brand credibility to leverage because NOBODY has ever heard of their company – meetings are tough to come by. "Who?" is a common response when they identify their company in yet another evangelical business introduction. And "why should I care?" is what every respondent is thinking.

If/when the entrepreneur ultimately succeeds, it is typically a herculean task that overcame countless trials, rejections, setbacks, and other learning experiences. With all due respect to my friends and colleagues who have only been at big companies, you may be brilliant and have relevant experience, but you’re not entrepreneurial. Until you’ve worn those shoes, you’ll carry much more credibility with those that have by acknowledging it. Have at it.

Steve Touhill, Partner

As oblivious toddlers, we hear the word, “no” more often than we hear our own names. Parental admonitions to steer clear of hot stoves and other temptations of childhood exploration save us from real danger. But “no” feels restrictive, controlling. We rebel as teenagers. We engage in impulsive behavior that seems like a good idea at the time but often, if we had reflected just a little bit beforehand, we might have not gone through with it. Eventually, we grow up and learn that sometimes saying “no” is for our own good, and we end up repeating the cycle with our own children.

The lifecycle of a company is not all that different, except that companies are born as impulsive teenagers. In the zealous pursuit to land new customers, generate revenue, and create value for shareholders, it’s tempting to say “yes” to any prospect willing to part with their money, even if it means taking a detour from the product roadmap or accepting margins that are not in the best long term interests of the business. Perversely, that impulsive “yes” is now restrictive because the young company’s future is dictated by the custom needs of a few early adopters rather than the scalable needs of a larger market.

That’s why successful companies have an adult in the room who can say “no”. Saying “no” when it’s not in the long-term best interest of the organization (even if it means enduring the occasional tantrum from the seller who needs the immediate gratification) gives the business the freedom to stay focused on building a sustainable operation with a clear value proposition and the opportunity to carve out a market niche it can dominate. Ultimately, customers, investors, and employees will respect you for it. Who knows, maybe some of them will even say thank you.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Venture capital firms want the same thing the entrepreneurs pursuing them want – money. That said, way too many “pitches” for capital from the entrepreneur to the investor exclude a salient explanation on how they’re going to make money. Monetization is defined by Webster’s as “to coin or convert into money.” You, the entrepreneur, need to convert their money into multiples of more money. If this isn’t incredibly well planned, you’re never getting their money to prove it. If you need capital then you have some questions to answer:

  1. How much capital do you need/want? What will it be used for immediately and for the near/mid-term? What is the month over month burn forecasted to be and when will it ebb? Getting $500k in seed funding is much different from the $5M A round or a $20M B+ round.
  2. If you’re pre-revenue, when will you begin generating revenue? How will you scale? What resources correlate with that scale? Be specific! Unless this is your third venture and the previous two enjoyed double-digit-multiple liquidity events, the investors require details up front just to give you a deeper look.
  3. Who are your competitors? What is their market share? What is working/not working for them? Why will the buying market care about your solution over another? I’ve heard Harvard MBA’s say things like “better technology” as if that carried weight. It doesn’t. You need to be comprehensively aware of all market factors because the better VC’s already do and are experts at identifying hollow BS.
  4. How will the VC’s get their money back x 8+? This is the singular question they truly want answered, however if you can’t clearly articulate your way through the basics previously mentioned, this question won’t earn VC deliberation. They’ll be on to the next possible investment.

These are simple and common sense preparations any entrepreneur serious about raising capital and building an advisory relationship should understand. Nevertheless, we still see a LOT of potential deal flow from “wantrepreneurs” who can’t answer baseline questions and we in turn can’t introduce to venture colleagues as credible investment opportunities. Get deep in the details, know your business conditions, and give the investor enough confidence to perform deeper due diligence on your company.

Their money is not your money…yet. Be smart.

Steve Touhill, Partner

I learned pretty early in life that I was smarter than average but never the smartest guy in the room. Fortunately, I also learned that it was a good idea to pay attention to what the smartest people were saying and doing because most of the time, they’re right. So when illustrious venture capitalists like Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, and Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz are all warning that we are in the midst of the biggest tech bubble since 1999, I listen carefully and consider the risks and opportunities for my clients and my business.

First, the risk: to paraphrase Gurley and Andreessen, easy access to venture capital has created an overpopulation of fat and lazy companies that eat cash like there’s no tomorrow. When that access to capital dries up, survival depends upon a company’s ability to feed itself. Only disciplined, cash flow-positive companies have a chance to make it through this looming period of belt tightening. The rest, according to Andreessen, will “vaporize.” If you’re leading a financially disciplined business with a unique value proposition, congratulations, keep it up. If you’re in a crowded market sector with an undifferentiated solution and you’re reliant upon your T&E budget to buy relationships (notice I didn’t say, “build”) and drive revenue, good luck.

Second, the opportunity: for stronger companies, this is a great time to build your talent bench. While it’s true that second tier companies mainly attract second tier talent, there are a handful of A Players at these at-risk companies reading the same articles that you and I are, and they are smart enough to be open-minded to new opportunities with more stable, growing organizations like yours. Whether for near-term talent upgrade potential or for expansion as we head toward 2015, now is the time to talk with your leadership team, internal recruiting staff, and executive search partner about your strategic hiring needs in order to capitalize on this pending wave.

Best wishes for a strong start to Q4!

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

It’s been a good year so far. Frankly it’s been a really good multi-year run with no indication of opportunity slowing down. So what am I complaining about, right? Sometimes when business and vocation are going really well, it can ironically and indirectly lead to a fade in momentum. People, including extremely successful people, sometimes find themselves in “coast periods”. A coast period is when they’re coasting through and can become distracted and diverted from the very focus that initially created their current success. Success is seemingly coming easier, on the groundswell that we built for ourselves months or possibly years before. So we work incredibly hard and then we reap the benefit of the momentum we created for ourselves – what’s wrong with that? I’ll shed some light from my filtered perspective.

Rory McIlroy had won four straight professional golf events as I’m writing this including two majors. Four straight events including two majors! The guy is clearly mega-talented and just a beast when he’s focused. A couple of years ago, everyone was pronouncing him the “next Tiger Woods” after he won his first major, the US Open at Congressional. He won another major and a couple other events, but then he started slipping. He missed several cuts and wasn’t winning events. Not that we truly know what goes on in celebrity athletes’ lives, but he had a ton going on - broke up with his long-time girlfriend and started dating a professional tennis player which took him all over the world supporting her; doing lots of commercials; investing in other business opportunities; etc. Great problems, right? He’s recently acknowledged that he wasn’t practicing very frequently nor even thinking about his golf game during the slide. Before his recent resurgence to golf dominance, he split with his tennis player fiancée, told his handlers to manage anything non-golf related, and he dedicated himself to getting back to that all-consuming focus on golf excellence and winning. His regained success is no coincidence.

Every successful entrepreneur speaks to the tough grinding hours they put in getting their start-up off the ground, pivoting a business model, scaling from X to Xx3 and again. And they love that they put in the blood, sweat, and tears effort. They had an all-consuming focus on their business and ensuring success. It worked. It sharpened them as professionals. It led to success. Like McIlroy demonstrated, it’s up to each of us to have enough self-awareness to recognize when we are coasting on previous success. Should we stop and enjoy the fruits of our labor along the way? ABSOLUTELY, but we need to keep the momentum going. The law of momentum is that it’s much easier to start and keep going then to start, stop, then start again. It’s often not the work itself that is so difficult, but the discipline to do the work that we ourselves make difficult.

So if you’re succeeding, but know you’re leaving a lot on the table and possibly getting a little lazy, take an honest look at your activities and daily discipline. What were you doing when you were scaling your current business that you’re not doing now? Our businesses evolve and we with them, but those fundamentals might be the best things to put back in practice. A few examples:

  • Plan your day the night before. Come in with a state of prepared readiness and you’ll be much more efficient.
  • Knock out the most difficult tasks first everyday – the burden off your shoulder is a form of freedom and enables greater productivity elsewhere.
  • Eliminate distractions and time wasters – do you really need to answer your phone RIGHT NOW? Is opening up that email RIGHT NOW vital? How about Facebook and your text messages, how critical are those? Turn them off and check them at a couple of planned times each day….you’ll be amazed by what you’re not missing.
  • Keep your energy up. If you can, stand while you’re in your office, pace around, stand on your toes and exercise your calf muscles. Stretch. Eat at your desk before or after your lunch window and go for a run or a quick workout during your lunch window. Physical exercise is the sort of positive diversion that strengthens your cognitive ability and enables more mental stamina.
  • Keep reminding yourself of your “why” – why you’re working so hard, your goals and objectives. Never lose sight of these goals and why they are important to you. Keep them written and in sight.

None of these ideas are new and that’s the beauty – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to put that known wheel in accelerated motion. It doesn’t matter if these are common sense; it matters if it is common practice. What are two habits that previously helped you succeed, but you’re not currently doing?

Make it happen.

Steve Touhill, Partner

Many years ago this month, I reported to the seventh floor lobby of 2 East 48th Street in New York to start my first job as an assistant media planner with Ogilvy & Mather. At the time, O&M had a legendary training program for new recruits. Not only were we taught the fundamentals of media planning, we learned how to communicate effectively as business professionals (I still own and refer to “Writing That Works” by Ken Roman, Ogilvy’s former chairman and CEO). Even though other agencies constantly recruited well-trained Ogilvy employees, O&M maintained the program because the retention value of training outweighed the cost of turnover.

Today, training programs like the one I went through seem to have gone the way of floppy disks. It’s easy to view training as a disposable luxury when companies live and die on short-term profitability metrics. Unfortunately, that often sends a message to employees that they are equally disposable – if companies are not going to invest in developing their long-term career potential, why should employees invest in the company?

Recognizing that training reduces churn, there are still things you can you do as a thrifty manager who wants to develop your team on a budget:

  • Start by thinking of training as a “continuing education” model rather than the university model that my O&M experience represented. There are plenty of relatively inexpensive online resources that enable employees to learn on their own time and at their own pace.
  • Make it practical and follow up training with application of their learning in real world situations. For example: role-play and presentation competitions for salespeople cost only your time to implement and conduct.
  • Include successful completion of training as an objective in your employee’s performance review. This should be an achievement, a form of recognition.
  • Create an archive of the trainings in Dropbox so your staff can go back for remediation and review. No need to recreate your content.

As a boutique executive search firm, we understand that budgets can be limited. Nevertheless, we invest in our own continuing education to stay on top of Internet technology industry trends and best practices in order to remain competitive and grow our own business. If we can do it, so can you.

Enjoy the rest of the summer and good luck for a strong finish to the year.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I listen to a lot of different music and two of my favorite performers are Eminem and Springsteen. Yes, I know that combination is not very likely on the surface. It occurs to me that the common thread these unique artists share is the powerful music that rises from the strife and pain in their lives. The lyrics really resonate with many of their fans; it’s poetry that hits home. In correlation, it seems to me that their art isn’t nearly as substantive when positive things are happening in their lives. Why is that? It seems crazy that we have a heightened sense of awareness of our thoughts when faced with a hurt or challenge or motivation, personally or professionally.

My point in bringing up this reference has to do with individual focus. We are halfway through 2014 and annual goals are being pursued (or not). With vacations, July 4th, World Cup soccer, and lots of other summer diversions, it’s really easy to slow down and put your goals on the back burner. But last December, you took the time to evaluate what you achieved in 2013. It was an important exercise for you. You developed goals for 2014, you documented those goals, you thought through strategic paths, you listed the tactics you would put into action. You developed a plan for success. You were motivated and focused; you had an increased sensitivity of where you could improve on your 2013 performance. You were determined to achieve in 2014.

Have you looked at your plan since you created it? Were you serious about your objectives for this year?

Go blow the dust off of that plan and take a little time to see what you need to do to stay (or get back) on track. Sometimes, it takes a pain point to get focused, but that can quickly be turned into motivating energy. We’ve got six months left in year 2014; it will never come back. Make it count.

“The door's open, but the ride it ain’t free.” – Bruce Springsteen

Steve Touhill, Partner

The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and someone posted a quote that stood out from the endless stream of humble brags and self-marketing. It said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

As an executive recruiter for nearly six years now, more people have confided their battles to me than in my previous 25 years in the working world. When most people respond with a reflexive “fine” to your “how’s it going?”, I often hear about aging parents, sick children, relationship struggles, financial difficulties, and personal health problems. The Catholic in me wants to attribute at least part of the reason for this intimate disclosure to the explicit confidentiality I guarantee -- the phone serves as a kind of confessional screen between me and the person on the other end of the line. But I think it’s simpler than that. I think it’s because I am willing to listen and because they know I care.

So I got to wondering, why are they telling me about these struggles, and not their managers? Surely an understanding manager cares about her people as much if not more than some recruiter, right? And what about me? I’m the same guy who managed people in my life before executive search; why are people telling me this stuff now, when they didn’t before?

Once again, I discovered the answer is simple: before I became a recruiter, I never asked. It was always about goals, performance metrics, deliverables, action items. Anything else, in my mind, was irrelevant drama. I know better now. You may not realize it, but you probably have at least a couple of people on your team who are real fighters, doing their best to compartmentalize their personal priorities to stay focused on meeting your expectations day in and day out. In an industry that tends to pay lip service to the concept of work-life balance, it can be a Herculean task to stay focused when things at home are stormy.

So what can you do as a manager? You don’t have to invite yourself into your employees’ personal lives, but your communication style and body language needs to be receptive. When someone does confide in you, be willing to listen without judgment and with empathy. Sometimes just getting it off their chest is all the person needs. Second, be willing to help to the extent possible, recognizing you still have a business to run. Familiarizing yourself with company leave policies, health benefits (including mental health), and other support services before that stressed person walks through your door will help you exude a reassuring calmness that will surely be appreciated. And lastly, get HR involved. It’s one of the things they do best, and they may even have training available to help you learn to improve your ability to handle these sensitive situations when they arise. Guess what happens when you are there for your team members? They in turn are there for you. A beautiful irony that one of the best contributions you can make to your own career is unselfishly serving the best interests of others with whom you influence.

The next time one of your employees’ performance slips, dig a little bit below the surface. Not all battle scars are visible.

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

My youngest daughter is a gifted athlete. My other two daughters are not, I am not, but Emme is truly talented in many sports of which soccer is her favorite. She was immediately the best player on her first soccer team and inherently enjoyed a lot of on-field success. She “moved up” a few years ago, earning a spot in an elite travel club where dozens of kids who try out don’t make it. There are currently three teams within her club age group, essentially an A, B, and C team. She’s on the A team….for now. She’s one of the smaller kids and not the fastest so she really needs to work hard to stand out. All of these kids are competent and a few of them are brilliant, certain college D-1 players in the future. The reality is that all of these kids were by far the best player on their first teams so the internal competition is much, much tougher at this level. Her God-given ability plus her discipline to improve will carry her as far she can go, but fortunately for her it will all be based on merit. If she can become excellent in practice it will translate into execution in games and she’ll continue to “move up”. As a parent, I’m a little concerned it’s all come a little too easy for her until now and this weeded out level of competition presents a challenge she’s really not experienced.

I talk with a lot of would-be rising professionals who feel they “deserve” a promotion. They believe they are being held back as a VP and “should” be a C-level based on what they’ve already achieved. Some believe that running a divisional P&L at a big company qualifies them to be CEO of a small company. Perhaps they’re right, but perhaps others don’t feel they’re quite as marketable or perhaps their accomplishments simply are not enough to win that next level role. As an executive recruiter for the past nine years, I have a unique purview into what discerning CEO’s and boards require in their senior leaders and most strategic hires. Senior professionals seeking to climb the next corporate rung must embrace that the competition is fierce. That VP/CXO/CEO role you’ve “earned” is coveted by many other highly accomplished veterans just like you believe yourself to be. If you’re going to advance your career and win a promotion or win a bigger job elsewhere, you must seek to understand where you can improve your personal marketability. My kid needs to perform well at practice and games for her coach, the sole decider, to decide if she starts, sits, and stays on the team. Your professional setting is not nearly as clear: you must prove superior results and that you should be credited with those results; you have internal politics and foxhole alliances; your company reputation might be tied to yours; you might have personal distractions out of the office. The desired roles you want are infrequently exposed so you need to delicately let it be known you’re exceptional (without arrogance) so you get those internal or external calls (btw, those calls only get you to the table, not to a win). Guess what? IT’S HARD TO KEEP CLIMBING! It takes previous experience and success, opportunity exposure, likability, timing, some luck, and other variables. Is it worth it? That is truly your call.

I’m saving money for my daughter to go to college, I’m under no illusions she’ll “earn” an athletic scholarship. And I’m beyond certain none will be “given”. It will take incredible drive, a grinding commitment to stay ahead of her competition over the next few years. Other kids want her spot and some might simply be better and/or work harder to take it away from her. That is a fair system. Neither she nor anyone else permanently deserves anything at all. She needs to start with desire, fuel it with practice and preparation, and perform with excellence in action. Then she needs to do it again the next day, but just an edge better than the day before.

What is the point? As you move up, you need to keep earning your spot on the roster. When you do so, you put yourself in the best position for the next step. All of us need to accept our competitive reality, continually get better, and beat out others in all aspects as we pursue the upward climb. It’s up to you.

“The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” – Vince Lombardi

Steve Touhill, Partner

With the April 15th tax deadline looming, I’m reminded of the old Ben Franklin quote about death and taxes as the only certain things in life. As an executive recruiter, in business I submit that there is one other certainty (albeit much less dramatic than death and taxes), and that is employee turnover. The problem tends to be most pronounced during the first quarter. With bonuses distributed and new annual goals disseminated, those employees with one foot mentally out the door make a physical exit to perceived greener pastures, leaving you starting this quarter behind. So turnover is always bad, right? Not necessarily.

We have all seen news articles and consulting firm reports about the financial and productivity impact that turnover has on a business, and there are probably even a few that address the emotional impact on the team when an especially admired leader moves on. Well, look at the bright side:

  • You’re probably good at recruiting talented people: what company wouldn’t want to hire away the top talent of its biggest competitors? If business has been good and you feel like your company is being targeted, it probably is. Your competitors want to steal your mojo, baby. Aggressive companies don’t want to pluck survivors from sinking businesses, they want the sharks.
  • You’re creating a career path for up-and-comers: hitting the ceiling hurts more when you’re climbing the fastest, and it’s one of the most common motivations we encounter when recruiting top talent. By backfilling vacancies through internal promotion, you enhance retention amongst your best performers by demonstrating that they don’t need to move on to get the responsibilities, title, and compensation that others leave for.
  • You have an opportunity to examine and improve your company culture: you have something good going on at your company if you were able to attract these top performers in the first place, but there’s room for improvement. Don’t neglect the exit interview. It shouldn’t be a perfunctory administrative exercise nor a gripe session. It should be objective, rational, and focused on what you and your organization could have done differently to make that person stay. In aggregate, patterns will emerge to guide your thinking about people, policies and environment that will plug some of the holes you may be unknowingly drilling today.

Dealing with the inevitable can sometimes seem like a daunting task, but focusing on what you can control is always the best place to start. By focusing on building an organization that pays competitively, communicates clearly and transparently, and listens to its employees’ suggestions and needs, you will face the inevitability of turnover with less stress. Have a great Second Quarter!

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I speak with dozens of senior executives every week and I really enjoy the strategic dialog shared. Accomplished CXO’s sometimes unconsciously begin to describe a “career inflection point” they find themselves in: frustrated with some aspect of their current company, seeking a more entrepreneurial venture, want a bigger scope of responsibility, want a deeper intellectual challenge, or a more balanced work/personal life. I can empathize because I experienced the same inflection point in my career about nine years ago before I founded GM Ryan.

In my previous professional world, I led a large sales organization for a publicly-traded company. I had been laser-focused and determined to scale the so-called corporate ladder to get to the position I was in. I had the title, money, control, respect, but I still wasn’t thrilled. The culture was incredibly political, I wasn’t enamored with the products and solutions, I travelled constantly which was far less interesting with three young kids at home. I had to get what I was after to realize I wanted something different.

My abbreviated professional story isn’t all that riveting; however the cathartic introspective process of transition is relevant. Realizing that I had invested the first 12 years of my career to get to a position I didn’t want begged the questions: What do I want to do? What are my important criteria in whatever I do next? What were my requirements? Every job description ever written eventually lists required criteria the company needs in a qualified candidate. As I began evaluating alternative opportunities, I began to document the pros and cons. As I scrutinized my professional options, I compared each against my personal requirements. In a simple Excel spreadsheet I listed all of my requirements in order of importance in the first column. Across the top row I populated the various opportunities I was considering. I created a “career opportunity comparison matrix”. I cannot fully convey how invaluable this organic process became for me. By creating a simple working document for my ongoing review, everything became salient. Anxiety was removed and it became easy to be objective. I could rule things out.

I’ve told this story of my process to many executives who’ve done it for themselves and always thank me for the suggestion. The mind can play tricks on all of us, especially when it comes to something as critical as career management where emotion and anxiety are inherent.

This isn’t my typical blog topic, but I hope this resonates for any of you proven senior executives pondering, “What’s next?” If you care to see the basic spreadsheet matrix, email with “career matrix” in the subject header.

Steve Touhill, Partner

Chroniclers of twenty-first century Internet marketing technology have a habit of labeling each year after the technology du jour. Some of them don’t seem to last the entire year (Year of the Widget, anyone?) while some take the better part of a decade (I think we can all agree that mobile has finally arrived). Before anyone starts calling 2014 The Year of Big Data, though, I suggest that we think about it as the Year of Big Insight.

Marketers and their agencies are bombarded with pitches from “data-driven” LUMAScape companies, each with proprietary, black-box algorithms that purport to reach the desired consumers in a way that no other solution can. But smart marketers know that data only has value when it leads to insights that drive the business forward. Last week’s Wall Street Journal article attributing Facebook’s increased advertising revenue through the surgical application of data from Datalogix and Acxiom Corporation is a great example of the power that insights derived from intelligently applied data sets can bring to an enterprise.

It’s the same with human interaction in the business world. How many times have you sat through (or delivered) a PowerPoint presentation with slide after slide of charts, tables, and graphs, only to react with a “so what?” or a yawn? It is only when we are offered a fresh perspective that we sit up and take notice. Sometimes these insights challenge our beliefs about “the way things are done”, but innovation requires executive leadership with intellectual curiosity and an open mind.

Your next board meeting, sales presentation, or operating committee meeting is coming up. What insights will you offer your audience? Will they sit up, or will they yawn?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

As a small business owner and executive recruiter for nearly a decade, I’ve had ups and downs like any other business professional and like to think I’ve grown as a result of the varied learning experiences. As I look to scale out my own business and aid my clients in scaling out theirs, I’ve spent a great deal of time reviewing my 2013 company performance, where we can improve, empirical metric trends, anecdotal observations and predications about 2014 and beyond. In talking with many CEO’s of emerging internet technology companies about their 2014 planning, I hear some similar challenges and opportunities facing these executives. So whereas this isn’t comprehensive, here are a few resonating items I’ve gleaned as being on their mind.

Depending on the stage of the business – startup, growth-stage, mature, private, public – the key performance indicators differ, but defined metrics around an anticipated growth percentage are consistent throughout. New revenue growth, bottom-line profits, increased outside funding, valuations, EBIDTA, stock price – all of these number driven realities face the CEO depending upon the lifecycle of the company. Top line revenue growth vs. near-term profitability, which is necessary at this inflection point of the business? The goal to be acquired for a big multiple or go public in a certain timeframe – both require strong fundamentals in building a desirable and scalable business, but the end objectives require different strategic paths toward the goal. Only until the CEO has an acute awareness of the KPI’s does he or she consider the forward strategies and tactics for the company.

I’ve heard about “the war for talent” so many times it has become trite, however it has not become any less accurate. Top CEO’s know that their best asset will always be their human capital and take the time to invest in this resource. Identifying, attracting, retaining key leaders in all departments as well as front line managers and individual contributors (especially engineering, product, and sales) are constantly critical. Some 53% of all business will expand U.S. new hires in 2014 with some of the biggest gains continuing to generate through technical, professional, and scientific service sectors. What is both encouraging and simultaneously scary is that these sectors didn’t have a big fall off in recent years (like construction or financial services which are making significant comebacks now) – so these anticipated hires are all new growth. The internet based companies we represent at GM Ryan understand that there was already a shortage of truly exceptional talent and the CEO’s understand that the challenge to recruit these impact players at a number of levels is not going away. It’s only getting tougher. So building internal referral and retention programs, branding an attractive corporate culture, hiring internal recruiters when effective, partnering with external recruiters when appropriate are all becoming increasingly important. Gaining market competitiveness via global expansion in Western Europe, Asia-Pac, and parts of South America remain of increasing focus as well.

Optimism vs. Realism:
The economy has largely stabilized, housing and jobs are much healthier, the stock market has soared, and investment dollars are back. With all that macro momentum, confidence is generally high as well. CEO’s are concerned about managing aggressive board expectations when the bullish outlook is so prominent in many sectors including digital media, marketing-tech, and SaaS. The CEO quandary: balancing the “motivational pressure” they put on their team and themselves with the expectations of the board, marketplace, and again themselves. Let’s face it – the CEO is a human being who feels career security pressure just like anyone else. They’ve carefully built their career to the point where they are CEO of a relevant company in their industry so leading that company to a pivotal success is vital to their own career management. They want to win and be viewed as a thought leader in their peer community. Maintaining unwavering decision-making integrity, with the help or hindrance of external pressures, is a vital characteristic the most successful CEO’s carry with them.

Of course far too many criteria and nuances exist across individual CEO’s and their company circumstances, but these three items are highly relevant and consistent. As you look at 2014, what are the challenges and opportunities you face in your own business? I wish you well in the New Year.

Steve Touhill, Partner

The late entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The same can be said for organizations. Your primary customers, partners, vendors, and employees influence how others perceive not only your company’s brand, but your personal brand, too. The pressure of hitting quarterly revenue targets can make it tempting to lower your standards and accept a deal with a company you would otherwise avoid if you were blowing out your numbers. Or maybe you decide to hire a B Player candidate instead of an A Player because some production this quarter is better than no production. Unfortunately, those short-term decisions tend to come back and haunt you.

It can be tough to resist a Band-Aid fix, but if you value your brand, doing so will yield meaningful long term dividends. Rohn’s statement applies to the executive search business, too. The following are questions that I ask myself before taking on a search assignment to ensure I am protecting my brand.

  • Is This A Company I Would Want To Work For? I have had a good run at some great companies in my career. Part of my success has been luck and good timing, and part has been the contagious enthusiasm I exude when I am selling something that I truly believe in. As an executive recruiter, I consider myself an extension of my client’s team and I have to believe in a company’s value proposition and leadership in order to take on an assignment. Otherwise, a lack of authenticity is an immediate red flag to a potential buyer – why should they be interested in the solution if you’re not?
  • Who Do They Associate With? Who are their investors and what is their track record? Who is on their advisory board? Who are their customers? If you admire the above, congratulations – sounds like a potential business partner.
  • What Do People I Respect Say About Them? No intelligent business decision is made without thorough due diligence, and that includes conducting your own reference checks. A few well-placed inquiries to trusted industry colleagues for their confidential feedback will surface potential red flags or validate a winner.
  • Do They Value What I Bring To The Table? A vendor relationship is superficial and transactional, but a long-lasting business partnership is built on mutual respect and an understanding of the value each party brings to the relationship. I seek the latter by demonstrating my value and differentiation through my daily actions and only representing clients who appreciate it and respond in equal measure.

They say that turn-about is fair play and I expect that the above criteria will be applied by potential clients when they consider me as a potential search partner. I welcome it.

What are your filters when evaluating business partnerships?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Coming up on nearly a decade of executive recruitment in the digital media and technology arena, I have accumulated a lot of different experiences through thousands of conversations with highly accomplished executives and those less accomplished as well. What are the common threads of differentiation between the high achievers and the would've/could've crowd?

Desire. Napoleon Hill wrote in "Think and Grow Rich", that "desire is the starting point of all achievement." Simple words that ring so true in life and vocation. I have not met a consistently successful entrepreneur, CEO, product leader, salesperson, etc. that was not absolutely relentless in their desire to win. The high achievers do not have a back up plan, they do not have a safety net, they are all in.

Accountability. The highly successful do not rationalize any lack of success on circumstance or other people. Wherever we go in life or profession, there is one common denominator - ourselves - and the high achievers accept blame and credit for their level of success. People who ultimately prove successful find themselves in changed situations, they can make a poor career decision, they sometimes fail. But these successful people also learn, improve and use these experiences as preparatory building blocks for their next big step. The best know that excuses are dull.

Work Hard. The highly successful absolutely believe they will succeed, they begin with that end in mind, and do an incredible amount of heavy lifting grunt work. When people say "you need to work smart", they believe the smartest thing they can do is work hard. The high achievers know that to be truly great (and not just good) they will need to put in thousands of hours towards their objectives. They know some of it will be a grind yet they WANT to do it because it gets them closer to their goal. They embrace setbacks, learn, get up and keep striving towards self-actualization.

Give. Successful business leaders know the relational irony that the most selfish thing they can do is to be unselfish. They invest in team members, provide feedback, make introductions and do favors for people. They are selective about their investment of time and energy, but they know that this collegial perspective with others will always come back full circle and pay dividends. They genuinely like having an impact on other people's development and success which inherently increases their own odds to succeed.

There are plenty of other attributes that achievers share however, these four interwoven characteristics are remarkably consistent. What are the personal and professional elements you feel are most important to maximize your own success in order to achieve your dreams? Document them, internalize them and make them happen.

Steve Touhill, Partner

Whether you like it or not, some of your most valuable employees are probably interviewing or at least entertaining exploratory conversations with other companies, maybe even your direct competition. The collective motivations behind these interviews form a narrative about your company culture that, if unaddressed, will be exploited by your competition and could project a negative reputation to the industry at large that will make it difficult to attract future talent and grow your business. Following are three of the most frequent reasons why senior executives we place are ready to consider career alternatives, and closing thoughts on what you can do increase your employee retention rate.

  1. Lack of Career/Knowledge Development: the best executives are energized and motivated by roles that offer an increase in responsibility and the chance to develop new skills, product knowledge, or expanded business relationships. When ceilings are hit and personal growth stagnates, ears open when new opportunities are presented.
  2. Lack of Recognition/Reward: someone once said that we all want to be paid a little more than we’re really worth, and certainly financial compensation is an important measurement of the value a company places on an employee. Attention must also be paid, however, to the psychic benefit gained through non-monetary recognition, whether that is an award, promotion, or simply thanking someone for a great job. When your employee has lost that loving feeling, attention from another company can be flattering.
  3. Weak Leadership/Company Culture: your ability to influence retention cannot be overstated. Indecision, lack of clear company direction, a mercurial temperament, and favoritism are typical symptoms of a rudderless organization that will implode if it isn’t changed.

As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to ensure that goals are clearly communicated for the company as a whole and for individual departments and employees. People need to understand their roles and responsibilities in achieving those goals. They need to believe they are part of a meritocracy that values and rewards their achievement and offers them a chance to do more when they demonstrate success. It doesn’t mean that they will stop taking phone calls regarding new opportunities, but it will make them less susceptible to making a change.

Talk to your leadership team today. What’s their take on the pulse of current company culture, and what ideas do they have to make yours a sticky organization?

Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Great people are critical to the success of every business. Hiring them, however, is easier said than done. The best are rare, challenging to find, and even harder to attract. Competition for them is intense. Retaining these marketable professionals can also be a challenge. Smart board members and C-level executives embrace this reality and tend to follow 5 key principles in the war for talent.

  1. Focus on retention from the first conversation. Yes, you need to scrutinize credentials, measure personality fit, and follow a recruiting methodology. The candidate expects these qualification tactics, however, when a candidate "feels" the recognition of true interest and commitment, a desirable symbiotic outlook is initiated. Even the most serious senior executive has emotions and how they feel about what you express will drive their initial interest. Using inclusive and assumptive language helps to establish an immediate connection which sets the stage for a potential long-term professional marriage. The sooner a candidate feels a symbiosis with you and your company, the sooner you'll get to know the real candidate before you as well. The intrinsic value of immediate commitment cannot be overstated.
  2. Know what you don't want. It’s reasonable for a board or CEO to wrestle with some ideal candidate criteria and maintain a little bit of ambiguity. A lot of strategic candidates actually prefer some unknown complexity in taking on a new scope of work – after all it’s not uncommon to hire someone to remedy an unresolved challenge or build a solution not yet identified. However, few factors will give a competent executive more pause than inexplicable indecision. Smart hiring executives rule out what they don’t want to see in a candidate and document it. It’s OK to not know exactly which road to travel, but the dead ends must be identified before you pursue the trip.
  3. There are no perfect candidates. Identifying the quintessential profile is a starting point, but it should not dictate all decisions. You want an excellent candidate with the intellect, drive and adaptability to perform a desired scope of work. All candidates have strengths and weaknesses so be prepared to make prudent concessions and trade-offs or you may never fill the position.
  4. Apply and welcome scrutiny. Checking references is not about validating dates of employment, it is about evaluating the likelihood for success at your company. Softball questions will not help your review so dig in, ask for constructive areas the candidate can improve. Probe. Ask a similar question in a different way. Get details. Qualify and inspect. Pursue informal references as well. In tandem, the best candidates will scrutinize your opportunity and thoroughly vet out if the opportunity, team, product, timing, etc. is right for them. If your senior candidates do not perform mutual due diligence then they are either careless or simply lack intelligence. Punt.
  5. Make hiring a priority. If interviews and meetings cannot get scheduled or get postponed more than once, it conveys one single message: not important. A competent executive - hiring manager or candidate – is busy, but both sides need to be committed and make the time to interview. You wouldn’t give a candidate too much additional consideration if they couldn’t create time to meet with you – only the desperate candidates will tolerate a whole lot of that on the other end. Time kills all deals in recruiting.

Follow these simple truths and you will increase your chances for long-term hiring success.

Steve Touhill, Partner

It’s been said so often that it has become cliché: a CEO’s top priority must be the hiring and retention of top talent. Given the intense competition for “big data” skills and the complexities of appealing to Millennials, executive leadership teams should be investing a lot of time thinking deeply about how to find and keep the best and brightest people. So why is it that so many companies still approach recruiting in a casual, undisciplined fashion that takes too long, yields the wrong fit, and worst of all, drives the best candidates away?

Picture this scenario: you are an exceptional executive satisfied with your current role but an intriguing opportunity is presented to you and you agree to interview for it. You have been thoroughly qualified by an executive recruiter and are invited to run a gauntlet of interviews with the company’s executive team. You spend hours studying the backgrounds of the people you’ll meet, anticipating their questions, and formulating insightful questions of your own. You show up on time but slowly the air is let out of the balloon. The interview starts twenty minutes late. One interviewer is reading your résumé for the very first time, right in front of you. You are asked and answer the same softball questions over and over, and wrap up the day with the “gotcha” guy who interviews for sport. You have wasted a day and consider the company executives to be disorganized clowns. If the process repeats with other candidates, the word spreads, the label sticks, and the company ends up being forced to settle on B players or worse.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the above, but it requires a disciplined and universal executive team commitment to a proven, repeatable process. In their excellent book, “Who: The A Method For Hiring”, Geoff Smart and Randy Street outline a well-researched four-step recruitment process that consistently yields the companies who practice it much better results in terms of candidate quality, speed to hire, and retention. It’s built around four components:

  • Scorecard: the blueprint you must create before the first interview that defines the criteria you will use to select the successful candidate
  • Source: how you will identify the pool of potential candidates, whether through referral, executive search, or both
  • Select: the four-stage “interview funnel” designed to screen and filter candidates
  • Sell: answers why the candidate should leave her perfectly good job to work for you.

There’s obviously a lot more to it, and you may not choose to implement it verbatim, but as you read it on the beach this summer I hope you will identify elements of their approach that you’re already doing and can adapt the framework to your own business and company culture.

Design and implementation will require an upfront time commitment that will conflict with the myriad daily tactical issues you’re dealing with, but executives interested in giving the talent management imperative more than lip service will see the long term benefits increase in each successive board meeting. To deliver the right numbers, you need the right people. To get the right people, you need the right process. Good luck and enjoy your summer!

For Steve's inspiration, "Who: The A Method For Hiring".

Career Management: Explain Yourself! -Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Over the past eight years, my firm has placed hundreds of senior professionals and executives within the digital media and internet technology space. It has been a wild ride and we've learned a lot through many experiences we've shared with clients, investors and candidates. Given the rapidly evolving industry ecosystem- funding spurts, downturns, hiring spurts, business model pivots, technology innovations- change is a constant. However, I'm still amazed when seemingly competent "professionals" rationalize the change in the sector as the reason (a.k.a excuse) for their many job changes. Hiring executives seeking qualitative resolution to a talent deficiency in their organization frequently have a counter perspective. Candidates need to heighten their awareness and understand this viewpoint.

It is perfectly okay and sometimes optimal to make a job change, but a job move does not always correlate with smart career management. In getting to know people I might represent, I seek to understand their perspective, ambitions and career track that has brought them to their current point. I'll ask a simple question, such as "Why did you go from company A to company B?", and I'll hear "I was recruited" or "A buddy worked at company B" or "I got a VP title" or "My base went from $180K to $200K" as well as countless other reasons. Being "recruited" or "having a friend at a company" was the mechanism, but does not provide any logic in the move. And why would someone leave one company for another because of a modest change in title and/or comp?

If you have had several jobs over the course of your career then you certainly have a lot of "experience"; however, your body of work might not be as marketable in the eyes of the hiring authority as you think it is. We all make poor decisions at times- we assume more trust in someone than we should, we are lied to, an unforeseen event negatively shifts our company, etc.- and we are all allowed a pass or two for these scenarios. But, if we do not learn from those errors in judgment and continue upon with the same poor decisions, then another story (the one you don't see) is being read by the decision-makers representing the career advancing role. We are all the single common denominator in whatever we do in life. The one consistent thread in our career path is ourselves, so if you are not where you want to be, then look at yourself first. Look at your decision-making process. Scrutinize the "logic behind the moves you have made, the why?, not the moves themselves. Excuses are dull.

As a kid, my family belonged to a modest pool & tennis club where we would spend hours nearly every summer day. As we climbed up the ladder of the high diving board you couldn't help but see a familiar sign attached to the supporting pole of the high dive structure. It read, "Look Before You Leap!" Simple and sound advice to keep people safe- a measured caution before taking an exciting plunge. This lesson in due diligence translates to a balanced approach to career management.

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