Three truths, one season

Note: Following is a client letter originally distributed via email on June 30th.

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

Monthly letters normally attempt to dive into a single issue arising out of chosen practice areas. This month’s version is going to be a little more “surfacey” yet ripe with opportunities to travel deeper should you choose to do so on your own time. Of course you can opt out by deleting right now, which may be the whole magic of email.

First truth comes from a client presentation made last year at a business school. The general subject was competition, a red meat topic if there ever was one for aspiring MBAers. The quote can actually be attributed to former Ohio State football coach, Paul Brown, who later became the Cleveland Browns namesake:

“When you win, say little. When you lose, say less.”

Talk about a truth that’s gone straight out the door in our hyper-media, grace challenged world. This quote has been following yours truly around since February so consider it now fully shared. If you’re not winning or losing then keep reading.

The second truth comes from a Lenten handbook date marked Wed., April 16th. It builds off a biblical passage, Hebrews 12:1-3. Rosabeth Moss Kanter once observed that “Change is hardest in the middle…Everything looks like a failure in the middle…Everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings; it is just the middles that involve hard work.” Thankless, mundane drudgery might be closer to the point. If you find yourself identifying with this stage then take comfort in the fact that it won’t last forever. Something will move things out of the middle. That’s not to say you will automatically move forward.

The last truth is a doozy — you’ve been warned — and probably could use better perspective than what this shortened format will allow. Check out now or forever be enlightened.

Following is a passage from the philosopher, Pascal, on human nature. The source of this leave behind can be traced directly to Ken Boa and his December 2013 letter. The passage has been highlighted since then and am sharing it now for the eminently qualified thinkers among you (hint: Not me.)

“Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.” (“Pensees,” p. 347.)

Now you probably don’t want to scare anyone around the campfire this summer with this last one. But the message is worth considering — as are all three in your own leadership contexts.

Enjoy the Summer,


Recruiting conferences: Where’s the value?

From March Madness to April Fool’s to Spring recruiting industry conferences. The new season has brought forth several forums — all with different focuses and market segments. This post’s goal is raise the value question, or more specifically: What value exists in conferences and how can that value be more readily transferred so others can gain better access? (Note: Two of the three bolded terms in the last sentence are leadership responsibilities.)

First, conferences remain proven direct marketing channels for product and service vendors to promote their offerings — or “hawk their wares” to use an ancient phrase. Some turn out to be more valuable than others. For example, a young upstart all the way back in 2008 named LinkedIn dominated the landscape at what’s now known as Recruiting Trends, a conference with roots tracing back 40 years to Kennedy Information. Linkedin originally established presence by sheer willpower and visibility. Banners were everywhere, kiosks were large and free logo t-shirts were abundant. After all that’s what worked back before the economy fully collapsed.

Fast forward to today, the hyper-connected social media age when fewer spend the time or money to attend conferences for a host of reasons, including lack of perceived value. It’s a different formula now, one that must combine the best of the off line world with effective digital engagement to sustain interest. Or as the head of a D.C.-based advocacy group says, “you better have something that no one can get elsewhere if you want to get people in the same room for two days.” True that. Advantage goes back to the market leaders, such as LinkedIn, which now sponsors their own conferences that attract more than 3,000 attendees, according to a regular presenter. That’s not bad for a group that used to beg people to join their network.

Dipping down to the individual or company attendee level, it’s difficult to argue with the fact that conferences represent networking value. Access remains an issue, and it’s not clear whether organizers are fully committed to connecting buyers and sellers vs. simply getting attendees to show up to confirm registeration. Presenters, such as long-time recruiter Lou Adler and Fortune Magazine’s Geoff Colvin, enjoy an advantage via captive audiences despite the fact attention spans are split three different ways ’til Sunday.

While selling and promoting at conferences are obvious value points, the other side of the equation, professional development, often gets shorter shrift. The reasons why are numerous. As an independent executive recruiter puts it, there’s always been a “big difference between building the business vs. building the profession.” Granted that’s a little high and mighty, yet it’s important distinction that few seem willing to balance anymore. Professional development as investment has fallen completely out of the picture. Some industry organizations with a bent toward the executive level have tried to address this issue, such as the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) that recently held their annual conference in New York: Another group with aspirations is a U.K.-based outfit called, which will hold their version in Miami next month:

But that’s only one slice of the recruiting market. The fact remains that very few top performers put any stock in attending venues that only speak to themselves. The need for clearer industry standards and certification continues to remain unmet. Until an organized, credible group impacts this missing dynamic, it’s difficult to see the value equation changing. That’s not to say it can’t be done. After all it only took LinkedIn six years to become a conference market leader. The first group who can combine commercial interests with professional development that makes a difference may be onto the next big AND valuable thing.

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Disclosure: Based on previous participation, TGR was invited to attend “Recruiting Trends,” which was held this week in Alexandria, Va.

Leadership as performance art

Note: This originally appeared as a client and colleague e-letter.

March 28, 2014

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

With new seasons come new inspirations. Or at least that’s the hope. This year’s winter weather has been enough to make anyone want to flip the switch on more daylight.

One of the joys of constantly searching for better narrative is when someone you’ve known for a long time brings a fresh unexpected perspective. This person recently sat down over coffee to extol the value of performance art as a differentiator in leadership. Performance art? Really? What do you mean?

Well, for starters, it’s knowing when it’s time to perform and knowing when it’s time not to, which usually involves active listening. In this friend’s words, “how to work the room” vs. when not to. This is fast becoming a dying art in leadership circles as more rise from financial ranks and other places that value tangible competency over the often intangible ability to connect to the occasion. We throw around the term, “authentic” so much now that’s getting harder to discern who is and who isn’t. Twitter doesn’t seem to help with this endeavor. Capacity for performance art is having informed awareness both of who you are vs. who you are not and why you’re present in a situation in the first place. It does not mean peforming only to gain an unseen advantage as some who think they should already be CEO often do.

The next step is understanding what the actual performance requires and being prepared for that moment enough to the point where balance is struck vs. going too far to the extreme of performance for performance sake. How many times have you sat through long winded speeches that try to find a point of view without ever doing so? Questions that make the points are always effective tools, but mastering that skill requires curiosity, another fading factor in the equation.

Back to my friend who has worked in several different Fortune 500 companies all with different sets of leadership. The leader who performed the best turned out to be the one who presented the strongest capacity for relationship, trust and access when it mattered the most (read this last part carefully, always being accessible isn’t the same thing as access.) This CEO’s story also was original without the need for fabrication and included being passed over for a major job prior to filling the role that would prove to be his crowning achievement. Granted it doesn’t always work out that way, but this example provided pause.

Here is the inspiring part. My friend felt so strongly about the leader’s influence that he wrote to him when his son graduated from high school, thanking his former boss for helping make it possible through jobs that compensated well enough to fund the kid’s college education. In an age when it’s easy to criticize and judge leaders, this story proved to be quite refreshing. There are countless others out there where individuals are making a big difference in the lives of those who work tirelessly for them. Gratitude is truly a two-way street even long after the transaction, which in this case, was a long-term job.

This is the lost story of leadership. Those leaders willing to make difference, be in relationship and fully invested in people will always rise to the occasion; the ones who don’t won’t because they can’t get out of their own way. Or least that’s my belief. Something tells me when that belief goes away yours truly will follow suit.

Happy Spring and thanks for reading. My perennial hope is that the messages contained here help make a difference with what you may be facing. All the best,

Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View LLC
4060 Peachtree Rd./Suite D-#117
Atlanta, GA, 30319
Phone: 404-606-0637
TGR web log:

Five steps to look like a leader

Full disclosure: TGR has never, repeat never, addressed the subject of executive dress. Image is not a hot button — at least not from the point of view of personal dress and hygiene. While our look can always be updated, we wear decent threads, nice dress shoes and always will remain clean cut until it’s no longer in fashion to do so in executive leadership circles. That could be a good long while from now.

Having said all that, there does come a time when it’s necessary to review proper guidelines. Especially now in the age of constantly changing dress codes, such as business casual, dressy casual, cocktail casual and simply, casual. It’s not hard to envision when specific requests will be made to dress nicely, which means socks for men in dress shoes and no chewing gum in church.

Anyone still reading would be well suited (pun intended) to tune into the following webinar, which was originally hosted by SpeechWorks/Asher Communications in Atlanta. Fashionista Lori Wynne of Fashion with Flair gave a comprehensive outline of the five ingredients to looking like a leader. It’s good stuff even for the sharpest dressed man who may need a reminder or two. See the following link for the hour-long webinar: When asked name someone with a great executive look, Wynne cited former presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, which explains this photo image lifted with credit from at least 500 on Google:

Photo courtesy of

The most apt analogy in business circles when it comes to proper dress may be the old house sale image of a gutter hanging off the side of a house. That may not prevent an interested buyer from moving further into the process, but it sure does represent an eyesore that could prevent a successful negotiation. Same goes for not following proper dress or hygiene standards. Old school branding lessons aside, anything that doesn’t seem right or sticks out based on the occasion probably isn’t right. Adjust accordingly.

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First outsider, retiree and non-industry exec. to take reins at venerable search firm

For the first time in their 60-year history, Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles has named both an industry and firm outsider to lead the newly re-branded leadership company.

Tracy Wolstencroft, a former Goldman Sachs executive who retired in 2010, replaces interim CEO Jory Marino who exits the position after replacing Kevin Kelly (2006-2013), one of the longest serving CEOs in Heidrick & Struggles’ history. Kelly assumed the top leadership reins from former Chairman and CEO Tom Friel (2002-2006), who along with Chairman Emeritus Gerry Roche and several other long-time partners, helped elevate the firm to the highest levels of Fortune 100 executive search, leadership succession and board-level recruiting. Heidrick is perhaps best known for high-level CEO placement and recently served as firm of record on the Microsoft CEO search, which was officially completed this week with the naming of an internal candidate as only the third chief executive in the software maker’s history.

The board-level decision to name an outsider signals a major — some say way overdue — change in leadership for one of the industry’s largest search firms, which has seen revenues and market share drop as executive search has changed, moving away from a highly transactional business to a more consultative and advisory-based professional service. Heidrick’s primary publicly held competitor, Korn Ferry, has solidified its standing as a fully integrated search and leadership consulting firm while privately held Spencer Stuart and Egon Zehnder have reinforced their respective niches domestically and in Europe where Zehnder reigns supreme.

Naming an outsider as CEO also seems to re-confirm earlier attempts by Heidrick to change its ownership structure. At least two attempts to return to private status have been attempted over the past five years, according to sources familiar with the situation. An earlier effort to merge Heidrick & Struggles and Korn Ferry International was shelved when it became clear that the two disparate cultures could not be effectively combined. During this same period an exodus of top talent began migrating from to Korn Ferry and has since reached a plateau as the flight to quality during the last recession peaks.

The key question now is the one that has remained at the forefront for years: Will Heidrick continue to operate as an independent, publicly held firm, or will it explore strategic options, such as selling to or merging with another entity? Hiring a senior CEO with major mergers and acquisitions experience would at least perceptually signal change will continue to be explored.

Since becoming a public company in 1999, Heidrick & Struggles has struggled to gain footing between what one of the firm’s partners once called a “sophisticated start-up company” and privately held partnership. The original impetus to go public was led by former CEO Pat Pittard who served as worldwide CEO from 1996-2001 and later resigned from the firm following the 2000-2002 recession, which produced Heidrick’s first ever round of firm-wide layoffs.

In a closely held business filled with ironies about their own hiring and succession practices, few partners currently hold significant equity in the firm other than former top executives, such as Kelly who vacated the CEO position with stock holdings valued at more than $1.5 million at the time of his departure. 

Where does Heidrick & Struggles go from here? Only time will tell. Executive search has always been highly cyclical, and the current environment is no different despite changing dynamics now driving the business. Where that cycle leads and how a venerable brand regains its footing will the subject of inquiry now that an inevitable succession move has been made. The “house that Roche built” will now have to be renovated in ways not previously undertaken or foreseen.

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Microsoft CEO Search: Live blogging (facetious)

Following was overheard between Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and retiring CEO Steve Ballmer in Redmond, Wash., earlier this week before Gates fired up The Founder’s Jet for Davos and the World Economic Forum (WEF.)

Gates: So, Steve, how are we coming along with your replacement?

Ballmer: I don’t know, man. We’ve got a lot of resumes here from the search firm but don’t really have any standouts since Alan (Mulally) turned us down on CNBC. Board has been pretty mum.

Gates: Yeah, that kind of stinks. With all the money the company is making right now, we probably don’t even need a CEO. (Note: Microsoft reported a 4Q 2013 profit of $3 billion earlier this week.)

Ballmer: Bill, it’s not all about money. Strategy is critical to long-term performance of the company.

Gates: Easy for you to say. Didn’t you come up with what we’re doing now? Back in my day, that other guy with the Macintosh was hard to track. We just went with something simple like a computer for every desktop. Everything fell into place right after IBM turned us down.

Ballmer: Things are a lot more complex today. We are an extremely large matrixed organization. So many devices, so little time. That’s why we have to move more in that market-driven direction after missing out on Search.

Gates: Good point. I love playing bridge with Warren on my Surface tablet. You think we can sell more of those?

Ballmer: Someday, maybe. For right now, let’s keep updating Windows.

Gates: Sounds like a plan. So who is on top of the resume list, anyone more interesting and connected than me?

Microsoft currently does not have anyone technically filling the CEO position. It’s been that way since last August when previous CEO, Steve Ballmer, announced his retirement. A firm re-branding as a leadership company with an interim CEO is currently assisting with the search.

See more here:

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Great advice from new GM CEO

By now, unless you’ve been living under a rock in Nepal, you probably are aware that General Motors named a woman to be CEO late last year. Her name is Mary Barra and she’s the first female executive to run a major car company. In an ABC News interview celebrating GM’s double coup, winning top car and truck at this year’s Detroit auto show, Barra conveyed the following piece of golden career advice to interviewer, Rebecca Jarvis: “I always approached each job like it was the one that I would do the rest of my life.” Now, 30 years later, she holds the automaker’s top job.

What a refreshing perspective. During a time when everyone is moving rapidly on to the next thing, or so they think, someone who has risen to the top offers up some timeless truth. Do the best job you can right now at this moment, stay focused (another theme emerging early in 2014) and quit worrying about the next job. The next opportunity will form one way or another.

As an aside that buffers these comments, contrary to how it may seem, workers used to change jobs a lot more than they do today. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report reported by CBS Marketwatch,, workers are more loyal now than they were 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. Whether that’s out of economic fear, genuine desire or combination of all the above remains an open-ended question.

Bottom line: Keep working hard, and when nothing else is working, try a different angle or tact.

Microsoft CEO Search: Score one for fleeting loyalties

The Wall Street Journal is first again with what now seems like an obvious development in the Microsoft CEO saga: After one of the most public non-pursuit pursuits of a brand name executive job in recent history, Ford’s Alan Mulally has “ended his flirtation” with the top job. According to the Journal, he evidently was disappointed with leaks emanating from the process — as if Mulally was in control of the process from the beginning. The most disappointed party? That’s easy. CNBC, the primary media feeder of speculation that became so pitched that Business Insider starting duping pix depicting the Ford executive in front of a Microsoft banner. See previous post for more:

This “startling” development has swung the balance of power back to Microsoft’s board, which is a mixed bag to say the least. There’s a major founder-in-chief fluttering in the shadows and an activist investor who appears ready to ride the trends in their special interest favor. Trying to do a discreet search now will be close to impossible. It didn’t have to be this way but will be now.

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2014 Battle Royale: Specialists vs. Generalists

Editor’s Note: This originally appeared as a client e-letter last month.

December 23, 2013

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

As the year winds down, here are a couple questions to consider for 2014: Are you a specialist or a generalist? Better yet, do you know when the difference matters?

Here is a personal anecdote to help set the table. A couple months ago, my 1999 Audi A4 developed a unique German engineering problem that involved having to take the dash apart to get to a heating coil system issue. Anyone that has ever owned a foreign born car knows that that type of repair ain’t cheap. The certified mechanic who works on a lot of different cars completed the job but failed to re-connect the radio properly. So looking for a better fix, I called the specialist shop that’s run by someone who looks like something straight out of ZZ Top. After explaining the issue, he asks, “so who worked on the car? It sounds to me like a wire wasn’t re-connected properly.” Really? You don’t say. It’s been great getting reacquainted with my CD collection.

As someone who has heavily specialized for the past 10+ years, my eyes and ears have become super sensitive to marketplace questions falling out of chosen branding specialty. Evidently the rest of the world is not. Specialists are everywhere, at every corner, in every industry. Few know how to converse in language outside of their own specialty. Worse yet far fewer even care while some claim so many industry specialties that they represent masters of none. Generalist CEOs are now being replaced with financial specialists, or highly trained CFOs who excel at finance but often can’t speak or connect in every day language. Consulting firms that have specialized their way through the Great Recession now find themselves trying to grow beyond chosen niche, which often never leads anywhere other than back into the niche. A lot of old fashioned ink has been dropped on this subject this year. If you have pay wall access, see of this year’s best summations by the Financial Times’ Andrew Hill: If you don’t, try another related piece from Harvard Business Review

It’s unclear who ultimately will win this post new normal battle. But here are a couple observations to help move a little closer. The first is the old stand by truth: Know where you are and with whom you are speaking. Chances are they don’t really care about your niche specialty unless you’re a heart surgeon or bankruptcy lawyer, which are two service providers you probably don’t want to have to engage with anyway. Generalists also tend to come back into vogue during better economic times. In my view, specialists have to be even better generalists than the generalists themselves, especially in situations like the one outlined at the top. There’s really no better time than when someone else besides yourself is in need. And that may be the whole point, which says end on a high note.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,


Always searching

Loyal TGR readers will appreciate the irony of this post’s headline on a couple different levels.

Level One:  The year’s biggest brand name CEO search is based in Redmond, Wash., home of  software giant, Microsoft Corp. The position is currently open following the pre-announced retirement of current CEO Steve Ballmer who will reportedly remain in the position for 12 months or until the new CEO is named. When the decision was first announced in August, headlines carried the typical echo chamber fare. Holman Jenkins at the Wall Street Journal opined that only Bill Gates could save Microsoft:

Steve Ballmer — courtesy 9to5macfiles

Now four months later, hardly an eternity, the position remains unfilled despite frequent speculation on CNBC, “Business Insider” and other outlets that Ford CEO Alan Mulally or an internal candidate will become the next CEO of Microsoft. The company’s long dormant stock value recently moved back past Apple on the S&P index, giving new meaning to the empty CEO reputation factor. Where Microsoft goes from here is anyone’s guess; in the meantime, the company seems to be doing just fine despite having no leader and reportedly a divided board, according to the WSJ. Another major company mirroring similar situation is Wal-Mart, which quietly named a successor last week right before Turkey Day.

Alan Mulally — courtesy BusinessInsider (duped pix)

Here’s an initial takeaway for additional comments (please respond either directly or in the comments section below.) Maybe, just maybe, in large complex businesses, it doesn’t matter who is CEO? Microsoft has businesses that are as large as some Fortune 500 companies. As long as the board does its job overseeing long-term direction and strategy, the CEO position isn’t nearly as critical as advertised. That can always change. But for now the search seems like a real so what. The only path forward seems to be a return to the past, a rock star CEO who can sit above other lesser knowns. That list is hard to come by, and despite previous reports, really can’t include Bill Gates with a straight face. Or can it?

Jeff Sanders — Slammed!  Courtesy Fortune

Level Two: The firm who is helping Microsoft find a new CEO is Heidrick & Struggles, a 60-year-old player in executive search, which by most reasonable measures, represents an industry in flux. Heidrick reportedly is looking for their own CEO as well with internal vice chairs, Bonnie Gwin and Jeff Sanders leading the search, according to the fall issue of Executive Search Review. Sanders also is deeply involved in the Microsoft search, according to unnamed sources.  Official attempts to confirm this fact were not made for reasons not worth going into. Despite lackluster financial performance over the past few years and refusal to accept a new direction, which resulted in the previous CEO and other key players leaving, Heidrick and Struggles remains highly competitive. Some observers readily concede that despite attempts to kill the brand no one has been able to complete the act. The company is currently being directed by long-time insider, Jory Marino, who holds the interim CEO title and led efforts to ring the NASDAQ bell earlier this month, marking the firm’s 60th birthday.

If Heidrick’s intent is to return to private status, then the economics need be favorable to justify the move. Access to capital is more open on the public markets, and private equity no longer seems to be an option after a previously rumored takeover by the Blackstone Group either fell short or wasn’t real. Several other attempts to return to private status have been unsuccessful over the past five years. These have been thwarted either because the financials were not favorable or the previous CEO held up the process — depending on whom you choose to believe. 

At any level, as Thomas Wolfe once wrote, you can’t go home again. Not doing something is doing something. It’s time for both previously mentioned major company and search firm to turn their respective pages. The world right now could use a little change to believe in.

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