The Garglington Report

Is it a new season?

Note: Following first appeared as a client letter on August 29th.

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

Wedged in between historical events this week and the coming Labor Day holiday lies a question that’s worth asking: Is it a new season? How do I (or would I) know?

The obvious answer is Yes, of course it’s a new season. School is starting back, and football season will soon commence. Technically speaking, however, summer is summer for nearly another month. Humidity and fat mosquitoes confirm that fact.

So what exactly is the question asking? New seasons in our shared context generally mean something has changed either voluntarily or involuntarily and requires thoughtful action. Perhaps it’s a new job, position or promotion. Or maybe it’s the alternative: No job, retirement or reduced professional capacities. Going a little wider than self, new seasons also describe changing industries or market landscapes, which could describe everything these days. New rules of engagement are a common theme right now. Few know what these rules are, but everyone is willing to admit things have changed to the point where the old rules no longer apply.

If you think you’re in a new season or approaching one, consider the following truths that may confirm what you’re already experiencing:

1.) Something feels different. Uncomfortable even. The way you’ve been doing things no longer seems to generate the same response that it always has created. If you’re smart, you’ll stop for a minute, consult wise counsel and try to understand what’s really going on. If you’re smart but unwise, you’ll continue to power through the existing construct, discarding what others who care might have to say. Perceptually speaking, the latter point seems to describe the current national political state and everything that is contained within.

2.) Others begin to notice the change or that you’re either considering or moving in a different direction despite the fact that you have not shared what you’re doing. Energy levels may be lower or moods might not be as positive. As basic as this may sound, generally speaking, the decision to move in new directions is generally made for us while the rest of our time is spent trying to make up lost ground. Those closest to us are more objective about these movements than we as our own masters could ever be. On the other extreme, beware of what Bruce Wilkinson calls “border bullies” in his timeless book titled, “Dream Giver.” Border bullies stand at the front lines, preventing growth largely because they think they are going to lose you or something at the expense of what you’re trying to change. Instead of picking them off one by one, learn and apply something from the feedback. Border bullies are not your enemies.

3.) Reactions to normal situations, or not so normal situations, tend to be at the extremes. Either dramatically positive or very negative. Moderation during moments of change is nearly impossible to achieve emotionally. Nor should it be in my view. Within reason, of course. A smarter, wiser friend once said that “tension sparks creativity.” No truer words have been spoken in the context of change. Key is how to channel the tension and creativity into forward moving steps.

4.) No one else sees what you see. This speaks to both the power and danger of personal vision. Power lies in the passion with which you see what you see. Danger lurks when what you see may not be supported by fact, rationale or market value via specific reward. I personally think this is where the saying, “don’t let facts get in the way of a good argument” found its business origins. Be careful with this one. Chances are if you can’t transfer your vision effectively to enroll others then change efforts will fall short.

Embrace whatever season you may be in. If you’re considering a new one, then drop a line or two. It’s always informative to hear from the experiences of others. Happy Labor Day,


Wisdom of Robert Ritchie

Editor’s note: Following first appeared as a client e-letter on July 31, 2013.

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

Every now and then something will fall out of the sky and strike yours truly in the head. Some might call similar experiences A-Ha moments. What you’re about to read is one of those moments.

For the esteemed business leadership lot, Robert Ritchie is an unknown name. He toils away in a different universe playing to crowds that maybe someone you know down the street or your children might recognize (hold that thought.) Ritchie’s musical stage name is Kid Rock. 42 years old, he’s a native of Detroit, Mich., home of Motown, Eminem and Bob Seegar whose song, “Like a Rock” remains the longest running corporate tome of all time. To say Kid Rock plays to the hard rocking party crowd might be an understatement. He’s a well paid performer and accomplished artist much like a professional athlete or even that rare breed of over-performing CEO who deserves every penny of total compensation he or she receives.

Ritchie also is a shrewd businessman as evidenced by a recent deal signed with concert organizer and promoter, Live Nation. One of the more unique of its kind, the deal actually caps ticket prices in some venues at $20, which is literally free for a concert of any kind. In exchange for the cap, Ritchie receives a portion of the gate and concession receipts vs. the standard industry fee. Here’s more from the original source:

Why is this relevant to you as a business leader? The themes of change and transformation fill the lexicon every day yet few if any are willing to embrace creativity and risk taking required to make change. Conventional wisdom says there are too many threats to business right now to do anything differently or too far “outside the box.” Phooey. Leadership’s primary role is to help remove threats or obstacles to doing business. Kid Rock presents one of the the most compelling, and literally profane, examples of being willing to take risk to impact change. You might be hard pressed to name another when asked.

As for whether Kid Rock and his music are suitable for teenage children, I hear you, my friend. You don’t have to approve the product. But don’t miss the point out of your own prejudices. Sometimes performance art is simply that, art. It doesn’t have to be widely accepted or processed through your own prism. Nor should it be judged for the sake of judgement. What it does have to do, however, is go farther so others can go far enough. This is one of those times, which is why the example has been chosen and now shared with a wider audience.

Good day,

Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View LLC
Five Concourse Pkwy./Suite 2850
Atlanta, GA, 30328
Phone: 404-606-0637
Web log: “The Garlington Report (TGR)”

Where have you gone, Bob Nardelli?

Recent headlines about increases in CEO pay and entrenched, never changing boards — see raise an interesting question: Do things that happen on a large leadership scale, either bad or good, ever change anything? The obvious answer is yes. The larger answer is the more things change, the more things adapt in self interest — at least when the topic is corporate leadership circles. Consider the following example.

Back in the model T days of CEO recruiting (2000), a fast growing Fortune 500 company searching for new leadership hired someone who had been passed over for another top job. Being passed over is normally not a good sign, but in that day and age, anything went. At the time the person was held up as an A-level performer who had helped make his employer, General Electric, and its former CEO, Jack Welch, famous in management circles. That CEO’s name was Bob Nardelli. His counterpart who also was passed over to replace Welch later went on to become CEO of 3M and then Boeing where current CEO Jim McNerney still resides. After failed runs at Home Depot and Chrysler, Nardelli is the former poster child of CEO pay, which won’t be repeated anytime soon. Or least not if more discerning boards have anything to do with it.

Fast forward 10-15 years. Is anything different about CEO pay or the boards that reward their pay? The biggest change may be better risk management of “bad optics” of situations such as what led to Nardelli becoming a maligned public figure. It’s difficult to imagine a modern day board that would sign off on a pay package that rewarded hundreds of millions of dollars in severance pay. Especially to those who are under-performing or at the helm of under-performing companies when activist investors are breathing down their necks. Then again that group includes a lot of CEOs and companies over the last decade, including ironically, GE.

Despite periodic cycles, there’s a fair amount of resignation on the pay issue and that favors those who don’t want anything to change. Public outcries over say on pay and policy changes aside, not much is different now vs. then. Until a clearer mandate emerges, the issue will remain status quo — with or without a new Nardelli lookalike. And that’s too bad, considering how great that example was for aspiring leadership consultant brands. The change also won’t be led among those on the inside, such as search firms which publish studies that simply confirm their own hypothesis. Effective brand building tools, yes. Truthful disclosure that amounts to change, no.

Note: Recent widely reported Equilar numbers citing a 16 percent increase in CEO pay in 2012 included a 200 percent gap between CEO pay and the salaries of the rank and file. If those numbers are accurate, anyone’s guess at this point, then that represents a 200 percent decrease in the gap since 2004. Progress, anyone?

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Executive Search#: Growing, declining or staying the same?

What does a industry do when it doesn’t know the answer to its own questions? It puts out reports like the ones that surfaced earlier this week from HSZ Media, and related report from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC.) According to HSZ run by Christopher Hunt and Scott Scanlon, executive search is growing in North America but declining globally. The AESC report says declines in North America aren’t as great. Confusing to say the least and indicative of continuing flux.

Neither HSZ nor AESC enjoys a lot of trust and confidence both for different reasons not worth unpacking right now. Top recruiters — not to be confused with those professionally managing large firms — don’t put a lot of stock in these sources. As recently as last year, long-time AESC head Peter Felix was predicting an upturn in search once the economy settled down, which may prove to be true in the next millennium despite evidence that large companies have moved a lot of the traditional function in-house. Here’s a previous take on that issue:

Image courtesy of

Back to the “six inches in front of your nose” to borrow a line from Al Pacino in “Any Given Sunday.” Look for more disruption in the short run. Independent firms are enjoying niche life while the top of the house at the large firms are largely hitting their numbers. The only exception where it doesn’t add up seems to be Heidrick & Struggles, which hasn’t seen any significant top-line performance since the days leading up to the Great Recession. Nearly every other major firm, excluding Russell Reynolds, which re-defines outlier, has solidified their position in the marketplace.

Perhaps most importantly, large companies are starting to accept the slow dial back to talent as hiring improves. Granted it’s happening at a snail’s pace. Many are still holding on, fighting the pendulum tooth and nail mainly by not paying more for lateral hires. The smart ones are getting ahead of this trend and will ultimately dictate where the current headwinds ultimately turn. Or at least that’s what the theory of client-driven business holds. Changing cycles usually portend changes in management. Then again, based on stagnant executive turnover numbers over the past few years, even that normal search truth has failed to hold up. Could the next stretch re-establish that age old theory?

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#Final Four/Pitino: “Life is cyclical”

It’s hard not to pay attention when Rick “Fellowship of the Miserable” Pitino speaks up on national TV. Here’s a guy who has had it all and also has had it all come crushing down. Pitino is not a statesman on par with say Coach K at Duke or the late John Wooden at UCLA, and he doesn’t have as many victories with a single school as Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim who tried out as a junior and never left the program. Pitino’s brash edge, however, can always captivate an audience and did so Saturday night after his current squad, the Louisville Cardinals beat Wichita State to advance to tonight’s final here in Atlanta.

CBS announcer Jim Nantz introduced Pitino by listing several recent accolades, including coming in as the tournament favorite and #1 seed, anticipated induction into the Hall of Fame and last Saturday’s win at a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby by Goldencents, a horse that Pitino co-owns. When asked if he thought he was living right, Pitino smiled and said, “Well, life is cyclical.” He then went on to talk about his team and anticipating playing for a second national championship as a head coach. If Pitino and Louisville are victorious tonight, it will mark the first time a major college coach has won titles with different programs.

For those without background on Pitino, he won his first championship while at the University of Kentucky and then left to coach the Boston Celtics in the NBA where he preceded to fail if you can call it that in context. Pitino is definitely in the “show me” category and pursues his craft with passion, flamboyance and brashness that have at times made him a target. One of Pitino’s coaching progenies, Billy Donovan who played for Pitino at Providence College, went on to lead the University of Florida to two national titles. Other than Coach K at Duke, who trained under Bobby Knight, no other mentor/mentee relationship can claim similar success.

All the previously mentioned have great edge, which for you Welchian leadership students, will be recalled as a key CEO leadership quality back in the late 90s, early 2000s. Most of the great coaches tend to have edge, or that ability to rally the troops or go for the jugular when the situation warrants. Only time will tell if that quality remains a business leadership quintessential.

Life, business and everything in between are indeed cyclical. Leaders take responsibility; losers make excuses. It takes a redemptive man to speak truth on national TV — or so it would appear.

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Hash — don’t rehash

Note: This is a monthly letter originally distributed to clients and colleagues.

March 27, 2013

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

Now that a new Pope has been chosen, it’s time to return to leadership life as we know it.

There’s only one slight catch: Nothing is new or normal anymore. Except for stuff on-line, which seems to be where a lot of people are spending an inordinate amount of time. Many conversations now have “on-line and off line” components as if lines can be distinguished anymore. Most objective studies indicate business leaders remain skittish about using social media, while some have fully embraced outlets such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook (for execs. who need a date!) and for the adventurous set, YouTube. A client last year asked whether he should have a Wikipedia entry. Sigh.

Please consider these rules of order when attempting digital engagement:

1.) Hash — don’t rehash. Twitter’s niftiest invention, hash tags, have taken off in popularity both among advertisers and consumers alike. It’s a way to attach content to big breaking news stories, such as helpful content for storm relief to the other extreme: Contestants competing on reality shows such as “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Hash tags are cool, in other words, while rehashing old lengthy content already contained elsewhere is uncool.

The Garlington Report (TGR)
2.) Cut down on length. This letter is already too long for social media. Think quick snapshots, not lengthy dissertations. Note to self: Take own advice.

3.) Don’t copy what someone else is doing unless of course it works then all bets are off. Examples: Samsung’s Galaxy vs. the iPhone 5 is the biggest marketing example although that’s not a true digital communications example. Think of your favorite on-line personality whose brand image has been invented in the ether. Matt Drudge pops to mind as does a new entry to the branding category, Dan Schawbel, whose story runs counter to a lot of the typical millennials:

4.) It’s not all about you despite evidence to contrary. For those who think saying something stupid might spell an end to their careers, digital media probably isn’t for you anyway. Give up the fantasy and focus on core competencies. The words, “I” and “me” should appear at a minimum in any written or spoken correspondence. Don’t be Dell or else you’ll become an even bigger target; see related post here:

5.) Pay an editor or writer if you can’t meet desired standard. This is not intended as a self serving message but could be perceived that way. There are far too many daily examples of bad writing and communication not to list this rule. Just because it’s on-line doesn’t provide license to be non-literate. Review the daily installment. Hint: It’s somewhere in your email right now.

6.) Know thy audience more than ever before. Quit obsessing over message. This is an age old rule that continues to be relevant with a small update. There are simply too many messages a day for Marshall McLuhan’s rule, “the medium is the message” not to carry weight. The newest improvement focuses on being the message vs. carrying one. That’s a tall order for most business leaders but not figures such as Howard Shultz, Jack Bogle, the Vanguard founder and Neville Isdell, the retired chairman of The Coca-Cola Company, which has been spelled out for the obsessed purists who yearn for the secret formula called Coke business. By the way, being the message requires a cogent POV but that’s beside the point.

7.) Focus on the present and what it means looking to the future. Leave the past in the past. This may seem like traditional grieving advice, but it also applies in digital communication. No one, repeat no one, wants to revisit crappy economic twists and turns of the past five years. They want to hear about what it means today and what we can, dare say the word, hope for tomorrow.

Last but most importantly and deserving of an entirely separate instructional, the old adage “know yourself and your story” now requires reaching farther: Know how your story fits into a larger, more compelling narrative, or the larger story for true believers. If you don’t know how to tell or construct a narrative then please do yourself a favor and re-read 5.)

Thanks for making it this far. Happy Holy Week,


Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View LLC
Five Concourse Pkwy./Suite 2850
Atlanta, GA, 30328
Phone: 404-606-0637
Web log: “The Garlington Report (TGR)”

Executive Search: The disrupted vs. the disrupters

Today’s 4Q earnings/2012 report by Heidrick & Struggles reveals what’s been known for quite some time: Executive search is on a downward path — or spiral if you prefer dramatic effect. What remains to be seen is where this downward trajectory eventually lands.

The executive search industry now comprises two groups: The disrupted or large publicly held firms that are trying to change and the disrupters, or smaller and independent firms that love to tweak the big way of doing things. The large publicly held firms, Heidrick and Korn Ferry International, continue to show why being public makes little sense while the privately held firms, Spencer Stuart and Russell Reynolds, go about their business quietly under the radar. To those close to the wider picture, the disruption is masked by across the board growth in the number of executive searches such as what Peter Felix at the Association of Executive Search Consultants likes to cite in expensive reports.

The big firm way is no longer as big as it once was. Nor is the executive search function as standard as it once was. The pie has shrunk, and in the overall picture of recruiting, executive search is declining at a pretty rapid pace with the growth of LinkedIn and more corporations pulling searches — and recruiters — in house. Major business media have reported at length on this trend starting with the Wall Street Journal and then Bloomberg Business Week.

One side note: As a large firm recruiter puts it, the movement to in-house recruiting is nothing new. Corporation A, let’s use the Coca-Cola Company as an example, loves to publicly boast about how they’re bringing the function in-house to reduce expenses. Then whoever gets the big title/position turns around and runs the expenses right back up only to be questioned later with, “why are we getting such bad or mediocre candidates?” Attention then shifts back to outsourced service provider and the cycle lathers, rinses and repeats.

The lone exception to the shrinking pie continues to be where brand value resides at the Top or CEO and board-level. Every major Fortune 500 company facing scrutiny has used one of the Big Five firms, and until a major company board publicly states they’re not going to use an executive search firm then it’s business as usual. (Note: Boards don’t generally issue those types of statements.)

Granted the actual work is different now. A few years, Spencer Stuart started re-framing CEO turnover as “internal and external transition.” This simply reflects how Fortune 500 CEOs have remained largely intact reversing an earlier decade’s fascination with churning and burning the position. Boards continue to perpetuate the status quo despite growing investor pressure. The old days when a major company conducted a major CEO search in the dark are now officially over and have been for some time. Throw in all the other services that are growing by leaps and bounds, coaching, on-line assessments, culture shaping, succession planning, etc. and the mix gets pretty, well, mixed up pretty fast.

A CEO of a firm asked last year, “where do you think this industry ends up?” Who knows, hard to tell. Here’s the only certainty that you can take to the bank: The most valuable service performed at the top of the house — assessing, vetting and informing — selection of C- and board-level leadership, will not only survive but will prosper in a different form. There’s simply too much at stake for these all important decisions not to be done fully and completely with the help of objective third-party advice. Especially now with risk aversion at an all-time high and boards scared to death they’re going to make a big public mistake.

The problem is that the value of executive search was sold out long ago in the name of money and profits, which are now dwindling thanks to disruptive change that only comes around once in a generation. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your view, disruptive change is now the name of the game. The individuals and firms who adapt the best to this dynamic will lead the industry forward; the ones who don’t will die or move on to other platforms. Everyone will ultimately get stronger, assuming you’re a free market capitalist. If you’re not, well, the executive leadership marketplace isn’t for you.

Dell: Great deal, bad memo form

The Wall Street Journal served up a treat today by posting the Michael Dell deal announcement memo:

Read the first line…”this is a great deal for me and…” Aside from the obvious emphasis on self, more felicitous grammarians would instruct putting ‘me’ after the other party, which in this case was private equity firm, Silver Lake. But hey, when you’re the founder, namesake and chief equity holder who just orchestrated a billion dollar deal that removes public scrutiny then you can say and do whatever you want.

Fortunately, or unfortunately based on your point of view, obsession with self dominates leadership ranks. Dell makes a good case for Me, maybe the best anyone could make in the same context. It’s still bad form, however, not to recognize others first who helped make the deal possible. Funny how there was no mention of Microsoft, which kicked in a couple $$$billion. Should be interesting to see where this deal goes from here.

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No risk, no reward beyond norm

Editor’s Note: This is a client letter originally distributed earlier this month.

January 15, 2013

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

By now Christmas is a distant memory, resolutions are either taking hold or fading and the fiscal cliff has been averted. At least for the time being or until the country’s so called leaders re-introduce the next crisis to leave unsolved. That’s not political statement; it’s fact.

Which brings us to another reality that has rendered big business’ credibility emptier in the ongoing melodrama called the zero growth economy, or ZGE for acronym hounds. Companies and boards seem to have forgotten how to evaluate risk vs. reward. Note evaluate and consider, not manage with all due respect to mid-tier bank presidents. In news cycle after news cycle, we read about uncertainty, fear and the “tepid job recovery” as a four-column Wall Street Journal article recently led off a weekend edition. Big business blames government’s inability to get things done that favor them; government blames each other while flying all around the world arguing via cable news feed. The result is nothing generally happens resembling productivity. The newest culprit is GM CEO Dan Akerson who recently said the company can’t really look forward until the next 60-day deadline set to deal with the country’s fiscal matters has been resolved. This from the top leader of a company that was rescued by the government back during the last crash. Akerson is not alone. Sequestered martinis, anyone?

Back in the real world, businesses and individuals try to adapt and grow. Large amounts of cash line balance sheets yet revenues as a percentage or GDP (pick whatever measure suits) remain relatively unchanged. There are obviously exceptions to this reality so please don’t discount the general line for the sake of positive cited examples. Apple’s recent introduction of the iPhone 5 and iPad mini, hardly innovations by the company’s high standard, are welcomed exceptions from an entrepreneurial point of view. So are other companies who have defied the New Normal tendency to do nothing and evolve into something better. Insert your own favorite example.

Leadership comprises many things, but at the core in this context, it’s about knowing when it’s time to take risk and then making the decision to take risk. Or not take risk. Despite whatever personal political beliefs you may have, until more risk is taken, rewards will not increase beyond pre-existing self interest. Which means little will change and the status quo will continue. The litany of ongoing excuses for why risk can’t be taken no longer hold much validity. The election has been decided, the payroll tax has been eliminated and big companies are paying more than ever for Super Bowl advertising. Surely a few of those same ad buyers could hire a few folks to generate some demand on the streets? Wake up, captains of industry. Step up and unlock the risk vs. reward ratio. That means you, you and you. The size of the risk doesn’t have to be large. The marketplace will be a better place if you take the step. Plus you’ll actually feel better about having done something vs. remaining on the sidelines, a place that far too many businesses and their leaders have been for the past five years.

To the doomsayers who say nothing will improve, go see the movie, “Lincoln” and adapt your position accordingly. Negativity may focus the mind and heart in the short run, but it can’t be sustained in the long run. Or at least not with non-risk averse leadership present.

Thanks for your continuing support,


Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View, LLC
Five Concourse Pkwy/Suite 2850
Atlanta, GA, 30328
Phone: 404-606-0637

Best news of the New Year

The coiner of the term, “New Normal”, is officially on record that it may be nearing an end. What great news. Guess that means we’re back to the Old or Current Normal, which is a welcome sight compared to anything as oxymoronic as putting the term ‘new’ in front of anything besides maybe life or car. New phone or house just doesn’t seem to have the same ring anymore (pun intended.) That may be the New Normal’s greatest legacy: Rendering previous joyous experiences empty. Back to normal seems to be everyone’s desire these days. Onward and upward!

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