Having a Hard Time Finding a Staffing CEO? Consider These Alternative Executive Profiles

There’s a significant trend happening in staffing right now as private equity interest in the industry continues to grow. I’ve been saying it for a while now, and it’s showing no signs of slowing. In fact, well over half of the executive searches my firm is engaged in at any given time within the industry are for private equity-backed boards and executive offices.

What once was painted broadly by outsiders as an industry of peaks and valleys and unpredictable growth has reached a level of maturity and a consistent stride as most every type and size of business calls on the contingent workforce to operate. The gig economy has been great for staffing, but no matter which way the economy swings, it’s safe to say any given segment of a company’s workforce will be classified as contractors.

Staffing as an industry is booming, and investors are paying attention.

The Opportunity and the Challenge

Fortunately, the attention focused on staffing coupled with the current state of the employment market means there is more opportunity – from top to bottom – than ever before. From CEOs to recruiters, “we’re hiring!” is the common thread among staffing companies of all sizes and specialties. The reality this creates, which arguably is a good problem to have, is that we don’t have the talent pipeline to fill even our own open positions.

The juxtaposition when a staffing company has an opening of their own is that they will try to follow the same procedures they have when staffing for their clients. But sometimes, even the experts need experts, and such is the case – more often than not – when it comes to open c-suite positions in staffing.

Having a Hard Time Finding Someone? Look Here.

Private equity boards and the staffing companies they’re invested in, at no fault of their own, tend to rigidly start an executive search looking for someone who is currently doing the job somewhere else for the same type of staffing company. The reality is, good CEOs are hard to find. And finding a sitting CEO with the exact experience you’re looking for is unlikely.

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Luckily, there are alternative solutions.

Here are four options to consider if you’re spearheading a c-suite search:

1. Big P&L experience. You may want to consider candidates who have big P&L experience as division presidents, senior vice presidents or executive vice presidents. If you’re a $50 million company looking for a CEO and come across a division president managing a $200 million P&L, the breadth of experience could mean scale and growth opportunity for your business.

2. Cross-functional experience. Another factor to consider when looking for a CEO is cross-functional experience. If a division president has worked at one company in one sector and neither of those align with what you’re looking for, that is probably a good person to pass over. But, if you have a cross-functional division president who has run multiple lines of business, or someone who has worked within HR technology or another complimentary industry to the staffing ecosystem, this may be a good candidate to consider. Dynamic experience, like cross-pollinating between industry verticals, shows that someone is capable of adapting their style, changing their mindset…and, that they’ve been comfortable going from being the smartest person in the room to the newest. It’s adaptability, it’s grit, it’s humbling, and it makes for good c-suite material.

3. Turnaround experience. One of the top qualities of any good CEO is their ability to manage a mess. Considering someone who has turned around a failed product, managed a major business turnaround, or revived a failing business line is also a good idea. Especially good candidates to consider would be those who raised their hands to take on one of these challenges. If they’ve demonstrated their ability to appropriately handle risk – and had the confidence to take on a turnaround experience – those are success c-suite stories waiting to be told.

4. Start-up experience. If there is someone who has launched a new product or service for a company, this is also a good person to consider for a CEO opening. For example, if a multi-billion-dollar staff augmentation company launched an RPO business and this individual led that newly-formed business line, he or she most likely would have encountered a similar level of uncertainty and risk as someone with turnaround or cross-functional experience. Not to mention, someone had the confidence in that person to invest – a good sign for you as a potential future investor.

C-level searches supersede matching resumes to company descriptions, let alone job descriptions. In my experience, it’s often been the executives I have double-backed to – who might not be the obvious first choice but they’re a good choice – who have driven the most influence and results.

Take a second look, you might be surprised.

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Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell
Lisa Maxwell is managing partner at Gerard Stewart, a global executive search firm.

Lisa Maxwell

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