I was in a client meeting this week and was taken aback by my client’s view of retained search professionals. Maybe he was burned a few times by executive search firms?  Not sure, but out of our conversation, what differentiates my firm Arnold Partners from most other retained search firms became clear: some firms just don’t know how to correctly hire a CFO.

While at an investors’ conference the week prior, my client ran into a partner from a large executive search firm and they got into a debate about the relative value of the search process vs. the outcome of the process. The search exec. stressed the value of the process and the insight gained, but could not sway my client; the only value he saw in the search process was the end result – a great hire.

Gems Gleaned from the Process

I agree that the search process itself can provide a great deal of valuable information to a company, specifically discoveries about how the company is perceived by the professional community and how the specific role is received by the potential candidate pool. These are truly important things; the candidates you are seeing and the prospective candidates your search partner is approaching are not yet “drinking the kool-aide” as we like to say here in the Valley.  If the response to the company story is not positive and needs to be re-tooled, this is valuable insight especially when the story is being presented to CFOs, who are by their nature conservative and a tad skeptical, in my experience.

Beware the Purple Squirrel

purple-squirrelAnother possible discovery that can be a real show stopper: the person you are looking for does not exist!  I have heard this called the unicorn or the purple squirrel. This is a frustrating discovery, but it can also provide insight for the executive team and board.  If the specification for the role is too far outside the lines or tries to combine too many “must-haves” there needs to be a reconfirmation with the search partner and the client to reassess the needs of the business and the goal of the search. I like to say, “In search, you cannot find what you are looking for unless you know what you are looking for, but, if you are looking for a purple squirrel, you may be looking forever!”

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Completion and Stick Rates

My view is that process is important and discoveries can provide insight, but the real drive and goal is the successful hire ─ to find a CFO that who will create a lasting, positive impact for all stakeholders in the organization.  A process without consummation is a failure. This is where I pride myself in our 100% completion rate. Yes, searches can be tough; in fact most of them are. But for the best outcome what should a CEO or VC look for in a search partner? Two metrics: completion rate and stick rate (how long the placed candidates stay in the roles). One national firm boasts on their website of a 77% completion rate, which means they do not complete 23% of their searches ─ almost a quarter! And yet their clients are out 100% of their fee for service.

If you are contemplating how to hire a CFO and  seeking a search partner for your search, you will find Arnold Partners to be 100% committed to both a useful process AND a successful outcome with long-lasting results. If you would like to share your experience on how to hire a CFO, or want to learn more about how Arnold Partners hits its numbers, call me, Dave Arnold at 408-205-7373 or email dave@arnoldpartners.com.

Check out some of my other posts about hiring CFOs such as How to Find a CFO: The Art of Improvisation in an Executive Search Process as well as How to Hire a CFO? Seek Gravitas.