red line  THE AMPERSAND  red line

Bringing people together in a more personal, authentic way
than an ‘and’ could ever do.

Human Intelligence – The Ampersand March 2023

March 1, 2023

By: Kate Spencer


Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Kate here. A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the happy predicament of having wrapped up a few searches, just before heading away on an amazing vacation to New Zealand and South Africa for back-to-back, though rather far-apart, weddings. Wild? Yes. Cool? Very. I could sort of coast into holiday mode with the comfort of knowing clients were taken care of and my (amazing) colleagues could handle the rest. And then, sensing my capacity, Adam asked if I would mind writing the March 1 newsletter. Ours is not the type of culture, nor Adam the type of boss, that requires the only answer to that sort of question to be ‘yes’ but before I knew it, I had, indeed, agreed to do so.


And then I had a thought. Along with the rest of the world, I’ve been paying close attention to the rise of ChatGPT. Defined by Wikiedia as “a chatbot developed by OpenAI it is built on top of OpenAI’s GPT-3 family of large language models and has been fine-tuned using both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques.”  Put another way, it’s a robot that can write a newsletter. Adam would never know!


No doubt ChatGPT’s implications are both positive and negative in many facets of our life. Look no further than Vanderbilt University for an example of what not to do. And while those implications and uses have their place in the world of recruitment (I’ll save that newsletter for another day), the immediate implications solved a bit of a problem for me. For, as I was ruminating on the topic of this newsletter, short of delegating the entire task to my robot friend, I did turn to ChatGPT for some inspiration to get me started.


The topic I knew I wanted to write about but couldn’t quite figure out the right angle?  A failed merger that wasn’t a failure. You see, over the past year, and up until very recently, our firm had been in discussions with another recruitment firm around a potential merger. Adam has written on this in the past – six years ago in our February 2017 post — it isn’t the first time Pekarsky & Co. has been approached and I’d venture a guess it won’t be the last. And while Adam and Ranju worked through the time intensive and detailed process of considering and evaluating such a critical decision, they did so in a (not) surprisingly transparent, open, and human way. Knowing it concerned and affected everyone in the firm, they kept us abreast and informed of the entire process. Though ours is a tight-knit family, there is no “kids table.” Adam would end every update with, “I promise you, if this isn’t great for every single one of us, we’re not doing it.” And we believed him.


Certainly, a unique approach around something as confidential and sensitive as this, but in a firm our size and with a culture like ours, it wasn’t even a question as to whether to share this. Trust is a two-way street and Adam and Ranju not only trusted us with the information but leaned on us for our perspectives. We trusted them to keep us informed and ultimately make the best decision for the firm as a whole. I’ll emphasize that our perspectives were not only heard but considered. It is one thing to be told, it is another to be invited into the conversation and through that invite, we felt emboldened to ask questions and state our concerns.


Ultimately, that best decision was to not go through with the merger. After many hours spent in many meetings, on calls and airplanes, pulling reports and including relevant advisors in the discussions, we determined it was not the right fit – too many positives for them, not enough for us. We are freakishly protective of our culture, committed to our (very high) standards when it comes to search execution and frankly, we’re doing very well thank you very much.


How to describe something easily defined as “unsuccessful” that was actually a success. Enter ChatGPT. “An unsuccessful merger.” Looking to describe the experience from my place in the firm, I typed in: “describe an unsuccessful merger from an employee’s point of view.” In mere seconds I had 200 words that weren’t bad, other than the fact they were dead wrong. I’ll start with the first sentence: “From an employee’s point of view, an unsuccessful merger can be a stressful and unsettling experience.” True for many, not for me. Arguably this merger would have had the largest direct effect on me – I recently moved to Toronto and this firm is located there. My day-to-day would have been greatly impacted as I integrated into this new firm. But stressful and unsettling? No. To be honest, I saw the writing on the wall weeks before the final decision was made. If I had concerns, I was able to voice them, and they were met with open ears and an open mind; taken to heart and addressed with candour, respect and, well, humanity.


Reading further in my ChatGPT result: “employees may also feel frustrated by the lack of communication and transparency during the merger process.” Could not be further from my experience. Communication was high, there were no surprises, and I trusted the process. I guess this is what happens when you leave it to the robots to describe a very human experience, with all due respect.


As mentioned, the firm and the culture play a large part in that humanity, but it is also a direct reflection of how we approach our daily search work. When we partner with a client we promise and deliver on high very levels of communication. You will hear from us often and as a result we tend to avoid any surprises. In return, we expect our clients to trust us. Trust our process and trust our insights. The result? Successful searches that can pivot when they need to and that will result in the best candidate in that role. Turns out we walk the talk.


In the weeks following our decision to step away from the deal, I sensed a refocus. We are committed to continuing to better our firm and grow in different ways. Not a merger for now, but a sense of excitement around a recalibration that this offers us. One of the great benefits of going through something like this is the inevitable self-reflection it requires. We’ve stress-tested our value proposition, operational model, and culture against that of a much larger, more established Toronto firm and we came out the other end reassured and recharged. We’ve flagged areas for improvement, promising actions that will make us better. Ours is a very human undertaking, led by, and staffed with, a group of pretty special ones. The robots may have provided me a few ideas and words to use, but they couldn’t capture the human essence of our firm. And I dare say, they never will.


As we look ahead to the rest of 2023, I’m excited to see where the learnings from this experience take us and I’m reminded of the title of Adam’s February 2017 post: If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em. Indeed.





Kate Spencer is a human Associate in our Toronto office who very recently celebrated her 5th year anniversary with Pekarsky & Co.