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Human Is as Human Does – The Ampersand February 2024

February 1, 2024

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,


I recently binged Welcome to Wrexham, a documentary about an aspirational, lower-division Welsh soccer team under the new ownership of Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.


In one particular episode, Ryan and Rob embark on their inaugural journey to Wrexham, a resilient working-class town in Northern Wales known for its industrious spirit. Here, they encounter a fervent, protective, and slightly skeptical community of steadfast supporters. There’s a scene during which the new owners engage in a conversation while strolling alongside Spencer Harris, the club’s honorary Vice President and former Club Director, seeking to grasp the true essence of the responsibility they have assumed.


Spencer carefully proffers in his thick Welsh accent, “One of the most important things that you and your leadership team can do, and you’ve been doing it for the last few days by presenting yourself and being really public, er, the club can’t stay as it was and, well, it won’t stay as it will, because it will change as it grows and as it gets bigger it becomes more difficult, but if you can, and as far as you can, try and keep the personal touch that goes with the growth. Easy to say, difficult to do.


Watching as I was, during the transitional period between having announced to you our firm’s merger with Humanis Talent Acquisition & Advisory back on December 1, and where I now sit, two months later and mere weeks from going fully public (for we consider you in the tent), the scene landed hard.


In the weeks that followed our December 1 post, I received hundreds of emails, text messages and phone calls offering heartfelt congratulations, but often tempered with a palpable concern that we not lose the essence of who we are. For you, too, are a fervent, protective, and slightly skeptical community of steadfast supporters.


The sentiment was perhaps best articulated in this note, from a long-time friend of the firm and highly respected member of our community:


Dear Adam,


Interestingly, I find myself somewhat emotional about this. Maybe it’s because you’ve been such a good friend to me for so long. Or maybe it’s because it’s the loss of a brand name that I’ve come to know and admire. Either way, this is actually hitting me in the heart. And, I think, that is a testament to you, and to Ranju, and to the whole team at Pekarsky & Co. I’ll just close with my very best wishes for the next chapter.


Yours in continuing affection,


Who’s cutting onions!?


Rest assured; we get it. As I noted in the December piece, which referred back to a February 2017 post describing not one, but two unrequited mergers: “Both suitors did a great job articulating why the deal would be great for them but failed to make clear what was in it for us. Best we could tell, it was about making them bigger and making us disappear.”


This is not that. In this merger with Humanis, the legacy Pekarsky & Co. brand and voice shines through loud and proud. But even more important than maintaining our We Know People tagline, red and grey colours, beloved ampersand, and its namesake newsletter, we promise to maintain our deeply local connection, our commitment to community, and doing right by our people.


I recall one pivotal discussion several months ago between the two partner groups from each firm while we were still in the exploratory phase of the courtship. I shared, in so many words, that in order for this to make sense for us, our people needed to come first. Their roles would expand, their career potential within the merged firm would be enhanced, and their contribution valued across a broader and deeper platform. I went on to provide specific examples that would evidence such a commitment and distinguish our firm from the other national and global firms which, to the untrained eye, we could be mistaken for trying to emulate with this union.


Not knowing exactly how my sermon would be received by those in the pews, I knew we had found the right congregation when, in response, one of the owners from the other firm described with very raw and real emotion the feeling of regret stemming from a previous firm merger of which he had been a part where those very commitments to the team were not honoured. And when he assured me and the rest of the room that that would. not. happen. in this case, I knew we had found Our People.


There’s a great anecdote about Apple founder Steve Jobs and the degree to which he obsessed over the smallest details. Discussed in detail in this article, Jobs demanded of his engineers that the inside of the box look as beautiful and perfect as the outside. As the article notes, his attention to detail came from his father, a woodworker, who told him that “a great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.” And so, as both the father-of-a-woodworker and owner of a business where culture trumps all else, in that moment, in that meeting, with none of our clients or candidates or employees present, I saw across the table a commitment to doing the right thing in the right way. The human way. The dollars and cents of the deal were far less important than the shared sense of it. If we couldn’t get the culture piece right, the rest wouldn’t matter. As Peter Drucker famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”


Happily, there’s a strategy, too. One that will evolve and reveal itself in the months and years ahead. But for now, let me address the most angst-inducing feedback we received from our faithful stemming from our last post. We have a comprehensive, if sanitized, FAQ sheet you can read here, but what follows is the unplugged version, pasting actual emails (and where there was one, I promise there were ten just like it), each encapsulating the recurring themes we heard in response to the news. Following each is my response, not to the sender but to all of you, just to put you at ease (like you’re up at night…).


“Congrats on the merger! Thrilled for you. You’ll never be just another guy working at the firm, but I totally appreciate the sentiment of making it about the team and obviously, your new set of partners. Hope you continue to crush it under the new banner. And here’s hoping the Ampersand (or the Humanoid?) will continue.”


Yes, The Ampersand will continue. It has to. It’s basically all I do around here! Our monthly blog post and its companion podcast, The Ampersand Unplugged, will also continue as staples of our firm’s differentiating thought leadership. Our social media channels, unique business development strategies and our Small-Business-of-the-Year-award-winning-ways will carry on. We will export to our new partners the best of what we do and import the best of them.


“I liked your old name!”


Okay, we liked it too. The problem with it was manyfold. First and foremost, I’m not yet dead. Most, if not all, professional services firms of any repute, be they law, accounting, or executive search firms are named after dead guys. While I was prepared to make several concessions to facilitate this merger, offing myself felt excessive. Second, the firm needs to be about more than me. For the better part of a decade, it has been, of course, but the perception persists that so long as the guy whose name was on the door was around, clients would be looking over the shoulders of my very capable team, in search of me. While I am peripherally involved with every project, and insert myself at critical moments, the fact is I am surrounded by people far more capable than me and they deserve their moment in the sun, unobscured by the shadow cast by the name.


“Congratulations Adam.  Careful though… next thing you know you’ll be merging with firms in Toronto Ottawa and Vancouver…and then setting up a version to “merge” with firms outside Canada to be the largest global recruitment firm based on head count (including associated firms, golden spike firms that don’t actually want to merge with you, and best friends’ referral firms).”


Before I share my reaction to this with all of you, here’s my specific response to the sender of this note, a former colleague of mine at a once-proud and dominant regional firm which, over the decades, has become so bloated through countless mergers that it now resembles one of those giant cells in the online game, the objective of which is to “play with players around the world as you try to become the biggest cell of them all by eating other players to grow larger!”


“Thanks. I appreciate it. If ever you see me using the word ‘polycentric’ in my marketing materials, you have permission to come over to the office and punch me in the face.”


Again I say, this is not that. Sure, we have growth ambitions and those will reveal themselves soon enough. But the differentiating feature of this merger, as you will see when we ‘officially’ launch next month, is that ours is a union of deeply local and autonomous firms with connective national reach, as opposed to a head-officed national firm with adorable orbiting local satellites like so many children at the kids table, to be seen but not heard. No, this is not that. Each office will maintain its distinct character, enrich its community involvement through board work and philanthropy, and bring its own unique voice and contribution to the union. Sort of like how confederation is supposed to work. But that’s a post for another day.


Congratulations Adam on the continuous growth of your adventure and initiative

I love the name for it speaks to goodness, caring and of course humanity

As they say onwards and upwards

Very proud

Best to all” 


Yes, we like it too…not only does it replace mine on the masthead, a good thing for the reasons discussed above, but in and of itself it focuses on the human element of what we do. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, we believe that Human Intelligence has a more critical role to play than ever. Beyond the human element, humanity is in short supply these days, so rallying around a name that places that human factor front and centre, resonated. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, human is as human does. Every interaction, project, and task we undertake is personal in nature. It’s all about how we can help our clients to achieve the best results. To find the best people and the best in their people.


Okay, this final note we didn’t receive, but we may as well have.


“One of the most important things that you and your leadership team can do, and you’ve been doing it for the last few days by presenting yourself and being really public, er, the [firm] can’t stay as it was and, well, it won’t stay as it will, because it will change as it grows and as it gets bigger it becomes more difficult, but if you can, and as far as you can, try and keep the personal touch that goes with the growth. Easy to say, difficult to do.”


We’re trying, Spencer. I promise.