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Landing the Plane – The Ampersand December 2023

December 1, 2023

When we turned five-years-old, back in 2014, we wrote a pithy little piece benchmarking the developmental milestones associated with that age against our progress. “Walks On a Balance Beam – every single day.  Can Jump Rope – Rope, no. Through hoops, yes. Stands on one Foot for 10 Seconds Without Swaying – Yes, except during Stampede week.” On it went.


I’ll spare you the same analysis now that we’re in our corporate mid-teen years. Rather, I’ll cut straight to the chase. We’re moving out! Not only leaving our childhood home above the wine cellar on Stephen Avenue Mall, in favour of the more urbane Le Germain, but we are also merging the firm and shedding our name. This isn’t an act of teenage rebellion. To the contrary, it’s a thoughtful demonstration of our maturation into adulthood and a natural evolution of our firm.


The official launch of the merged firm, which shall be known as Humanis Talent Acquisition & Advisory (I couldn’t get them on board with The Firm Formerly Known as Pekarsky & Co.) won’t occur until early 2024. But we felt we owed it to our faithful Ampersand following to let you in on the news ahead of time. To properly understand the rationale, however, requires going back in time. To July 2009, in fact.


In hindsight, it seems crazy. Starting a firm in a ruthlessly competitive landscape of national and global giants, in the throes of a crushing financial crisis, backstopping with a personal guarantee an initial five-year lease in a space with room for eight when there was only one, with three kids under 10 and a puppy, to boot. A couple of months and lucky bounces later, Employee 002, Ranju Shergill, joined the firm. Today she is a major shareholder and Partner of the firm, and she’s been along for almost the entire wild ride. As have many of you.


I’ve often likened the process of launching the firm to getting a plane off the ground. The year of clandestine planning: the boarding process. Those initial few slow months: the taxi out to the runway. The real-life burdens of a long-term lease and of employing others, tethering them to my dream: the throttle down. The first few years, pushing hard to gain traction: the straight-up climb to gain altitude. Hires and fires, floods, and bad blood: the mid-air turbulence. The last few years, emerging from a prolonged oil downturn and Covid with a tenured team of talented individuals firing on all cylinders: reaching our cruising altitude and the freedom to walk about the cabin.


At no point, however, did I give serious thought to landing the plane. I recall speaking to a roomful of MBA students on the subject of entrepreneurship. One of them asked, “what was your Plan B if the firm failed?” The question stopped me cold because the honest answer I shared with her then, and I share with you now, is that I didn’t have one. Not because I’m a bad planner but because failing was simply not in the cards; the fear of doing so simply too great to even contemplate, let alone factor into the flight plan.


But not failing and having a long-term plan for success are two very different things. Just as not crashing the plane and landing it are. As we grew and more employees came to rely upon the firm, and by extension me, for their livelihood, the pressure mounted. At the risk of stretching the metaphor, when the cabin pressure destabilizes you place your mask on first, before helping others. And so it is that for these past few years, though generally smooth air with a busy and productive team, I’ve been quietly looking for a place to land this bird. One such option, quite naturally, was to merge the firm.


Sure, we’ve flirted with merger partners in the past. Some might say we’ve had a rather prolific dating life, in fact. I wrote openly about this in a previous Ampersand – If you Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em — way back in February, 2017. That post started thusly:


“I have always believed that the corner bookstore proprietor is more knowledgeable about her collection and has likely read more of it than is and has the staffer at Chapters. I believe the croissant maker at the local bakery is a better pastry chef than the guy behind the counter in the Superstore baked goods department. I believe that boutique hotels and corner hardware stores and neighbourhood coffee houses are more invested in their clients’ needs than the desk clerk at the Hilton, the orange aprons at Home Depot or the green ones at Starbucks. That’s what I believe.”


I still believe that. And it’s that belief, I believe, that has thus far prevented us from meeting our Mr. Right. The goal has been to find a partner who, in addition to loving long walks on the beach, Taylor Swift and the Edmonton Oilers, also believes in the virtues of buying local, supporting community, giving back, doing top-notch work, and not being afraid to have a little fun along the way. Elusive to say the least.


Back to that 2017 post describing two unrequited potential merger partners:


“Then an amazing thing happened. Both deals died. One offer we flatly rejected, the other, turns out, was never that serious to begin with. And rather than regret, we felt immense relief. 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.”


And so, our bachelorhood continued. Navigating solo through the Covid storm clouds but mostly cruising on autopilot ever since. When rather suddenly, fully at peace with our unattached status and not actively looking to change it, we began our descent and we were cleared for landing. Over a glass of wine with our familiar foe turned friend, finally a distant landing strip appeared on the horizon.


According to my sources on the Internet “landing is the final phase of an airplane’s journey and is often considered the most challenging. It involves a series of carefully coordinated maneuvers to safely bring the aircraft back to the ground. The pilot begins the descent by reducing engine power and gradually lowering the nose. The airplane’s descent rate is controlled by adjusting the angle of descent and airspeed. Flaps and landing gear are extended to optimize lift and drag, providing additional control. As the airplane approaches the runway, the pilot must ensure a smooth and precise touchdown. To do this, they use a combination of visual cues and instrument readings. The landing gear absorbs the shock of contact with the ground, and the pilot deploys the aircraft’s aerodynamic brakes to slow it down. The goal is to bring the aircraft to a complete stop safely.”


This is where the metaphor falls short. For, having brought our aircraft to a complete stop, we must now disembark and sprint to catch our connecting flight only to take off again. And in Humanis, we have finally made our connection. A merger with a group of people we’ve known a very long time, competed against, and even recruited from. Theirs is an established carrier, with a core of seasoned pilots, many of whom earned their wings at the Wardair of search firms, once called Conroy Ross Partners, known for their comfort, innovation, and particularly for their high-quality service in the industry.


The benefits of this merger are many and it allows us, first and foremost, to remain ruthlessly local, community-minded, corporate citizens first; and second, pretty much overnight, the most dominant executive search and leadership advisory firm in Alberta. Well, not exactly overnight. What’s that saying? “It took me 20 years to become an overnight success” or something like that. But you get the point.


Then there’s the usual benefits of a merger such as this. Expanded expertise and capabilities that brings together the specialized knowledge and skills of both firms, allowing us to offer a broader range of services and solutions to our clients. Enhanced financial, technological, and human resources. Greater geographic reach enabling us to serve clients in a wider range of locations leading to increased convenience and improved access to local market insights. Access to a larger network that will provide our clients with a broader network of contacts, industry connections, and pools of talent.


Best of all? It allows the Pekarsky & Co. team to get out from underneath the rather long shadow cast by my name. I have written about this burden previously, over five years ago, in fact, in a piece entitled Taking The Long View, where I spoke of the error of my ways in not following my brother’s advice. By operating under the Humanis name, Pekarsky becomes just another guy who works here and allows the rest of the team a much-deserved opportunity to shine.


It truly has been quite a flight. And as with flying, it has required a fascinating blend of science, technology, and human skill. Thrust, lift, and a delicate balance of forces and control systems to maintain stability. And a series of coordinated maneuvers to safely return the aircraft to the ground.


Now we sprint through the terminal. Like OJ Simpson in those old Hertz commercials. Okay, maybe not like him. But, like all of us who have had to catch a connecting flight to a new destination, navigating these next few months like so many travellers scrambling through a busy airport. The layover won’t be long, but it will require time and patience and there will be a few frustrations and delays to be sure. But we couldn’t be more excited about where it will take us, and we’re thrilled that you’ll be coming along for the ride. Fasten your seatbelts, people. We’re ready for takeoff!