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Making Hay – The Ampersand November 2023

November 1, 2023

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Halfway through October, I found myself having coffee with the CEO of a company that makes hay. Like, actually. The nearly 30-year-old company based in Cochrane, but with operations around the world, plays a critical role in the global supply chain of food distribution as it compresses hay bales to make them more densely packed and more desirable for export. Squeezing several hay bales into the space of one allows the company to sell more product than it otherwise could and, therefore, compete with much larger competitors who haven’t developed the same know-how.


Turns out we make hay, too. However, unlike the planet earth, and its 8.1 billion inhabitants who need to eat, our hay is more proverbial than literal and ours is more about our own survival and sustenance, than everyone else’s.


We’re really more like plumbers than farmers in that way. For the thing about the executive search business is that I can’t compel you to hire us if you don’t have a need. Ours is elective, not emergency surgery. A plumber’s business development efforts are all about creating awareness so that when you have an emergency, they’re top of mind. No sooner can a plumber knock at your door out of the blue and ask if you have a clogged toilet than can I call you up and ask if you have a pressing search need. Either you do, or you don’t.


So how, then, do you develop business when the solution you sell requires a problem about which you are unaware and over which you have no control? In my world, we are not developing business so much as we are developing awareness. But how do you do that?


For starters, this newsletter certainly helps. We hear it all the time – “hey, I get your newsletter!” or “hey, love your blog!” or “hey, you’re out to lunch!” Regardless of the reaction, it makes an impression. And the validation is frequent. As recently as last week we found ourselves invited to a pitch at a company with whom we’d never worked. The CEO started the discussion by saying she reads this newsletter regularly and when a search need arose within her organization, we were top of mind. As my kids would say, that’s a W.


But it takes more than that, of course. If all we needed to do was write a monthly newsletter everyone would do it. Sure, we could advertise but, again, traditional advertising methods such as a billboard on Bow Trail have never felt on brand. Besides, what would the billboard say without looking like one of those personal injury law firm “INJURED?!” ads? “AGGRIEVED?!?”?


Which leads to another nuance of our business. How to say this. We actually don’t work for the candidate – the job seeker – as much as we work with the candidate. We work for the company who hires us to find the candidate. It’s an important distinction, particularly when a well-meaning recommendation comes to us, usually with the subject line, “Client 4 U!” when, in fact, the referral – while still appreciated and acted upon – isn’t a client at all (for a client is the one who retains – or more to the point – pays us), but rather an individual in search of their next opportunity. Traditional advertising would only swamp us with job seeking candidates mistakenly believing that our job is to find them a job. But I digress.


In addition to the newsletter, we have fully embraced the importance of social media to create awareness and curate content. Not just the usual suspects – LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, X – but a very popular podcast, too. And our SEO – the practice of optimizing your website and its content to make it more visible and rank higher in search engine result pages – means that when you search for “executive search firm Calgary” ours is the first non-sponsored hit (meaning, we didn’t pay Google to be ranked that highly, rather, to paraphrase those old Smith Barney ads, “we did it the old fashioned way, we eeeaaarned it”). Still, while important, these activities aren’t where the hay is made.


Like a farmer, our hay is made out in the field and we, too, toil tirelessly during the haymaking process. From dawn till dusk, armed not with scythes, rakes, and balers but coffee card mailers, we do our heavy lifting in the plus 15s, at networking receptions and community events. We plan, we organize, and we execute, filling rooms with clients and friends and often those we’ve never met. We try to sell without selling, lead with our chin but not get our noses bloodied. We make our own luck, we always say ‘thank you’ and we never make a decision today that will cost us business tomorrow. We seed the field, water and fertilize, hope for good climate and take the crop off when conditions permit.


In the month of October alone we hosted and posted, organized, and planned no fewer than a dozen separate awareness-inducing, revenue-producing, hay making events and experiences.


Our own resident farm kid-turned-lawyer-then-recruiter, Erin Dand, did a masterful job making hay at a harvest-themed agriculture industry focused event at Tailgunner Brewing Co. With close to 80 leaders from all corners of the ag sector joining us for locally brewed beers and an engaging panel discussion about the future of leadership in the sector, this highly curated and curious crowd left feeling optimistic about the future of their beloved industry and considerably more familiar with our firm than they previously had been. The event was six months in the planning, and it yielded a bumper crop of new friends and leads.


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Our newest Partner at the firm, and social media influencer given the immense popularity of the postannouncing his admission to the partnership, Cam McDonald, once again served on the Executive Committee and chaired the Nominating Committee of the amazing Top 7 Over 70, recognizing Calgary and area individuals who achieved remarkable success in a myriad of pursuits started after age 70! (Note to self: you have 17 years to think of something really cool). Cam has donated countless hours to the event, toiling away and tilling the field of this particularly mature crop.



Cam has also led the charge behind our firm’s support of the Calgary National Bank Challenger tennis tournament held at Osten & Victor Alberta Tennis Centre, with whom our firm enjoys a close relationship having placed their first ever, and still serving CEO, Danny Da Costa, in 2015. The event prides itself on bringing the tennis world and the Calgary community together, providing opportunities for us to host and mingle with numerous clients and friends in the warm courtside surroundings of a truly world-class facility.


Eight-year P&Co. veteran, Susie Besler, who is once again leading the Board recruitment for Trellis Society, an incredible local organization providing housing, mental health, social and community services for people from all backgrounds hosted a table at the annual “Soirée” as part of Pekarsky & Co.’s Platinum Sponsorship of the event.



Partner and recently minted ICD Director, Ranju Shergill, invited me along to a fascinating ICD breakfast on the future of work where we made hay in a room full of friends and clients. Ranju also joined a panel at the Immigrant Business Expo, a one-day exhibition designed to empower and support new immigrant and refugee business owners in their entrepreneurial journey.



And on it went. Dawn till dusk. All harvest month long. Cultivating our crop.


The best part? Other than a guest appearance on the CFA Society Calgary Connects Podcast, and a brief speaking gig at the Alberta Family Office Conference, I had very little direct involvement with any of this. Whereas once upon a time mine was the lonely tractor light out in the field, today Kiara Marika, our recent MBA grad and ninja Marketing Director makes the magic happen. She takes the bull by the horns, the bit in her teeth, gets in the weeds and sows the seeds.


In the early-to-mid years of our firm’s life, we were like one of those electric those bumper cars at the midway. The moment I lifted my foot off the pedal, it would come to a screeching halt. The firm required constant energy, unable to coast on momentum. This created a problem for me in terms of being able to sleep, let alone take a holiday, and it created a bigger problem for the firm because of the perception that without me it, too, would grind to a standstill. Neither of these assertions were untrue. And my decision to put my name on the door further compounded the problem.


But I’m no longer alone driving the bumper car, or the tractor, with all its solitary starts and stops, bumps and bruises. The team has emerged from the shadow cast by the name, like so many ball players in an Iowa cornfield. This allows them to get the credit they richly deserve while permitting me a bit more obscurity and spare time to scheme. I’m not being put out to pasture nor baling out – far from it — rather I’m sharing the harvest, recognizing, and fairly distributing the rewards and benefits to those who have played such a key role in achieving our success.


So much so, in fact, that when, on October 20th, Pekarsky & Co. won the Connectfirst Credit Union Small Business of the Year Award, I wasn’t even there! A long-ago planned family trip prevented me from joining the fun but brought me even greater satisfaction in seeing the photos of the team accepting the award on stage without me. The ever-thoughtful Kiara dialing up a late-night FaceTime with the team more than enough for me to feel all the pride I needed to feel in knowing the team was getting its much deserved due.



Turns out the CEO at the company compressing hay isn’t the only one who has figured out how to squeeze more out of a single bale. I’ve been toiling very hard for a long time to get us to this step before we could take the next one.


And you’ll just have to come back in December to find out what that is.