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Once More, With Feeling – The Ampersand April 2022

April 1, 2022

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Exactly six years ago, April 2016, a former employee of ours penned a note in this very space about our firm’s move to Toronto. Her piece, Views from the Six, chronicled our first foray to that city. This one chronicles our second.


We’ve learned a lot in those intervening six years. It’s not that we failed the first time around. Not at all. We made many new client connections, leveraged existing ones, and most importantly when running a business, I’m told, we made more money than we spent.


Simply put, after seven short but successful months that spring and summer of 2016, the individual we followed there, Jessica, picked up and left. And with her departure, there went Toronto. A high performer for us during her two plus years in the Calgary office, having arrived from Montreal via Edmonton, Jess grew bored with Calgary and, to paraphrase, took her talents to Woodbine Beach. Despite our best efforts, she rather quickly concluded that starting a brand-new office in a big new city was — I think the word she used when she resigned via email on the Saturday night of the Thanksgiving long weekend in October 2016 — “hard.”


Huh. Hadn’t noticed.


Soon after leaving us, Jess left Toronto altogether, and moved to New York where she presumably found a city that could keep pace. Though she gave it her all while with us, both in Calgary and Toronto, the breadcrumbs marking her path out the door were sprinkled in that initial April article. “It’s a humbling experience, and at times a bit of a sleepless endeavour, to make a jump like we’ve made without knowing how we might land.” 


And this one:


“Much of the same can be said for our move eastward. It was certainly not in the Pekarsky & Co. five-year strategic plan to see a Toronto office added to the roster. Not all great things are the result of meticulous planning.”


No. But, turns out, most are.


While we did what we could to support her from afar, our move there was hasty, reactive, and motivated mostly by a fear of losing her from the firm (for that is how highly we thought of her) and not by any underlying strategic business imperative. Notably, it was also undertaken in the Before Times; before working virtually and embracing ambiguity became second nature to us all. Bricks, mortar, structure…those things are sooo 2016.


This time around is different. We have planned meticulously and baked it fully. Toronto is part of our strategic plan and, as you will see, there is a real business imperative. This time, rather than following someone whom we hoped could lead, we have found a leader we hope to follow.


Shannon Leo is the remarkable woman around whom we are now building our Toronto office and we could not be more proud, excited, or ready. Born in Kingston, Shannon is a nearly life-long Torontonian with an impeccable reputation, an extraordinary resume, an enviable Rolodex and, as we learned at our recent firm ski trip (which formed the foundation of her on-boarding), a heckuva charades player and a not half-bad skier (for someone from Ontario).




We’ve known Shannon as a client for many years, working closely with her in her heretofore capacity as Chief Talent Officer at the national law firm, Cassels. Let it be said, not all Chief Talent Officers are equally talented. From our very first interaction with Shannon, it was clear she was in a class of her own. Responsive, appreciative, collaborative, resourceful, and professional. She always knew exactly how and when to manage the brakes and the gas pedal of the given mandate. Add to this, Shannon’s formal training as an Executive Coach and her side-hustle as a Qualifying Registered Psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario and it was obvious to us all that Shannon possessed the ideal resume and requisite royal jelly to excel in our firm and double our Toronto complement with Dr. Jill Birch, our Director, Leadership Development, having joined the firm there as a consultant 14 months ago.


So, when a conversation last fall took a turn, we started down a path that led us here. I’ve said for years that there is no Bachelors of Recruitment Sciences, no ‘top school’ from which the best firms recruit keen, young, future recruiters. Just about every person in the search industry, anywhere in the world, came to it from a place called Plan A.


And so, while Shannon didn’t attend the Wharton School of Executive Search, for there isn’t one, she did graduate from Queen’s University Faculty of Law in 2003, spend over 12 years at two of Canada’s leading Bay Street firms, obtain her master’s degree in counselling psychology at the University of Toronto, complete her professional coach training through the Co-active Training Institute, attain the “Leading with Finance” certificate from Harvard Business School, and secure her Hogan Assessment Certification. Having spent most of her career assisting professionals with their career development, from those just entering professional life to those at the senior-most reaches of it, Shannon is uniquely qualified to join our fledgling enterprise. Oh, and she’s loads of fun which happens to be a pre-requisite for working here.


Our confidence that Toronto, The Sequel, will outdo The Original not only stems from the conviction and dedication of the individual we’ve entrusted to lead that office, but it comes from another, deeper, more elemental place.


We have written before of our occasional flirtations with the Dark Side; forsaking our monogamy to the mantra that Small-is-Mighty by entertaining the advances of our larger, national or global competitors. The courtship typically reaching its climax with our entering into a Non-Disclosure Agreement, reviewing their financials, margins and methodology followed swiftly by the realization that no one looks quite as good starkers as imagined. And so, we conclude, every time, we’re better off where we are, with who we are, just as we are. Until now, that has been the totality of the analysis: entertain, assess, stay put.


The first knock we ever had on our door from a potential acquiror was three months after we hung our shingle above it. I had barely found my way to my own washroom before I found myself sitting at dinner in Toronto with the Founder and CEO of Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions. Several others followed, too many to count, the most recent of which unfolded over the summer and into last fall. After a few “dates” culminating in buying them dinner and drinks at the swanky Major Tom Bar, we were unceremoniously ghosted. When will we learn? Big firms are creeps.


Which takes us to our now fateful November 2021 strategic planning retreat. After two days of reviewing the state of our business (strong), our team (excellent), our mindset emerging from Covid (healthy) and our market (rebounding), we were all feeling rather bullish about the future. Worth noting, I am usually the wet blanket in the room, the eternal pessimist, the one fretting about the pipeline, the guy who used to sandbag monthly billings to level them out nice and smooooth lest my fragile psyche have to endure actual peaks and valleys. So delicate was I that I often pushed into July most of our June billings, the last month of our fiscal year, so as to ensure a pleasant summer for myself. This practice ended abruptly when it came time to make our June 2013 flood-related business interruption claim and a scrupulous adjuster noting that our Junes were always soft so our claim would be too. “But you don’t understand!” I protested, vainly explaining my sandbaggery. To which he responded, “No, I most definitely do not.”  I digress.


As the team went around the table on that November afternoon a few months ago, I listened intently, proud of their resolve and encouraged by their conviction. I then did my best Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbour John Belushi impersonation and delivered an uncharacteristically high-spirited speech of my own. We had the best team in town, a strong brand, amazing clients, a unique and bespoke approach to an ordinary and commoditized industry – like an old-world tailor in a Zip Recruiter universe. Henceforth, we would stop chasing our knight in shining armour, stop making eyes with every firm that approached, stop fetching every ball thrown our direction like an overly eager puppy and instead go build it ourselves.


We would be the change we want to see. And so, we resolved, right there, that we were going to do everything we could to get Shannon on board and we weren’t going to stop there. We will use our strong balance sheet, our plucky Alberta know-how and our hard-wired gumption to grow the firm from within, yet without ever losing our prairie virtues of honesty, authenticity, and trustworthiness. For these virtues travel well.


So here we are. Not following a wandering employee on her nomadic quest for personal solace camouflaged as corporate expansion, nor wagging and pawing after every suitor who scratches our belly, but rather relying on what’s brought us to this point: sheer hustle. As one of my in-house editors noted (it takes a village), the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, wrote: Don’t forget that the cause of your present is your past; As the cause of your future will be your present.”


Turns out, that Thanksgiving ending to our last Toronto foray was perfectly fitting, for I am now grateful for it. The cause of our present is indeed our past and our past taught us a lot. And the future is very bright indeed.