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Pekarsky & Co. May 2017 Newsletter – If A Tweet Falls In The Forest

May 1, 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Strange times, these. Volunteers sought and when not found, forcibly dragged off planes by those whose motto is “fly the friendly skies”.  A grandfather walking home from Easter dinner shot and killed, all livestreamed on Facebook, a social media platform that purports to “connect you with the people around you”.  Some connection. A President launching missiles while eating chocolate cake, who confuses the target destination with another country (and then defends the mistake, in part, by suggesting even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons). And that was just April.


The insanity persists closer to home, too, though of an admittedly more benign and Canadian nature.  As global companies retreat from Alberta and a new normal descends like an axe, our elected leaders cling to the notion that social licence will somehow bring us newfound prosperity.  As was articulately pointed out in an open letter to Premier Notley penned by Mark Woitas, “[c]apital is mobile. It is not sentimental or altruistic. It goes where it thinks it can generate the best return” … and that ain’t here. Our forestry industry is getting bilked while our cows are getting milked and soon we’ll be buying marijuana at Safeway. The daily political and economic carpet-bombing of our senses is truly draining.


Yet, through it all, like a budding sapling after a destructive forest fire, a quiet optimism is taking root.  Why?  Because I recall listening to former Suncor Energy CEO, Rick George, at a breakfast gathering of entrepreneurs in early February 2015 at which he declared 2015 officially dead.  Barely five weeks into the year and his message was “forget it, focus on 2016”.  Then 2016 came and it took until about March before most wrote that year off too.  Yet 2017 stubbornly clings to the calendar like Velcro, refusing to release its grip quite yet. That 2017 is not yet dead means we’re alive and that’s downright fantastic.


In his book David v. Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the “remote miss” and how the survivors of London’s weeks of bombing in World War Two felt exhilaration and a sense of invulnerability in having survived the attacks. While it was terrible to wake up and find your neighbour’s house destroyed, at least yours wasn’t and that passed for good news, goes the “remote miss” theory. In the face of daily barrages of disheartening and bizarre news, those of us who survive, stay positive, contribute, laugh, and march forwards – we feel that sense of survivor’s exhilaration, as we have not personally been hit. I know we feel a sense of “remote miss” here at Pekarsky & Co.  For not only have we learned not to dwell upon things we cannot control, but we find ourselves in an exclusive and exciting place in the market, despite a province-wide recession.


While other boutique firms have folded or sold or gone global, we have stayed true to our roots, built long-lasting relationships and have emerged as unique and down right retro in our sensibilities. We just completed our fifth consecutive quarter of top line growth; brought our seven-year total for funds raised for the Gordie Howe Pro Am in support of Alzheimer’s to $430,000; supported for the sixth consecutive year as a Bronze Level sponsor the Turning Points Gala in support of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter; and, as you read this, we are in Atlanta, Georgia presenting to a global alliance of like-minded boutique search firms considering us for exclusive entry as a strategic partner representing Alberta’s interests in the global network. You can read our blog to learn more and see pretty pictures.


Yet, it’s that very blog – in part – that gives rise to an odd and obstinate challenge confronting us and it’s not related to Trump or Trudeau or even the price of WTI Crude Oil.  With all that noise buzzing around us, we, like many of you, have a business to run.


The challenge is: how do you stay focused, grow your bottom line, keep your clients happy, market your offering, protect your margins, stay sane and engage your team in the face of such persistent volatility, hummingbird-like attention spans and suffocating pressure to stay current? At a time when the most powerful man in the world is tweeting out foreign policy 140 incoherent characters at a time; in an era of Likes and Links and Tweets and Bytes, is there still room for old school values like relationships, respect and trust?


True story: When I was about eight years old my Grandpa Henry took me to his barber on Jasper Ave and about 116th Street in Edmonton.  At the conclusion of the haircut the barber showed me the back of my head in his handheld mirror.  I nodded approvingly and we left.  Once outside my Grandpa admonished me to never do that again.  “Do what?” I asked.  What followed was a lengthy dissertation about respect and trust.  This is the man’s craft! You don’t need to see the back of your own head!  You’ll never look at it, anyway.  You want to build a relationship based on trust!  Trust means not needing to inspect his work, especially after it’s done. What are you going to do about it anyway?  On it went.


Rather deep for an eight year old to fully absorb, and to this day I’m not entirely sure what all of it meant. But, I’ll say this. I get my hair cut about once every three weeks. On that basis, I estimate I’ve had about 675 trips to the barber since that day. Not once have I allowed the coiffeur to show me the back of my head. I have, in every instance, said, “I’m sure it’s fine. I trust you”, almost always earning an appreciative nod.  Granted, as pearls of wisdom go, this isn’t exactly Dali Lama material, but it stuck with me. I have adopted the root principle of trust and respect as the pillars of relationship-building, as imparted on me those years ago. This might seem basic, but believing in those virtues in a United-Airlines-Donald-Trump world of disrespect, overlain with the pace and pressure of commerce, where acknowledgement of a job well done is distilled to , makes one feel rather old-fashioned when espousing virtues with all the nostalgia of an unlocked front door.


Which is why, in 2017, in the eighth year of our business, I struggle with so many facets of modern day marketing. We’ve built a business on relationships. Hardly surprising for a firm whose tag line is “We Know People”. Save for one spectacularly unsuccessful and expensive print advertisement, we have never marketed beyond the old school virtues of a referral.  And yet, there is a pressure to be liked, not in the traditional admiration sense, but in the click-the-icon sense. To have more “Likes” is, I guess, to be more liked?  We have exactly 566 followers on Twitter and 260 on our Pekarsky & Co. LinkedIn page. By that measure, we’re really quite unpopular.  Stuffed-in-a-locker unpopular. But is that the scorecard?  If a tweet falls in the forest, does it make a sound?


I’m self-aware enough to know that Blockbuster Video and Kodak Film were likely too slow to adapt, but I happen to believe that in the world of professional services, meaningful relationships, trust and honesty still matter.  In fact, they more than matter; they are the cutting-edge differentiator.  Like fashion – if you wait long enough, your old wardrobe will one day be cool again. But you still need the latest trends if you want to be hip. And so, we are in the midst of a website refresh, an audit of our website SEO (search engine optimization for those not in the marketing buzz loop), a strategy to expand our social media footprint, an overhaul of our Blog (a social media expert recently said that our Blog isn’t a blog at all but rather a souped-up email, which is so 2013).  To make social media an effective lead generation machine, goes the logic, you first need to generate a following. This means fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media accounts.  The more fans and followers you have for your social media presence, the better reach you’ll have. And better reach means the potential to generate more leads. So at the very core of social media for lead generation, you must take steps to increase your reach.


Must I?


I guess.  While we feel the pressure to keep up with the trends and technology, to keep our Twitter feed fed and our LinkedIn liked and our blog bloggy, we need to resist the urge to let the technology tail wag the relationship dog.  Of the over 540 searches we have had the good fortune of leading over the years, easily 90% of them have arrived at our doorstep through referrals from humans based on long-time, hard-earned, thoughtfully-nurtured, genuinely-developed, real, authentic and meaningful relationships. Crazy, I know.


While I can’t compete with Grandpa’s business wisdom, here are four things I happen to believe about running a professional services business at a time like this, or at any time for that matter:


1. Advisors are hired to advise. The client isn’t always right.  It is said that he who seeks his own counsel has a fool for a client. We have to possess the courage to challenge our clients and even disagree with them. If it were easy, they wouldn’t hire us in the first place, so, having been hired, why tell them what they want to hear, unless it happens to be right?


2.  Great work is your best marketing tool ever. If you do an amazing job, you will be hired again. If you say thank you, communicate regularly, follow up, get in front of bad news, broker honestly, return calls and emails promptly, you will get more work than if you don’t do these things.


3.  Authenticity sells.  We think we do well because people like us.  Not everyone, but most people.  Why? Because we do things in our community, we like to have fun, we have an opinion, we respect ourselves and we try to do great work every single time we’re hired.


4.  Keep it real.  Most professional services, but executive search in particular, is about solving problems and connecting people. You have to enjoy interacting with humans and genuinely helping them to make their organizations better and their careers fulfilled. Executive search firms don’t have to feel like the Hawkins National Laboratory in Stranger Things.


There you have it.  My very own Barber Shop Quartet.


If you like us, I’ll happily take a thumbs up emoji click on our new and improved social media footprint along with a retweet and an #awesome, but I’d just as happily get your next search.