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Pekarsky & Co. Mid-November 2015 Newsletter – A Simpler Time

November 16, 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is with a heavy heart that we send our mid-month edition of the Pekarsky & Co. newsletter. The world is truly going to hell in a handbasket. The events of the past weekend are beyond “deeply worrying” to quote our fearless leader. Yet, we carry on. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Whether it’s the headlines of the World section, the Business section or even the Sports section, they are all difficult to read these days.

I was tempted not to send anything out today. Every key on the keyboard feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. But hopefully our mid-month contributor, Edmonton Partner Rick Vogel, can take us to a simpler time: the 1980s. The business headlines were grim then, too, but at least the sports pages were filled with positives and world events were, in a word, simpler.

We will be back to you in a couple weeks and though I’m doubtful, I’m hoping we’ll all feel just a bit better by then.




A Simpler Time

“I just bought a rotary phone, a Rolodex, and a polyester suit. Oh yes, I’m now ready to start networking.” 

Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not FOR SALE

At the risk of admitting (or reinforcing) the fact that I am the oldest person here at Pekarsky & Co., I had a very interesting discussion with an Edmonton CEO recently that brought about a case of nostalgia and caused me to do some reminiscing.

My adult career (as opposed to my Earl’s Tin Palace bartender era) began in 1986 as a stock broker (now called a Financial Advisor) with McLeod, Young and Weir (now called ScotiaMcLeod). There was no email. Nobody had cell phones. Golden Girls, Dynasty and Cagney and Lacey ruled TV (yes, there was TV but it was large and boxy and not flush mounted to your wall or affixed to your wrist). We Are The World (written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie) was the #1 song. Gas at the pump was $0.50 per litre. Apple Computer introduced the $3,000 Macintosh Plus, featuring an 8 MHz 68000 processor, 1 MB RAM, a new keyboard with cursor keys, a numeric keypad and an 800kB 3.5-inch floppy drive. 

As I worked to build a client base my tools were a telephone (land line only), a business card index file, a rotating recipe card filing system and a real life Rolodex. These items probably live in some time capsule that was shot into space at the turn of the Millennium but I actually used them.

This got me thinking: how did the search industry work back in the “old days”? It’s assumed you could smoke in your office and call your assistant a secretary but I’m guessing a typical search firm office would have had cabinets filled with resumes. My brain hurts when I think about how one would go about finding a particular resume by position, industry, education or designation. In addition, each search professional would have their own Rolodex (probably several) with clients, candidates, references, industry sources, personal contacts and others.

In short, the rule of the day was: “he/she with the biggest Rolodex wins”. If your Rolodex was small and relatively local, you would be considered a “boutique” search firm. Your contacts were local and your clients were local, too. The only way you could execute a national search was if you had colleagues in cities across the country who had their own local Rolodexes who would be willing to share their contacts. This was known as a “national” search firm. Global professional firms was the stuff of faraway galaxies in the mid-80s.

So here we are in 2015.  And while the majority of Pekarsky & Co. clients are Alberta-based (although we are successfully working for clients in many other provinces) our Rolodex is the furthest thing from local. The Internet has greatly levelled the playing field in so many industries, the search industry among them and, turns out, we know how to use it too. Finding people is no longer the major challenge in our industry—finding the “right people” is.  How you go to market and who takes your story there, the art of the search if you will, remains the main distinguishing factor as among and between search firms. Put another way, the actual finding of the people is the easy part; the real premium is the assessment of those people relative to the culture of the organization and the core competencies sought in the role. As Adam likes to say even in times like this, with the proverbial orchard over-flowing with apples, our clients expect us to find, identify and successfully pluck the single, best one.

We’re not dialling for dollars, as was often the case in my broker, err, investment advisor days. We are an extension of our clients’ credibility in the marketplace and so the professionalism, integrity and persuasiveness with which we take their story to market will be the difference between landing a good candidate and a great one. 

While the process among various search firms is generally the same and while the access to information and candidates is also virtually indistinguishable—the Internet is there for all of us, after all—the differentiator is the people within our organization and the ability with which they represent our clients and their story to the broader marketplace. 

At Pekarsky & Co., we subscribe to the view that a search is a search is a search. It’s about understanding the requirements of the role and profile of the ideal candidate. It’s about having an actual sourcing and search strategy and philosophy.  It’s about much more than the number of files in the filing cabinet.  A firm that simply “dials for dollars” and isn’t prepared to, or able to, respond to difficult questions intelligently, address recent events or capture the essence of the role and the people involved will lose the candidate within moments of finding them. Every member of the Pekarsky & Co. team is highly educated, articulate and professional.  Our clients have total confidence that their message will be taken to market with clarity, authenticity and accuracy. The members of Pekarsky & Co. have spent significant amounts of their professional lives in other vocations (law, finance, consulting, communications, not-for-profit) as well as serving on various community Boards of Directors. As a consequence, we do not deploy an army of juniors who have little to no experience; rather, we all bring our previous life experience and professional training to bear on each search, in each interview and throughout every phase of the mandate. Sorry for sounding sooo 2015.

We recently completed a search for an Edmonton headquartered organization. They needed a senior professional with a specific (and not very common) designation with significant and specialized experience. There are currently about 150 individuals in the Edmonton area with that designation and very few with the specific experience and even fewer with enough experience.Our research identified people across the country and we had almost 75 conversations with qualified individuals resulting in 12 credible candidates. Our client met five candidates from Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa and Dartmouth and one was recently hired.

So “boutique” does not mean local anymore, at least not for us. And the size of one’s Rolodex needs to be considered against the overall quality of the approach and representation of both client and candidate in the marketplace. Boutique to us simply describes our ability to tailor the search process to each and every client and deliver with high-touch and personalized service. At our recent firm retreat, we spent considerable time discussing how we can expand to new markets, form additional strategic alliances and add new lines of business without losing our boutique feel. As Adam promised recently, you’ll have to wait until 2016 to find out exactly how we’re going to do that.

Maybe it’s akin to the “everything old is new again” idea.  After all, you can still watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island but you are streaming them through Netflix on your phone while enjoying an iced, half caff, ristretto, venti, sugar free, cinnamon, dolce soy skinny latte. Now, if I could just find a tape player to listen to my Pet Shop Boys cassettes…

Rick Vogel

Rick Vogel is a Partner in the Edmonton office of Pekarsky & Co. with ten years experience in the search industry and 20 before that in the investment advisory industry.  


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