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than an ‘and’ could ever do.

The Ampersand March 2018 – Taking the Long View

February 28, 2018

My older brother, Josh, has given me wise counsel for many years and, to my great good fortune, I’ve followed most of it.  I did, however, ignore one fairly important piece of brotherly advice:  Don’t name your firm after yourself. 


After an 11-year career with the prestigious New York PR firm, Kekst & Company, I should have taken it as a clue when Josh moved to Vancouver and launched Longview Communications in 2003.  I, on the other hand, decided six years later, to name my firm The Pekarsky Group and, a couple of iterations (and partners) later, find myself somewhat burdened by the current, and final, Pekarsky & Co. (for another rebrand is entirely out of the question).


Josh’s rationale was sound. First, he doesn’t like the limelight; second, at Kekst he always felt that people were looking over his shoulder, searching for Mr. Kekst. He wanted to create a firm where everyone had the opportunity to build their own brand and clients could take confidence in Longview as a firm rather than any one individual. Put another way, he wanted to build a successful brand before he died, rather than after.


My vision for the firm I wanted to build was identical. After years of servitude at national and global organizations where I dutifully played my role at the base of the pyramid, I, like Josh, set out to create an organization that was flat, fun and inspiring. To understand why I forsook my brother’s advice, one needs to go back to March, 2005.


It was then, fresh off finishing 2004 as Robert Half International’s top global revenue generating legal recruiter, that I decided to leave the company. Among other reasons (going out on top with a spectacular mic drop did not, I regret, cross my mind), I was frustrated that the large American brand that was Robert Half International allowed no room for my own personal identity in my local market to flourish. My name was not on the website and even my local phone was a 1-800 number. Placing one’s self ahead of the brand, let alone penning a monthly newsletter, would have been completely antithetical to the corporate logic the company deployed, namely: the recruiter on the other end of the phone was interchangeable; an entirely fungible and faceless voice easily swapped in and out with no notice or consequence to the client.  The brand trumped all else and individual expression was subsumed by the greater corporate good.


This isn’t a unique corporate philosophy.  And this, I assume, is why many large corporations are named the way they are.  Would Home Hardware be what it is today had founder, Walter Hachborn, gone with Walter’s Wood or Hachborn’s Hardware?  I’m quite certain Laliberté & Ste-Croix’s Flying Circus would not have garnered the same global admiration as Cirque du Soleil. And had John William Billes and Alfred Jackson Billes invested their combined savings of $1,800 in Billes Brothers Tires, rather than Canadian Tire, I doubt we would “all play for Canada.” According to, seven of the 10 most admired brands in the world are named after inert things, not real people. It’s Apple, not Steve Jobs & Co.; and it’s Microsoft, rather than Gates & Associates.  The most notable exception?  Walt Disney. And if I’m around when they thaw him out I plan on asking him how the hell he did it.


A similar brand weightiness is embraced at most professional services firms: KPMG was probably wise to shorten from Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler and each of EY, PWC and Deloitte, at their root, are abbreviated forms of legacy firms named after humans.  And every single one of the 25 largest law firms in the world are named after humans. It should come as no surprise, then, that the name on the door matters to the partners who work there and associates behind that door are to be treated like young children; to be seen and not heard. Partners are the ones who make the big decisions, enjoy the face time with the client and divvy up the infield rodeo tickets.


When I started my firm, notwithstanding placing my name in the masthead, I wanted to do things differently. To this day, I tell my team all the time, “I want you stealing my clients; I want you taking the relationships I’ve developed and nurturing them as your own.”  The sooner they can do that, the sooner I can start fly-fishing the Elk River in Fernie. To that end, our employees even receive a significant sweetener when the call with a new search comes in to them, rather than me, even if the call is from a client of “mine.”  It’s true: there is no “I” in team and we live that value every day around here. My long-time partner, Ranju Shergill, and I strive to be generous, caring and selfless leaders. And the quid pro quo is simple: you leave, you die. Seems fair, no?



In truth, the way we prevent our people from leaving is not by stifling their individuality but by encouraging it. By empowering them to lead, grow, build and develop their own personal brand, within our corporate brand.  Far from being threatened by a strong personal brand, we’re strengthened by it. Our firm’s growth must be able to accommodate each individual’s personal growth, and vice versa, no matter how large the personality of the other.


My job around here is not to execute on every single mandate. It’s to continually pump more oxygen into the system in the form of generating new clients in new markets and focusing on new lines of business and more opportunity. The team’s job is to execute flawlessly on every single search. You need look no further than our Opportunities page to see I’m living up to my end of the bargain and you need look no further than the testimonials on our Employers page to see they’re living up to theirs. If we starve our team of oxygen, deprive them their opportunity to shine, to lead and to evolve, that’s when they’ll leave. If they drop the ball on the searches they own, that’s when the brand – no matter what it’s named – suffers. But placing my name on the door I’ve unduly burdened them, and me, for it stings more when you’re human than when you’re inert.


It is very difficult for our clients, particularly those from other professional services firms where the name on the door matters, or at least must appear to matter, to deal with anyone other than the namesake. They are, as my brother foresaw, constantly, and rather unfairly, looking over the shoulder of my exceptional team, in search of me. Doing so places me on a pedestal I don’t deserve while kerbing the team’s ability to shine. Jack Welch said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”



I’m trying, Jack. Honest!  As recently as last month, we shared an internal chuckle when our own  Cam McDonald, with 10+ years of executive search experience, ever the good sport, was put through his paces by a now former law firm client who actually made him role-play a mock recruiting call to ensure he could actually do it. Spoiler alert: he could.


No, I don’t lead every single search in our firm and that’s a good thing. Our team is exceptionally highly educated, a joy to be around and brings decades of life and search experience to every mandate. I just happened to be the first one here. I’m like an air traffic controller who knows where every aircraft is, without actually piloting any of them.


Speaking of which, I was on a WestJet flight from Palm Springs recently and CEO Gregg Saretsky was on board and serving coffee.  It was a nice touch, but he wasn’t very good at it. Better that he decided to play flight attendant than pilot, I suppose.  His highest and best use, of course, is being the CEO, driving strategy and shareholder value as he’s done exceptionally well since taking over in April 2010, doubling the share price during his tenure. If he pushed the trolley up the aisle on every flight, I’d be worried.


Point is, Ben and Jerry never scooped me an ice cream. Tim Horton never served me coffee. John Molson never poured me a beer.  But I think I can have a firm called Pekarsky, be alive and successful.  I may be wrong. But my brother Josh?  He was right.