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Ten Years Lived; Countless Lessons Learned – The Ampersand October 2019

October 2, 2019

Dear Friends & Colleagues,


We’ve learned a lot of lessons in 10 years of running this business.  Lessons like the client isn’t always right, and small ball wins games, and humans are better than robots at certain things. We’ve learned so many lessons, in fact, that we created an entirely new page on our website just to archive a few of them (more on that below). We know we’re only 10 but 10 year old’s can be pretty insightful.



Of course, we’ve learned a lot in all the years of not running this business, too. We don’t have a distinct website page for that; just grey hair, career scar tissue and a fondness for single malt Scotch.

Unlike many of you who grew up knowing exactly what you wanted to be, and are now that, each of us at Pekarsky & Co. came to the executive search profession from somewhere else and packed a suitcase (toiletry kit?) worth of knowledge when we made the journey from that other intended career path to this one.


As we’ve written before, no one grows up dreaming of a career in search, graduates with a degree in Recruitment Sciences and meets a search firm at an on-campus career fair only to live happily ever after. Search is your second marriage. And almost without exception, search – as the name implies – finds you.  And it usually does so at some crossroads in your first career, as you idle, staring vacantly at the flashing light atop the intersection of Stay and Go. Search emerges like platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter, causing you to run through an invisible wall to some uncertain future on the other side.  Where wizards live.  Wizards like us.

Look no further than our little school of witchcraft and wizardry to prove the point.  Two recovering lawyers, an accountant, a biologist, an equine retailer, a marketing associate and, well, Cam.  Kidding!


Our beloved Cam McDonald is, in fact, celebrating two years this month with Pekarsky & Co., and 12 years in executive search, and as such is about the closest thing to a linear career path from school to search that any of us can boast.


So, when we speak of the lessons learned, we don’t mean to discount those learned prior to arriving here for they were many.  But they were learned in the muggle world, and we can only credibly speak about the lessons learned within our four walls, during these past 10 years.  And because we do things so differently at Pekarsky & Co., our lessons are uniquely our own.  To quote Dr. Seuss, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” 


So you – are we – that we created our own dedicated website page cleverly called “10 Years.”  In fact, our entire website recently received a fresh coat of paint so feel free to poke around while you’re there.  So, what are these lessons of which we speak?


Here’s one:


Sometimes the first candidate you meet, like the first girl or boy you kiss, is the right one. Often not, but sometimes yes. Oh, how we wish we could just tell you who to hire on day one and be done.



For we often know at the very outset of the search who’s going to get the job. Yet, either to justify our fees or demonstrate thoroughness for thoroughness sake, we rarely – okay, never – just say “hire Bob.” Even though, in the end, Bob nearly always gets the job. Ponder this: Does the realtor who finds you your dream house on the first showing deserve a lesser commission than the one who had to show you 10?


Here’s another:


Running a business is like driving a bumper car: The second you take your foot off the accelerator, it stops. We are constantly telling the market what we do; describing, ad nauseam, our areas of specialization and expertise.  Just when we start to feel self-conscious that everyone has grown tired of our self-promotional twaddle, we meet a long-time client for a coffee who says “wow, I had no idea you guys did that.”  The lesson?  You’re never as interesting as you think you are and you can never assume others care, or even know, what you do.




And so long as we’re on the Metaphor Express, here’s another: running a search is like building a house; you can get it done quickly, or you can get it done well.  The important part is the initial vision, drafting, and construction drawings that guide the build. Changing the design halfway through or making it up on the fly predictably leads to an unhappy result.


And another:


Expressions in our business such as “keep the candidate warm” or “turn the candidate off” are, as our kids might say, cringey.  Candidates are neither feet nor a light switch.


Or this one:


There’s no such thing as a confidential search.


Or this:



Recruitability is a thing. Should you try to recruit the very best candidate possible or the very best candidate possible who’s likely to say ‘yes’ to you? Aspiration is commendable. Realism is sensible.  There is often a yawning gulf between what you want, and what you can have. We’re the best wingman/woman you could ever want: fearless, lead with our chin, walk straight up to the most striking person in the room and boldly make the ask; but don’t shoot the messenger when we return with a polite “not in a thousand years.”


There are lessons about recruiting for professional services firms versus corporations versus not-for-profits. Modules about the challenges of serving two masters, like when the HR business partner has one idea and business unit leader has another.  It’s even worse when they give separate instructions, usually behind the other’s back, leaving us to decode, decipher and deliver.  With a smile, no less.






There’s a whole syllabus about the internal candidate. When to have them apply for a role and when to simply tell them it’s not in the cards.  There’s an entire curriculum on how to manage an internal candidate through an external search process and then, if they don’t get the job, how to prepare for their (almost inevitable) departure.  And there are important teachings related to how, if the internal candidate does get the job, it’s actually not a failure of the search firm but rather a credit to the organization and a validation of the entire process. There will be an exam on this one.


There are mythology lessons, too. Of the powers and reach of the global firm; of the notion that the best candidates must come from far away and couldn’t possibly reside here in Western Canada; of the idea that bigger is always better.


And, of course, there are the Dark Arts, too.  Teachings about the grey area between targeting a candidate and sourcing one; the back-alley back-channel reference underworld where prospective employers poke around in the dark, asking questions about you without you even knowing it. We’ve uploaded our lesson notes on each of these practices in previous posts (here and here), if you want to do some extra reading outside of class.


And so we learn.



We’ve resisted to date writing Ampersand posts prescribing pithy How To’s (…write a resume…give notice…interview effectively…write a thank you note…) preferring to leave the Top 10’s and Do’s and Don’ts to the LinkedIn drivel-verse and our competitors canned pieces about nothing that no one reads. You’ll forgive us, then, for trending that direction this month but we prefer to view the foregoing as post-graduate level work. Perhaps a bit haughty for a 10 year old. Or perhaps we were equipped all along to opine on such matters.


Perhaps after all these years, we really do know people.





Pekarsky & Co. In the Community


While certain of our larger competitor firms invest their (your?) money in courageous global initiatives such as developmental golf tours for privileged athletes in the United States, we prefer to spend those dollars and time on actual causes right here in our great city.  A few recent examples:



Art and the City



As many of you know, our office location is a perfect metaphor for what we do. Located in the centre of the action, quite literally in the shadow of the Calgary Tower, we see every day the good, the bad and the ugly of inner-city life. Situated as we are, on Stephen Avenue Mall in the historic Alberta Hotel building, we have been outspoken supporters of our neighbourhood and equally candid critics of some of the neglect we’ve witnessed take hold during the prolonged economic downturn. For this reason it was our pleasure to sponsor the second annual Art and the City: Off Stephen – Green Alley Project and Public Art Walk which kicked off on September 20th.



Lean In Calgary


Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, we were pleased to be an early and enthusiastic sponsor of the launch of Lean In Calgary, held at the historic St. Louis Hotel in Calgary’s East Village on September 25th. The ladies of P&Co. had a blast mingling with other like-minded women, while learning more about the growing community of women who are banding together to support, nurture, and grow female leadership in our city.



For a search firm that is nearly 75% women, and one in which our token men proudly support and promote our womenfolk, we are incredibly proud to be one of the very first and leading sponsors of Lean In Calgary.  Here’s an idea:  with so much lip service over these past 10 years having been paid to diversity, and with so many companies and boards insisting they want it, why do they routinely hire search firms that look like the set of Mad Men? If you truly seek diversity, why wouldn’t you hire a search firm that actually looks and acts the way you say you want to look and act?  🤔



Calgary International Film Festival


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For the third consecutive year, Pekarsky & Co. was proud to sponsor the Calgary International Film Festival, and not only did we make another appearance on the silver screen before most showings, but we proudly represented at both the Opening and Closing galas. Our affiliation with CIFF goes back a few years to when we were engaged by the Board to find their Board Chair, D’Arcy Levesque. We have stayed very involved in ongoing Board member curation and generally as fans and supporters of the festival.  Given our firm’s recent foray into film-making, we have an even greater respect for what it takes to make it big in the movies. To put an exclamation point on another great Calgary International Film Festival, and to further highlight our support for it, the Pekarsky & Co. team ventured out in the snow on the final Sunday of the Festival for a fun, and rather instructional, matinee.  More on that in our Featured Video below.



Small Business Award Finalist



Ranju and Adam attended the ATB Small Business Awards finalists reception at Modern Steakhouse on September 24th. Only then did we learn that Pekarsky & Co. made the final 5 for Small Business of the Year from an original applicant pool of over 450 Calgary-based small businesses!  According to the Google, those are only slightly better odds than being born with 11 fingers or toes.  Naturally, our inner Alec Baldwin, as Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross, means we’ll bring a ‘second prize is a set of steak knives’ mentality to the awards ceremony on October 24th at The Westin.  #inittowinit.



P&Co. Photoshoot




You know that expression ‘I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out?’  Well, that’s sort of how our recent Pekarsky & Co. photo shoot went.  As we headed outside onto Stephen Avenue Mall for some fun photos with our Pekarsky & Co. ski trip t-shirts, we stumbled headlong into the annual United Way parade.  Seemed only fitting to blend into a parade featuring the likes of the YMCACIWAWINS and so many other clients and causes we’ve partnered with over the years.  And, no, we didn’t plan that!




Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter



As we always say, we do good works in our community because it feels good, not because it looks good. Of course, corporate philanthropy isn’t, and shouldn’t be, entirely self-sacrificing. In giving, we seek not only a karmic return on investment, but an actual one too. So often are we asked by local causes and charities to support them financially, that we recently did something completely antithetical to our boutique instincts…we made a policy! Don’t worry, we didn’t get carried away and write it down or anything like that, but we discussed our “philanthropy philosophy” and from that emerged a screen through which we filter every ask. Some make it through, others, unfortunately, do not.


Pekarsky & Co.’s long-time support of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter stems from our deeply rooted belief that we have an obligation and a duty to be a proud and vocal champion of those whose voices often aren’t heard. As a home-grown Calgary based boutique executive search firm competing in a world of giant global firms, we understand what it means to be the underdog and we proudly support those in need of a champion.


– Adam Pekarsky, Founding Partner


One of the determining factors is reciprocation.  Not the Donald Trump quid pro quo Ukrainian type, but rather a simpler analysis. Rather, we assess the cause itself and the work the organization does to better our community and we ask how, exactly, they plan on spending our hard-earned money. But we also evaluate what’s in it for us.  Specifically, are they a good partner on social media? Do they properly thank and acknowledge their sponsors? Does our donation of time, money, or both actually matter to them?  One of the best examples of this is our soon-to-be nine-year relationship with the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. Not only do they do amazing work in our community, but they recently reciprocated with a very nice mention in their newsletter. It doesn’t take much to make us feel even better about doing a good deed.



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