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The Waiting Game – The Pekarsky & Co. July 2015 Newsletter

December 1, 2018

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 

I remember the first time I ever applied for a summer job as a waiter. It was at a restaurant in Whistler called Nasty Jack’s in the late 1980s. As I soon learned, the name was only half true; it was actually a guy named John who ran it. My application was denied because I had never previously been a waiter, having only climbed the summer service industry corporate ladder from dish-pig to bus boy the previous summer.

 

I recall asking John, “How am I supposed to ever get a job as a waiter if every posting for a waiter job requires previous experience as a waiter?“. I think his answer was, “You lie” but I’m pleased to report that’s not what I did. Instead I just started waiting tables. The average tenure of the typical Whistler summer waiter being somewhere between one and three weeks, I stepped into the role one day when one of the “real” waiters no-showed. And literally one second later, just like that, I was a waiter. Let’s park for now the philosophical question: “If a waiter waits tables in a restaurant with no customers, was he really waiting tables at all?”. (In fairness, several years later, between law school years, I was working the busiest shift at Hy’s Steakhouse on 4th Ave in Calgary, preparing table-side Caesar salads and deftly handling all manner of steak preparations for the most discerning carnivores from the oil patch.)

 

The lesson here?

 

Well…when we started our firm in 2009 we were primarily focused on legal recruitment. It was something I had done on various other platforms, including an actual law firm, for nearly 10 years previous. Working for law firms seeking lateral partners and corporations seeking in-house counsel was, and still is, very familiar territory. Our early challenge as a firm was the New Waiter Challenge.

 

When we initially tried to step out and pitch for other types of search work, especially to a company who had never worked with us, seen our process, experienced our teamwork or our user-friendly approach to search, it was nasty, Jack.

 

“Have you guys ever done a VP, HR search?” we were asked a few years back. “Well, not exactly but…”.

 

“Could you tell us about your experience working on Executive Director searches for not-for-profits?” “Well, it’s not too deep but we certainly…”.

 

Alas, experience and results trump charm and eloquence eight times out of 10. Yet, like those early customers I gamely served at the restaurant (or was I serving game?), every so often in those early years we would get hired and wade into new space on a maiden voyage.

 

Search is part art, part science. Venturing into a new area, so long as it’s not too far from shore, is not as hard, or as risky, as you might think. You fall back on process, best practices, and the various tools and life experiences at your disposal and it’s all very doable. One of the differentiators between us and our clients when it comes to searching for the best people isn’t that we have some magic formula; rather we have the time to do the research, the expertise to assess motivation and intention, and the access to the people who aren’t actively seeking change. Often the delta between those who simply apply for a job and those we could attract to the role is significant. Usually we can find those people more easily than you can and the question we like to ask (“do you want the best candidate who applies for the job or the best candidate, period?”) answers itself. The art of what we do matters a lot. The “what” of a client’s story when it’s taken to market often matters less than who’s taking it there and how it’s being presented. Put another way, an average meal delivered by a superb waiter will often result in a more positive overall dining experience than a great meal delivered by an awful waiter.

 

Now please don’t misunderstand me; if you’re going in for surgery you want the surgeon who’s done that exact procedure thousands of times as opposed to the guy who confidently reassures you, “No, I’ve never actually performed brain surgery but I’ve stitched up some pretty nasty cuts.” But even a brain surgeon had to have performed her first surgery at some point; an airplane pilot his first landing; a Ring Master his first stick-your-head-in–the-lion’s-mouth routine. Though hardly an objectionable principle, it is an easily forgotten one.

 

I recall my then two-year old, in the summer of 2006, severely dehydrated from weeks of the flu. We took him to the hospital where we were told he needed an intravenous. His veins were snapped shut and I watched impatiently as the young Resident clumsily poked him like a pin cushion in search of a vein like some blind-folded kid playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. I grew increasingly agitated until I eventually suggested, a trifle forcefully, that ‘perhaps it was time to go get a real doctor’ to complete the task. I regretted it the moment I said it but under the stress of the moment I think any parent, except perhaps the parent of a Resident, would have said the same. I’m sure that Resident is now a very successful doctor and he likely learned something that day that helped him in subsequent years. I know I did.

 

Still, I draw a distinction between the work of surgeons and pilots and Ring Masters and those of us who work in professional services. How do any of us ever execute our first search, run our first trial, balance our first set of books if in each case the prerequisite for doing so was the very thing we were called upon to do, for the first time? Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, said “You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.” Put another way, you must fake it, ‘til you make it. Happily, seven years in, we’re long past faking it but we’re still working hard to earn our stripes in those as yet unexplored spaces.

 

Happily, turns out that running a search—any search, is like waiting tables. It’s about being exceptionally organized, being an excellent communicator and having the unique ability to balance the interests of kitchen and customer/client and candidate, alike. Good common sense, great process and finely tuned EQ is mostly what you need in this business. Is it any surprise that almost every member of our firm paid their dues as waiters/waitresses at some point?

 

And so, as I was recently reviewing our last year’s worth of searches upon the close of yet another fiscal year, it struck me. I was sorting our searches by industry and doing some very high-level analysis of our business. Focusing for sake of example, solely on the not-for-profit space (though, happily, I could provide similar data for finance and accounting, HR and other corporate services roles), and for the first time our number of searches in not-for-profit alone was nearly on par with our search volumes in the legal realm (and not because the legal ones were in sharp decline, for the cynics). A few examples from the past year:

 

Chief Environmental Monitoring Officer for AEMERA;
Director of HR for the Alberta Accountants Unification Agency;
General Manager for the Al Osten–Buddy Victor Acadia Tennis Centre;
Canadian Propane Association Business Manager; the Calgary JUNO Awards General Manager;
The CNIB Director, Philanthropy;
Edmonton Economic Development Corporation Board Members;
Office of the Auditor General Business Leader, Systems Audit Practice;
Women In Need Society, Executive Director;
Workers’ Compensation Board, Head of Fixed Income Investments;
YMCA Calgary VP, HR
… to name just a few.

 

I can’t recall which was our first ever not-for-profit search, though I know we ran the Lawyers ASSIST Executive Director search several years ago so it’s been a while. But I do know that at one point we had no experience in not for-profit search and the next minute we did. And each time a client entrusts us with a new search in a new area, not only are we helping them to achieve their goals but they are helping us to achieve ours, too.

 

The moral of the story: don’t yell at the Resident poking your two-year old, or your nervous new waiter. Give them a chance just as someone, somewhere, sometime along your journey likely did for you and so many have done for us.

 

And so, as Pekarsky & Co. starts its seventh fiscal year, we do so with the humility of a waiter on his first day but the experience of a Hy’s Steakhouse table-side-Caesar-salad-making pro. And speaking of summer and steaks we wish you a very Happy Canada Day and a wonderful summer ahead. As is tradition, though we are absolutely open for business, taking new searches and completing those in progress, we will once again put our newsletter pen down for the summer and will return around Labour Day with our next submission. We hope you have enjoyed the past 10 months’ worth of original content and, as always, welcome any feedback, good or bad or indifferent, you may have. You can stay connected to us by following us on Twitter, visiting our brand new website or dropping by for a visit.

 

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One final note before we break for summer. I just want to say a heartfelt thanks to all of you for the support this past year. The cherry on top was a wonderful evening on June 25th at the Business in Calgary – Leaders awards, at which I was fortunate enough to receive such an award. According to their website, “Leaders is an awards program that recognizes people in the business community who have contributed to making Calgary the great city that it is — through their personal integrity, values, business initiatives, community involvement, innovation, and philanthropic activities. Leaders individuals are owners and managers of successful private and public companies based in Calgary, and are the primary stakeholders responsible for the performance of their employees and company direction.” As I said in the Business in Calgary piece that accompanied the award, receiving it is really about the team around me. All they do every day is keep my promises and make me look good. They are truly the best in the business and you can see their smiling faces and read all about them on our brand new website.

 

All in all, a great end to the fiscal year and a great start for Pekarsky & Co. (www.pekarskyco.wpengine.com).

 

Enjoy summer, be safe, and we’ll see you in September.

 

Regards,

Adam Signature