September 16, 2019 – Since civil rights activist Cezar Chavez came to speak to her second-grade class about the plight of the farm workers, Valerie Frederickson has worked to help others improve their lives and in the process make for a better world.
As the teenage daughter of parents devoted to desegregation and diversity, she spent her summers volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico. As a college student, she organized a series of career seminars for liberal arts majors, cajoling executives from leading companies to come and speak and share their wisdom with students who did not have degrees that translated directly into business. And as founder and chief executive officer of the Silicon Valley human resources and people executive search firm Frederickson Partners, she has forged a reputation for not only finding great talent but for her commitment to diversity and inclusion, both in the slates of candidates she presents and within her own Menlo Park, CA-based firm.
“We want to help our clients elevate their HR and people functions,” said Ms. Frederickson. “And we want to help HR executives further their careers. But what we really want to do is make a lasting difference in the lives of every individual we touch through the HR executive search work we do.”
Every consultation with a new CEO and every completed head of HR or talent placement have the potential to boost not only the client’s business but everyone who works there. Said Ms. Frederickson: “If we place the right head of HR at a start-up, for example, and that person is able to achieve significant improvements in the company; if they can help employees receive constructive feedback in a more timely manner, so they can understand what success looks like and which direction to go in; if they can help the executives in the company communicate better so that everybody understands the strategic plan; and if they can make sure that everybody is paid well — then that means these employees will have more money to take care of their families or to give to charities that they believe in.”
25 Years of HR Experience
In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ Hunt Scanlon is joined alongside Valerie Frederickson, CEO and founder of Frederickson Partners. In this exclusive podcast, Ms. Frederickson discusses how she got started in HR recruiting over 25 years ago, what makes her tick and the difference she’s making by recruiting diverse HR leaders. “We want to help our clients elevate their HR and people functions,” said Ms. Frederickson. Listen now!
“So for us, when we work with a CEO on an HR search and we get to influence that person and help them put in the right leader, we think that we’re helping every single employee at the company and all of their families and communities. That’s really what turns us on.”
A Domain Expert
Founded in 1995 as an outplacement firm but soon evolving into HR consulting and then HR search, Frederickson Partners has become a mainstay for employers in Silicon Valley, around the country, and increasingly across the world in need of senior HR and people leaders, HR consulting and interim HR and talent executives. “We like to work for two kinds of companies: those that are in high growth and those that are pivoting or transforming into digital,” said Ms. Frederickson, of the firm’s search work.
Clients, which span virtually every sector, have included Facebook, Twitter, ServiceNow, Intuit, Intel, Sprinklr, Nubank, and many more.
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“Usually what happens is when there’s a new digital area that’s disrupting an industry we’ll get hired by 75 percent of the players in that industry,” said Ms. Frederickson. “For example, a few years ago we placed the heads of HR at most of the hot adtech companies, and then we did the fastest growing fintech companies, and we’ve recently done the most prominent edtech companies. And we’ve done Elementum, which is digitally transforming supply chain management, and Procore, digitally transforming construction, and KeepTruckin, digitally transforming the trucking industry.”
A domain expert in HR, Ms. Frederickson has spoken at dozens of conferences. She and her firm have become so well known that all their business comes from referrals; the firm does no business development whatsoever. “I don’t think I’ve done a sales call since maybe the early 2000s,” she said.
In 2010, coming out of the recession, Frederickson Partners’ revenues hovered around $2 million. By the end of next year, Ms. Frederickson expects that number to hit $10 million. Revenue growth in 2018 grew by 26 percent, more than a 250 percent increase in the past five years. Much of that can be attributed to the tremendous surge in recent years in both its private equity and venture capital-backed clientele. It is a sector that has become the predominant and chief growth driver for executive recruiters nationwide, according to analysts at Greenwich, Conn-based Hunt Scanlon Media.
Continuing to Grow
Ms. Frederickson’s search team consists of 25 individuals, most of whom are highly experienced, executive-level HR generalist consultants or specialists in areas like talent acquisition or total rewards. The firm has additional locations in San Francisco and San Jose, CA; Austin and Plano, TX; New York; Chicago, and Delray Beach, FL, and serves all of the major tech hubs domestically and around the world. More of its work lately has been in New York, and the firm recently hired a vice president-level search consultant to manage its office there. That’s in addition to a number of key search executives the firm has recently brought on for its locations around the country. In all, the Frederickson Partners team has grown some 30 percent in the last year.
And that’s to say nothing of the firm’s growing number of international assignments, including those in Brazil, Asia and Europe.
Frederickson Partners takes a unique approach: None of its consultants are on commission. As such, no one would make even a dollar by stealing a candidate from somebody else. “All of the searches are everybody’s searches,’ said Ms. Frederickson. “We all win together, we all lose together.” It is a novel approach, according to Hunt Scanlon, in an industry that has struggled with a myriad of commission-based compensation schemes.
Searches are kept well organized, vertical and visible. At Frederickson Partners, transparency is paramount. Everybody in the company is aware of the happenings within every search. And everybody shares candidates and provides introductions. “We have a collaborative environment unlike any other that I’ve ever seen,” said Ms. Frederickson. “We’re not like any other search firm. We don’t act like any other search firm. And that’s what helps us have the best reputation and the most candidate trust, according to LinkedIn.”
Making a Difference
Ms. Frederickson grew up in Berkeley, CA during the 1960s and 70s, when the University of California at Berkeley and the community itself were at the forefront of so much of the tumult and social change that was happening in America. “My parents had moved specifically to Berkeley because they wanted to be part of a better world,” she remembered. “They wanted to live somewhere where there was multiculturalism and desegregation, as it was called at the time, and they wanted to be somewhere that was going to be part of the civil rights movement. And so I grew up with a couple of parents both of whom had Ph.Ds. from Berkeley and who cared tremendously about making the world a better place and more importantly, actually did something about it.”
Her father had worked on Indian reservations for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Later, he was a personnel manager for a cooperative grocery store organization. She tells of a black woman from a poor neighborhood in nearby Richmond whom her mother had hired in the 1960’s to do the family’s laundry. Seeing the woman’s potential, her father brought her on at the grocery store chain, helping her develop and learn, and ultimately promoting her to manage the store in downtown Berkeley. “I saw at a young age how you can make a difference and help an individual, and by helping one person over time you can make a difference in terms of swinging the racism pendulum another way,” said Ms. Fredrickson. “Those tangible examples made a big impact on me.”
Berkeley was one of the first communities to use busing to achieve desegregation in its schools. As a kindergartner Ms. Fredrickson met civil rights icon Cesar Chavez, who spoke to her class, and learned about the plight of the farm workers. As a teenager, she spent part of two summers volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico, where she did everything from digging ditches and helping build shade structures to taking care of sick babies with cleft palates. “That started a lifelong passion of both working in what’s now called diversity, but also helping the underdogs and people who are disenfranchised in our world,” she said.
Starting Her Business
After graduating from college, she held some sales and marketing jobs and made a comfortable living. But she wanted to do more with her career. So she went back to school for a graduate degree, studying adult and career development and organizational development. “Out of that I was hired by a big company – Drake Beam Morin – to work as a career counselor within their outplacement practice,” she said. “For my first job I worked on a huge computer company layoff, where I ended up counseling people, some of whom had worked for the company for decades. And it was so hard for some of them to get new jobs because they hadn’t thought about their careers or what’s next. And many had stopped being productive or efficient. And so the idea of people shelving themselves and their careers and not staying career focused and the idea what role should companies play in helping their employees stay employable were issues that I was thinking about a lot.”
From there, she went on to work for a boutique outplacement firm later sold to Lee Hecht Harrison, where she was providing career transition counseling and also job development work, helping laid off workers find new positions. At the time, the company was about to be sold, and Ms. Frederickson was asked to put together an outplacement program that actually reduced services for its laid-off workers when Ms. Frederickson felt the company should be doing more.
From that experience, she decided to launch her own outplacement firm, which would focus on better helping individuals who were newly out of a job, and in the process helping her corporate clients reduce post-termination employment litigation. Before long, her corporate clients began asking her to do more, such as assessing their teams, providing HR consulting, executive coaching, communications consulting and compensation work.
Then, in 1997, one of her connections recommended her for a CEO search for a major public tech company, even though Ms. Frederickson had no experience in recruitment. Partnering with a veteran search partner, she nailed the assignment, and then helped place the client’s entire executive team. With that, her search practice was born.
A Focus on HR Search
“Through the rest of the 90s we did many searches, often up to 25 searches at a time and all across the board,” said Ms. Fredrickson. “And then coming out of the dot-com bomb, that recession of 2001, I made a conscious decision to only do HR search and to turn down everything else.”
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“It was hard for me,” she said. “I loved CFO searches and I loved board searches especially. But I thought that if we focused exclusively on doing HR searches we could better partner with our clients on their strategic plan and translate it into an HR plan. And then from there we could craft the HR job description and put in the head of HR and then help that person build out the team, and next provide some other HR related services – compensation consulting, executive searches, outplacement. It would give us a chance to really get to know the HR executives because we weren’t just talking to them for the good times; we were also supporting them through the most difficult activities they ever do, which includes finding the best people for their HR teams and also occasionally doing layoffs. Since 2002, we’ve only done HR searches, and it’s really paid off.”
Integral to the firm’s work, and Ms. Frederickson’s persona, is a commitment to diversity and inclusion, both in the pursuit of talent for clients and within Frederickson Partners itself. “I practice what I preach,” she said. “My company is diverse. My company is approximately 50 percent men and women and my company is no more than 50 percent white.”
“When we do searches I talk to our clients about diversity and inclusion and what it needs to look like,” she said. “Some of the things are basic, but we all need to do them – for example, having unconscious bias training. And if there’s a role where you really want to fill it with, for example, a woman of color, then you need to have your slate be 75 percent women of color or the interview team most likely won’t select a woman of color for the role. I help our clients put together better diversity practices. I was one of the first people to recommend using artificial intelligence and technology to make job descriptions less gender specific. Now the top diverse candidates come to us because they know that I’m serious about this stuff and I won’t just pay lip service or waste their time.”
One client that embraces Frederickson Partners’ approach is Nubank, a rapidly expanding digital bank in São Paulo, Brazil. Chief people officer Renee Mauldin, who has known Ms. Frederickson and her firm for nearly a decade, dating back to when Ms. Mauldin worked in Silicon Valley, said she called in Frederickson Partners to help the fintech fill a number of roles across its people and culture team.
“Frederickson is a strategic partner for us because they serve as not only a beachhead there in Silicon Valley for attracting great talent but what they have proven out is that they can find talent around the world and for locations that are outside of Silicon Valley and for tech companies around the world,” said Ms. Mauldin, former CHRO for Uber and also Twitter.
“And I think this is something extraordinary. Most search firms just focus in on partial regions and have to work with other search firms, but they’re able to really do their searches extensively in a global way, which is why we chose them,” she noted.
Ms. Frederickson’s commitment to diversity and inclusion further strengthened Nubank’s faith in the firm. “Six years ago when the company was founded one of our original and still standing values was building strong and diverse teams, and so the alignment was just perfectly set between Frederickson and Nubank on this topic,” said Ms. Mauldin.
For Ms. Frederickson and company, the future looks bright. The plan moving forward is a relatively simple one – to keep on doing what the firm does best: “Our plan is to continue to grow at the high rate that we’re growing, to keep our place as the leader of HR and people executive search for the start-ups, the VC-backed and PE-backed companies, but also continue to expand within the Fortune 100s,” said Ms. Frederickson. “We’d like to continue to do more in South America, Europe and Asia. We’ll continue to work with discipline and with an emphasis on values, and with the purpose being to help our clients up-level their HR people functions and continue to make a lasting difference in the lives of all of the individuals.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media