July 29, 2016 – The executive search industry is growing at a record pace, fueled by search work, to be sure — but also by all sorts of related solutions services — from assessment, culture shaping and leadership development to market intelligence, talent mapping and data analytics to name just a few. While the largest industry players are under pressure to expand, they’re generally meeting that call. But the real action seems to rest at the moment among the sector’s boutique players, where quality assignments, and not just their quantity, reigns supreme.
One such firm is McLean, VA-based, Lochlin Partners. Over the past two to three years the firm has completed CEO and C-level assignments for a wide range of clients, from Franklin Square Capital Partners, Catholic Charities USA, American India Foundation, Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Faith in Politics Institute, and Americares to the USO, Nathan Associates, the National Restaurant Association, George W. Bush Presidential Center and The Milken Institute. It is an impressive list, indeed.
In the following interview, managing partner, Patrick Friel, discusses his range of work, why focusing on substance versus growth is critical to success and what the term ’boutique’ truly means at a time of unprecedented demand for the services of these smaller, highly focused specialized players.
Patrick was previously with Heidrick & Struggles where he served as both a key member of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and its management team.
Pat, how did your earlier career in local government help you migrate toward a career in executive search?
I began my professional career working for local government in land planning and economic development. It was my responsibility to lead and guide the legislative processes through local governing bodies overseeing large development proposals. The skill sets that I needed in this job were to become process-oriented, transparent and a strong negotiator. I haven’t really reflected on the connection before, but I find I use these skills every day.
You conduct a lot of your search work in government as well as with non-profits, among other sectors. What are the nuances of working in these two sectors that are not as common for search assignments in more traditional industries?
These sectors in particular tend to rely on a defined process that is articulated and agreed to at the outset of a search project. When we work with commercial clients, having a strong relationship with the chief executive officer or the hiring manager usually drives the process. Government and not-for-profits usually utilize search committees, they need to understand the overall process and keep focused on ‘what is next’ — and delivering against those milestones is the way that we’ve found to be most successful. These searches require a lot of advanced planning and communications – we have found these factors to be critical to the success of the projects. So, in government and not-for-profit searches, the process really matters.
Lochlin Partners was ranked as the 43rd largest Americas firm by Hunt Scanlon Media this year. Do clients focus on your firm’s growth at all?
If anything, I’d say our clients appreciate our deliberate approach to growing our business. We’re not interested in looking at growing at a rate that impacts client satisfaction, and that’s our entire brand promise. So our growth strategy is really geared toward adding members to our team that have an ethos that is consistent with that client satisfaction goal. We carefully manage the number of searches our partners are engaged in at any time, which allows us to handle each customized search personally. Our clients appreciate our size and our approach, and we’ll grow in a manner that preserves that.
Recently, Microsoft announced its acquisition of LinkedIn, the platform that has become a critical tool for identifying candidates. To what degree do social media technologies play in how your firm sources candidates and do you think technologies like LinkedIn will play an even larger role in the next five to 10 years as they become more and more sophisticated? Or have we reached a top point in their utility?
If you would have told me 25 years ago when I entered the search industry that there would be a database with 100 million names in it, and that candidates would update their own records, I would have looked at you like you had two heads. LinkedIn has become the industry’s de facto database, or, at a minimum, a jumping off point. This tool allows us to quickly identify appropriate target candidates and get to the talent faster. What it is not is a qualitative database. Candidates need to be screened extensively and assessed deliberately and those developed abilities that reside only with recruiters are difficult to replace with technology. Going forward, however, we see social media further connecting the workforce and providing increased opportunities for talent to connect with those who need it. Social media will provide an enhanced platform for this in the future.
Your firm is a boutique in ‘look and feel’ yet you serve clients across a number of industries. Is it a challenge to balance a boutique culture when you are not a specialist, per se?
To us, boutique means bespoke or custom. We’re focused on what clients want, which is a personal, high-touch approach. So while we have underlying processes and standards that apply across every search, we treat each engagement as being fundamentally unique in terms of goals, culture, fit, requirements, and many other dimensions. The clients we work with most effectively understand this – they understand that our approach is built for them, that it doesn’t rely on a body of previous work, and that it relies on thoughtful and thorough original research targeting candidate outreach and recruitment. That being said, we have a strong functional orientation around the areas of general management, financial management, communications, government affairs and human resources — but the culture of our firm is boutique at heart.
Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media