Hunt Scanlon’s Top 10 Search Assignments for 2020

It was a year of many challenges. But it was also a year when the best recruiting leaders stepped up their game. Across the board, from non-profits and the Fortune 500 to PE-backed companies, men and women who could lead their organizations through tough times were in great demand. Recruitment firms, facing difficulties of their own, stood ready to help.

December 21, 2020 – In 2020 the pandemic resulted in one of the most challenging years on record for executive search firms. But the need for talent continued unimpeded for most companies across dozens of disciplines.

Despite fears that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) would get pushed to the backburner by the demands of the COVID-19 crisis, recruitment in that area remained brisk. The demand for executive roles in sports was busy, too. And private equity and venture capital clients kept search firms running hard as they always do. Although institutions of higher learning took a big revenue hit from the pandemic, academic leadership roles, and the recruitment firms that filled them, became more critical than ever for a cash-strapped sector. So it was for many non-profits, whose top executives were charged with navigating perhaps the biggest crisis of their lifetimes.

Human resource leaders, for their part, were often the glue that held businesses together during the worst days of the pandemic, and search firms have had plenty of demand to find the best and the brightest across the function. Two of the hottest sectors during the crisis, the life sciences and cybersecurity/technology, also continued to need top-notch leadership, even as compensation for many of those roles climbed higher. It was a similar story for chief financial officers who could steer organizations through the ongoing crisis and at the same time help develop strategies for the years ahead. And it is doubtful that the need for great CEOs will ever fade, as that area was full of opportunity for executive recruiters in 2020.

1. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A strong focus was put on finding leadership across the diversity, equity, and inclusion landscape in 2020. Every search firm was in on the action. Including New York City-based Bridge Partners, which placed Lavita McMath Turner as the first chief diversity officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The search firm’s founders Tory Clarke and Larry Griffin led the assignment. Ms. McMath Turner brings with her a wealth of experience creating change through policies, practices and programs that allow all members of a community to feel valued, included and supported. “Lavita McMath Turner has an exceptional record of success promoting equity throughout her career in cultural and higher education institutions, and she will be a key partner in helping The Met evolve into a more inclusive place to work, visit, and learn,” said Daniel H. Weiss, president and CEO of The Met. Bridge Partners is one of a massively expanding boutique sector of search firms now charged with finding exceptional leadership for exceptional organizations. That makes this search Hunt Scanlon’s ‘top pick assignment’ in this space in 2020.

But there were so many others. Notable searches across the DE&I landscape in 2020 included Koya Partners, part of the Diversified Search Group, recruiting former Albany Law School diversity leader Troy Riddle as the new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Charlotte, NC-based HARTZ Search was enlisted to find a chief diversity, inclusion and health equity officer for Roper St. Francis Healthcare (RSFH) in Charleston, SC. In addition, Thomas Christopher, Pam Noble and Matthew Duda of The Christopher Group placed Gisselda Nunez as vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at HarperCollins Publishers.

One particular sector that had a big need for top diversity talent throughout the year was higher education. Harvard University, the oldest college in the U.S., turned to Isaacson, Miller to recruit Sherri Ann Charleston as the school’s first chief diversity and inclusion officerHarvard Business School also retained Isaacson, Miller to lead its search for a chief diversity officer. Colgate University retained WittKieffer to lead its search for a new chief diversity officer. As a matter of fact, in 2020, WittKieffer also found chief diversity officers for the University of Connecticut (UConn) and the University of Alaska Anchorage. In addition, CarterBaldwin Executive Search was retained by Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, to lead its search for the top-tier school’s  inaugural vice president for community belonging and chief diversity officer. Lastly, Greenwood /Asher & Associates was selected by the State Universities Retirement System of Illinois to find its first chief diversity officer. There were so many others tracked by Hunt Scanlon during this pandemic year as well.

2. Sports

One of the biggest sports sector search assignments took place in the closing days of 2020 – the commissioner search for the Atlantic Coast Conference was completed with the hiring of James J. Phillips, the Combe Family vice president for athletics and recreation at Northwestern University. The ACC conducted a comprehensive, inclusive nationwide search process facilitated by Turnkey Search. Turnkey spoke with stakeholders across the ACC in developing the job description, and assembled a diverse array of candidates across sports, education, business, and government. “Jim is one of the most talented athletic administrators in the country and uniquely qualified to successfully and seamlessly take over the helm of the ACC,” said ACC board chair Kent Syverud (Syracuse University).

It was a big year for Turnkey Search, which recruited Esu Ma’at as the new chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer of the Orlando Magic. “Turnkey Search is honored to help the Orlando Magic advance equity because it’s in our DNA,” said chairman and CEO Len Perna. Turnkey also assisted the Detroit Pistons in the recruitment of former Roc Nation executive Mike Zavodsky as its new chief business officer. In addition, the firm placed Jason Bitsoff as the new chief commercial officer of Chip Ganassi RacingTurnkey also assisted in placing George Killebrew as the new commissioner of Major League Rugby (MLR). Let’s see what Mr. Perna and his team have in store in 2021!

Another important search in the sports sector: Chicago-based Hanold Associates HR & Diversity Executive Search placed Michele Meyer-Shipp as chief people and culture officer for Major League Baseball. Jason Hanold, CEO and co-managing partner of the search firm, led the assignment along with partner Keri Gavin and their stellar team of recruiters. “Michele is an exceptional leader and an inspirational person,” said Mr. Hanold. “She will have an incredibly positive impact on Major League Baseball in this newly created role within the commissioner’s office.” Go baseball!

Other top searches in the sports sector in 2020 included Glenn Sugiyama, managing partner and global sports practice leader at DHR International, placing Craig Robinson as the new executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). College Sports Solutions (CSS) and Buffkin / Baker also teamed up to recruit Larry Scott as the new head football coach for Howard University, a chartered historically black university in Washington, D.C. The Houston Texan also brought in Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry to help the franchise hire its next general manager and head coach. Lastly, Todd Turner of Collegiate Sports Associates assisted in the placement of Karen Yoder as the director of athletics for California State University Maritime Academy (Cal Maritime). The roster of top sports, media, and entertainment search assignments is long and deep in talent. When you have time over the holidays, peruse the Hunt Scanlon Media archives and pick the ones you like most!

3. Private Equity

Venture capital and private equity-baked companies continued to dominate search work for nearly every executive recruiter in 2020. New York-based retail and consumer focused executive search firm Herbert Mines Associates partnered with alternative investment firm Bain Capital in the recruitment of Bill Barton as president and CEO of Bob’s Discount Furniture in Manchester, Conn. Mr. Barton has more than three decades of experience developing and leading high-growth businesses. Most recently, he spent 11 years as CEO of California Closets. “Bill is an exceptional and customer-centric leader with deep retail and home goods experience,” said Ted English, who had been serving as interim CEO. “He is the ideal person to work with our talented team to lead Bob’s Discount Furniture through its next phase of growth.

Other search firms have also stepped in to fill top roles for PE-backed companies. Mercedes Chatfield-Taylor, managing partner of the private equity and venture capital practice at Caldwell, along with consultant Gina Barge, placed Saurabh Goorha as chief product officer of Built In, a venture-backed leader in the tech recruitment industry. Ms. Chatfield-Taylor also recruited Robert Pickell as chief marketing officer of Mavenlink, a provider of cloud-based software for the modern services organization. A list of Ms. Chatfield-Taylor’s accomplishments in 2020 is much too long to recite here; suffice it to say she is one of the VC and PE sector’s most powerful recruiters. She is smart, aggressive, and very well-connected to the best talent.

Related: Bain & Company and Hunt Scanlon Launch Talent Intelligence Partnership

But given the sector’s sheer size and scope, there is always room for a little friendly rivalry. San Diego, CA-headquartered executive search firm Bespoke Partners placed Atish Ghosh as chief technology officer for PE-backed Cority Software in Toronto. Riviera Partners, a recruitment provider specializing in C-level engineering, product and design leader placements, assisted in the recruitment of Jonathan Benassaya as the chief product officer of Life360, a safety and coordination service for families across the globe. Global executive search and private equity advisory firm Renovata & Company recruited Bill Wilshire as COO of Single Digits. In addition, The Onstott Group placed Wayne Kafcsak as the new CEO of the Jumby Bay Island Company, a privately-owned, 300 acre island retreat located 2.5 miles off the Northeastern coast of Antigua in the Caribbean. Doug Johnson of Roanoke, VA-based Valor Partners, placed Dawn Salvucci-Favier as chief product officer and interim CEO of PE-backed Greenscreens AI, a start-up helping 3PLs to increase their broker margin. And Haddonfield, NJ-based executive recruitment firm True Search placed the new CEP of PE-backed The Bouqs Company, a leading online floral retailer. The list of searches across the sector literally goes on and on. Congratulations to every recruiter for work well done!

4. Higher Education

The academic sector was put under severe pressure in 2020 as the pandemic wreaked havoc on campuses across the nation. As a result, cash-strapped colleges and university systems chose their leadership more wisely than ever before. The business of recruiting deans, chancellors, presidents, heads of advancement, CHROs, boards of trustees and a litany of C-suite roles across higher education will now be more critical than ever in the challenging months and years ahead. The good news for our sector: No single institution of higher learning makes any leadership move today without the assistance of a search firm.

A standout search in the sector is R. William Funk & Associates assisting in the placement of Jonathan Holloway as the first black president of Rutgers University. Mr. Holloway was selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants. R. William Funk, president of the Dallas-based recruitment firm, led the search. “We do need somebody who values diversity as much as the rest of us do,” Mark Angelson, chair of the board of governors, said early in the search process. “Diversity is precious to Rutgers, and whoever comes in to do this job is going to need to be sensitive to that,” he added. This finalist clearly made the cut for a host of reasons. “During our conversations, Dr. Holloway clearly showed he had the vision and experience to put the needs of students first and lead Rutgers to the next level,” said Phil Murphy, governor of New Jersey. R. William Funk & Associates was busy throughout 2020. The firm was enlisted to find new presidents for Indiana University and Texas A&M University. “We work meticulously to not do similar searches at the same time to avoid conflicts of interest,” said Mr. Funk. “In this case, the Indiana University assignment began in May, and the university is at the stage of selecting its first-round interviewees. The Texas A&M search started just recently; we are in the process of building the candidate pool.” Mr. Funk’s roster of top assignments across the sector seemed to expand as the year unfolded.

Other notable top searches in the education sector in 2020 included Boston-based Lindauer being called in to lead the search for a new chief advancement officer for the University of Oklahoma Foundation. This is the top advancement position at the organization, and it is a subsector worth noting. Advancement officers are in huge demand across the nation. Lindauer is also spearheading the search for a new director of alumni relations for the Seoul Foreign School in South Korea, one of the leading international schools in Asia. AGB Search recently launched a variety of top leadership searches for California Institute of Integral Studies, Misericordia University, the University of North Dakota, Saint Mary’s College of California and a host of others. For this search firm and a raft of others the remainder of 2020 looks to be busy, even while the academic sector is being hit from all angles as a result of the current crisis.

Related: Talent Acquisition Success Factors in the Age of COVID-19

Other notable education-based assignments include Greenwood /Asher & Associates placement of Dr. Gregory Washington as the eighth president of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. WittKieffer has also been called in by St. John’s University in Queens, NY, to lead its search for a new president. Earlier this year, Academic Search recruited Col. Mark Anarumo as the new president of Norwich University in Northfield, VT.

5. Non-Profit

The hunt for mission-driven leaders across the non-profit sector was another red- hot area for search firms in 2020. Koya Partners assisted in the placement of Chevy Humphrey as president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, one of the largest science museums in the world. She becomes the first woman and black American to lead the organization succeeding David Mosena, who is retiring at the end of the year. Alison P. Ranney and Cheryl Stevens led the assignment. “The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the brightest stars in Chicago’s cultural universe, and we eagerly welcome the historic appointment of Chevy Humphrey as the first black woman to hold the role as CEO and president,” said Lori E. Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago. Koya also assisted Brothers Big Sisters of America in recruiting Artis Stevens, chief marketing officer of National 4-H Council, as its new president and CEO. He becomes the organization’s first black leader.

Searching for Non-Profit Jobs as a Person of Color
For people of color, looking for an executive position in the non-profit world can pose certain challenges. Melissa Madzel of Koya Leadership Partners offers seven ideas that could be useful, from spending time in crafting your LinkedIn page to being realistic about your needs. 

But it was not only chief executives who were in demand across the sector. For expanding non-profits, in some cases entire boards need to be recruited, and that’s where all of the real decision-making takes place.

That makes this our top pick in the non-profit sector: In 2020, Hanold Associates recruited eight women to serve in directorships at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a non-profit advocacy organization. Among the women: Nelda Connors, Kim Davis, Thasunda Brown Duckett, Cara Kennedy-Cuomo, Betty Liu, Sushma Raman, Maryann Turcke and Randi Weingarten. “Prior to this search, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights board was composed of 80 percent men, so they were focused with purpose and discipline on enhancing the diversity of the board,” said CEO Jason Hanold. The organization noted that the new board members bring to Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights a diversity of strengths and a common commitment to human rights, social justice, and the belief that every person can make a difference.

6. Human Resources

HR recruiting has been a linchpin recruiting discipline for executive search firms for decades. 2020 was no exception. Our top pick: Diversified Search Group was retained during the year to find the new chief people and administrative officer for the Obama Foundation in Chicago. Managing directors J. Veronica Biggins, Denielle Pemberton-Heard and Judy Boreham are leading the search, assisted by senior associate Dianne Downey. Diversified Search said this is an “ideal opportunity for a sophisticated, business-savvy, innovative, forward-thinking leader to help advance the organization to the next stage of its development, particularly by translating business plans into HR strategies, with attention to any necessary organizational and cultural changes.” The primary objective will be to support an organization that attracts the best people, ensures they are highly engaged in the mission, work, and culture of the organization, and helps them develop in their careers and abilities. Dale E. Jones and Andrew Wheeler of Diversified also placed Honest Company CFO Muhammad Shahzad and former Kids2 CFO Lorna Street as members of the board of trustees for the March of Dimes Foundation, a non-profit fighting for the health of mothers and babies.

Another great top HR search in 2020: Hanold Associates assisted The New York Times Co. in the recruitment of Jacqueline M. Welch as CHRO. “This search, from launch to offer decision, took about six weeks,” said Mr. Hanold. Shortened search times have been emblematic of this search firm throughout the year. In addition, Los Angeles-based Shelli Herman and Associates placed Maurice Wiggins as the first CHRO of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York CityGlobal HR search firm Frederickson Partners also recruited human resources veteran Leander LeSure to Detroit-headquartered StockX as chief people officer. Valerie Frederickson, the firm’s chief executive, continued to have a busy year hunting down all sorts of talent leaders across the space. Also in 2020, HR executive search and management consulting firm accelHRate placed former Washington Nationals HR executive Alexa Herndon as the first chief people officer of the Humane Society of the United States. Lastly, The Christopher Group placed Michelle Jones as the new CHRO at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

7. Life Sciences

The life sciences continued to enjoy massive growth across the board in 2020. The need for strong leaders who make an impact will continue to drive and accelerate this sector forward for years to come. Wanted most: Visionary leaders . . . and search firms stepped up in 2020 to provide them in droves. Mark Sharp of life sciences-focused search firm Coulter Partners assisted private equity-backed Optimapharm in the recruitment of Andrew Copestake as its new CEO. “We are delighted to welcome Andrew to the executive management team and thank Coulter Partners for their professional support in achieving this high-caliber appointment,” said Harold Chatelus, director of private equity firm The Rohatyn Group. Coulter Partners also assisted Sequana Medical in the recruitment of Oliver Gödje as its new chief medical officer.

Related: Coulter Partners Forms Alliance with BioInnovation Institute

Other searches conducted in the life sciences sector in 2020 include Klein Hersh International placing James Burns as the new chief executive officer for San Diego, CA-based Locana Inc., a leading RNA-targeting gene therapy company. Cejka Search has placed Ben Vallier as the new CEO of the Iowa Clinic. The assignment was led by Mark Madden, the recruitment firm’s executive vice president and managing principal. In addition, Cejka. In addition, The Bowdoin Group placed John Halamka as the new president of Mayo Clinic Platform, which is committed to elevating Mayo Clinic to a global leadership position within digital healthcare. Furst Group, which serves the healthcare and insurance industries, also placed Dan Abdul as chief technology officer at Medica, a non-profit health plan headquartered in Minnetonka, MN. So hot is this sector that New State Capital recently infused Klein Hersh with growth capital to propel the firm into a dominant leadership position.

8. Cybersecurity and Technology

According to executive recruiters, with technology has come the insatiable – and merciless – need for talent. Having the right leaders and teams in place is now more critical than ever. And in 2020 executive search firms stepped up to fill these roles. Technology leaders appear in various forms: chief information security officer (CISO), chief information risk officer, chief security officer (CSO), VP information security, chief trust officer, chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO) and many others.

These executives are vital, front line leaders facing down increasingly numerous and sophisticated threats. Their job is to secure both the enterprise and its external products and solutions. They report to boards of directors and management committees on a regular basis, are considered strategic assets to be leveraged, and increasingly give organizations their competitive advantage.

Related: The COVID-19 Impact on Executive Search

Cybersecurity threats are increasing in number, persistence, and sophistication. One reason: organizations have become progressively more reliant on digital infrastructure, according to Odgers Berndtson. Whether it is a consumer threat or state-sponsored action, more bad actors are finding new entry points to access sensitive data and disrupt key operations. Governments, businesses, and consumers now recognize the seriousness of cyber threats and that has made ‘cyber resilience’ a sustained board level agenda item.

Since its humble beginning in 1937, Hensel Phelps has grown as a family of hard-working individuals into a world-class builder. To continue its legacy into the 21st century, the company retained Brentwood, TN-based search firm The Human Capital Group | a Gallagher Company in 2020 to find a chief information officer. The search firm found Dolores Quezada-Mears for the role after vetting a finalist slate of candidates in 20 business days. Since its founding two decades ago, The Human Capital Group has completed more than 800 searches for a wide variety of senior roles across multiple industries.

Caldwell Unveils Benchmarking Data Behind the CISO Role
With the average cost of a security breach hovering close to $4 million and over 82 percent of companies reporting a shortage of cyber skills within their organization, security leadership and stability has become paramount, says a new study by Caldwell and IANS Research. 

Other notable top searches in the cybersecurity and technology sector in 2020 included the recruitment of Dan Abdul by Furst Group as the SVP and chief technology officer of Medica, a non-profit health plan headquartered in Minnetonka, MN. San Diego, CA-headquartered search firm Bespoke Partners also placed Atish Ghosh as CTO for Cority Software in Toronto. In addition, Seattle, WA-based Reffett Associates was retained to find the new vice president of information technology for Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners. And, Russell Reynolds Associates was selected to find the next chief executive officer for the U.K.’s Government Digital Service (GDS), which oversees digital transformation and innovation strategies for all of the nation’s government. Given the recent cyber hacking of American businesses and the U.S. Government by Russia, the call for top-flight leaders who can formulate and oversee cyber battle plans will rise infinitely in the coming years.

9. Chief Financial Officers

According to recruiters, the pressure on chief financial officers during the pandemic has been significant: Rewriting corporate budgets seemingly daily; bargaining with banks over broken loan covenants; answering constant calls from investors and board directors; and, in extreme cases, figuring out how to make payroll. All while working with no colleagues around. New York-based specialty athletic retailer Foot Locker Inc. selected executive recruiting firm Crist|Kolder Associates to lead its search for a new CFO. Current CFO Lauren B. Peters is retiring in April. “On behalf of the entire board of directors and the management team, we thank Lauren for her many contributions and wish her all the best in her well-deserved retirement,” said Richard Johnson, chairman and CEO of Foot Locker. “We are pleased to be able to benefit from her ongoing leadership as we conduct our CFO search and execute a seamless transition next year.” The company expects to consider both internal and external candidates for the job.

Some other CFO search conducted in 2020 include Greenwich Harbor Partners recruiting David Zollenberg as the CFO for Petplan, a Warburg Pincus portfolio company and provider of health insurance for pets. In addition, The Onstott Group placed David Barcelo as the treasurer and CFO of NASDAQ-traded Aware in Bedford, MA. New Providence, NJ-based BrainWorks assisted in the placement of Kim Mattoon as CFO of Hollander Sleep Products, a Centre Lane Partners backed company. Lastly, ON Partners assisted in the placement of Ann Gugino as the new chief financial officer of Papa John’s International.

10. Chief Executive Officers

CEO searches have long been the trademark assignments for executive search firms and despite economic uncertainties in 2020 there were plenty of CEO roles to fill. Odgers Berndtson was chosen to find a CEO to develop and lead an organization that will deliver the newly established Earthshot Prizes. Launched globally from the U.K. by Prince William, the £50 million award program will celebrate those who are addressing the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. “The Earthshot Prize is the most ambitious and prestigious environmental prize in history,” said Odgers Berndtson. “It will convene the global community during this most decisive of decades and will inspire action to help repair the planet. Centered around five ‘Earthshots’—clear, ambitious organizing goals for 2030—the prize will generate and celebrate innovative thinking, technology, leadership and solutions to address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.”

In addition, the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., a member-owned non-profit cooperative that provides financial products and services to America’s rural electric cooperative network, retained Korn Ferry to find a successor to CEO Sheldon Petersen, who will retire in 2021. Spencer Stuart assisted in the placement of John C. Fortson as the new president and CEO of NYSE-traded Ingevity Corp. in North Charleston, SC. In addition, Heidrick & Struggles recruited Jill Tiefenthaler as the first female CEO of the National Geographic Society. Egon Zehnder also placed distinguished auditor and seasoned executive Tracy Staines as inspector general of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Lastly, Russell Reynolds Associates assisted in the placement of world-renowned tumor immunologist Patrick Hwu as the new president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL.

Related: Executive Recruiting in a Post-COVID-19 Era

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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