December 8, 2021 – Executive search firms have made big strides in recent years to reflect the changing make-up of their client base – becoming more progressive, more forward-thinking, and more female-led. Progress has been slow to come. But one headhunting outfit that has been leading the charge in effectively terminating the sector’s once male-dominated worldview is Daversa Partners, a strategic talent partner of choice for founders, venture capital and private equity-backed companies. The search firm’s global workforce today is made up of 64 percent women, and 58 percent across its senior leadership team. According to CEO Paul Daversa, the firm has no plans of retreating.
The more revealing story is found among the search firm’s emerging women leaders themselves, who are affecting change across the functional ecosystems they dominate. Reinforcing the firm’s reputation of finding exceptional leaders and teams for their clients, these talent influencers are making inroads that will help empower the women who follow them, both at their firm and the tech industry at large.
Three standouts among this group are an ensemble of women – Geri Allyn, Julie Wrapp and Christen Morelli Seiler – all partners at Daversa Partners. Each joined the firm in their early 20s, starting at the ground floor as associates and built their careers, reputations, and networks one search at a time. In about a decade, they have emerged as three of the most influential recruiters in technology serving up leaders to emerging, growth stage companies from the Silicon Valley to Europe. Relentless, fearless, ambitious, and obsessed, they recruit the catalytic talent that is transforming the tech industry while building out the management teams for the most disruptive companies of our generation.
Geri Allyn: The Challenger
Geri Allyn is one of the most tenured partners at Daversa. Since joining the firm in 2010, she has held an array of roles, including the managing director of the firm’s New York office and her role today as the head of Daversa’s Southern California office.
Geri Allyn joined Daversa Partners in 2010 and quickly developed a reputation for understanding fast-growing ventures and the people needed to accelerate their growth. She is a passionate and fearless executive with a work ethic that, according to clients, never quits.
A scientist by training, Ms. Allyn is known to dive deep into business models to match best-in-class leaders with her client’s most pressing talent needs – and she never compromises on client vision. Her journey from associate to partner at Daversa is a testament to her dedication and high touch approach to every search. She splits her time between consumer and enterprise projects with a slight bend toward consumer. Ms. Allyn keeps a tight circle of client talent partners that include Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Norwest, Venrock, A16Z, Upfront, Bond and NEA.
Having studied biology and public health, Ms. Allyn’s path to Daversa was not an obvious one. Deciding against going into medicine like she originally planned, she worked in marketing for the American Heart Association. She enjoyed the impact she was having but as luck would have it happened to meet some folks from Daversa at an event she was hosting.
If you were to ask Ms. Allyn about why she decided to leave the familiar for the unknown, you would be met with the honesty and self-awareness that has been a driving factor in her success. “I joined Daversa because I was young and idealistic and a bit lost, which of course many of us are in our early twenties. I longed for a faster pace than a non-profit could offer. I wanted to spend my time solving problems that mattered. I was looking for a chance to do something that would impact a broad group of people, to be a participant in innovation, to be a change agent. And computer science, while of course different than bioscience, has a lot of similarities too. Both functions are about programs and systems. About challenging assumptions. About the power of why. About evolution and innovation. So, in some ways I felt like it was as natural a transition as any.”
In time, Ms. Allyn’s passion for science proved to serve her well in executive search; feeding her curiosity and desire to be a part of something working to make the world better. “I’m a geek. I’m a total science nerd and have always been,” she said. It is no surprise, then, that this has led her to think more like the avant-garde leaders she now works with and recruits for.
Finding her footing in tech involved establishing her credentials as a young recruiter who also happened to be a woman. “I’m curious and I wear my nerdiness like a badge of honor,” she said. “My youth gave me the confidence to ask questions. I used my inexperience as air coverage to ask questions, learn and build my point of view. On the gender side, I have never been afraid of being the only woman in the room. But I will say that on a regular basis, particularly early in my career, I was. And it was daunting. My solve to that was that I just got smarter. I did more homework. I did more research. I outperformed to the point where there wouldn’t be a question as to why I was there. I am a firm believer that knowledge is power and as such I built my confidence by becoming as powerful as possible.”
Building inclusive environments has been a pillar of Ms. Allyn’s career at Daversa. Whether internally or externally she pushes executives to think long term about the companies they are building. “Building diverse and inclusive teams is not the easy road today. But with each search and each process it gets easier. And that is the role I believe I can play as a recruiting partner. Paving those roads a little bit at a time so that with each passing day they become easier to travel.”
Working with startups often means telling stories or supporting ideas that are not mainstream yet. “A couple of years ago, it was likely 2015, I met Ethan Brown – the founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, in a small warehouse in El Segundo. We sat and spoke for an hour or so about redefining protein, the state of the environment, the climate and of course his pet pig. I had never really considered the idea of plant-based protein, yet the way Ethan described it, it felt so obvious. I did not realize it at the time, but my love song to frontier tech started at that moment. Ethan was redefining a category. And no, it was not easy, but it was a big swing that would make a big impact and I wanted to help.” Since then, she said, it’s been an incredible journey. The frontier is ever changing which makes for an interesting and certainly diverse client roster.
The sectors Ms. Allyn now serves provide a host of new daily challenges, including staying current with ever-changing technology and finding the right talent in a competitive market.
“Choosing to build the executive teams for startups, somewhat exclusively, is a bit of a bizarre mandate if you were to step back and look at it,” she said. “To intentionally focus on grabbing the attention of the high-ranking executives, at the pinnacle of their success and career, and convincing them to go work for a company they have never heard of, with people they don’t know, generally make less money in the near-term and have to start from scratch as it relates to their team; well, it’s a bit silly when I say it out loud. And while to many this seems like a very challenging circuit to plug into, to me it’s the most meaningful way to ensure companies like Beyond Meat, Relativity Space, Plaid, Robinhood and so many other challenger brands can be successful. I firmly believe that great people make great companies. And without great people even the best of ideas or businesses fail.”
Julie Wrapp: The Futurist
Julie Wrapp, who leads Daversa Partners’ New York office, is a generalist recruiter but spends much of her time on healthcare, shuttling between New York and San Francisco. When she was studying at Boston College, Ms. Wrapp figured she would go on to work in finance, like her father. But 12 years ago, when she was approached by Daversa about playing a role in its new healthcare practice, she jumped in with both feet.
Since joining Daversa Partners in 2010, Julie Wrapp has found a passion for working hand in hand with founders and CEOs as a strategic thought partner on all things talent related. Julie is relentless in her pursuit of excellence and has found a knack for understanding what makes the perfect match between an eager candidate and a demanding client.
Ms. Wrapp leads Daversa’s New York office, while serving a long list of clients on both coasts. She prides herself on building out executive teams and has been recognized for her work with product lead growth and digital health companies — one area of particular interest and passion. Julie works closely with investors at Benchmark, NEA, Thrive Capital, Greylock, and A16Z.
“Given that my mom was a doctor, I was naturally drawn to healthcare. Saving lives, making people feel better and lead healthier lives, that was in my DNA,” she said. The chance to partner with some of the most important and innovative healthcare companies in the world, and to make an impact at the people level, made Daversa the perfect landing pad. “I’m mission-driven. So, being able to have a tangible impact on patients, on consumers, and particularly on the executives shaping those companies is super meaningful to me,” she added.
Among the investors Ms. Wrapp has partnered with are Benchmark, NEA, Thrive Capital, Greylock and A16Z. Clients for whom she has built out teams include Benchling, Grammarly, Lattice, Dropbox, Livongo, Virta Health, Oscar Health and Flatiron Health, among others.
Working with young founders, often first-time founders, and helping them build their teams is what Ms. Wrapp said she finds most rewarding. By doing this, she feels as though she is not only putting the puzzle pieces together, but also helping to shape the puzzle. She’s done nine or 10 searches for many companies, oftentimes placing the majority of the leadership team.
“It is exciting to work with founders along their own learning journey and to help them think about talent from different perspectives,” she said. Many of the founders Ms. Wrapp works with are young and figuring it all out for the first time. “It can be lonely and bewildering for those who’ve never done this before,” she added. “I love partnering with them and helping answer their questions around how you think about recruiting, how do you attract great talent, what leadership searches do you initiate first, how do you sequence strategic hires thereafter, and how do you assemble those pieces to build a world-class business.”
A Spotlight on Technology
One of the investment firms that Mr. Wrapp often works with is Benchmark Capital. “They are proactively involved in the searches for their portfolios,” she noted. “They know my style and the importance I place on understanding how they measure successful outcomes.” As a result, this has led Ms. Wrapp to work with a number of founders within their portfolio network, developing a strong and long-lasting relationship.
Ms. Wrapp is particularly passionate about healthcare, and she’s excited about what the future holds for this area. “In the next 36 months, health-tech innovation will usher in a steady stream of generational companies,” said Ms. Wrapp. “The pandemic has shortened the adoption curve for digital health and telemedicine, for example. It has also put a spotlight on the link between health and technology, whether it’s communicating with your doctor, or your insurance company dealing with your specialty provider.” It is one area that affects us all, she said, and that makes it extra appealing.
Having recently returned from maternity leave, Ms. Wrapp has seen firsthand how today’s healthcare system has been slow to keep pace with technology. Her pediatrician’s office, she said, still has a fax machine. “A couple things have happened: Consumers are demanding a seamless, interactive experience with their own healthcare,” she said. “And they want the medical profession to adopt modern technology for things like processing and storing medical records. They want healthcare innovation to catch up with what we are experiencing in other parts of our technological lives.”
Christen Morelli Seiler: The Listener
Since joining the firm in 2013, Christen Morelli Seiler has played a pivotal role in establishing the firm’s reputation in finance while building a generalist team across New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. A few years after graduating from Penn State she was working in corporate communications for a major retailer largely handling social media, when she began to find herself envious of those working for the technology brands she was interacting with.
From coast to coast, Christen Morelli Seiler is building out executive management teams for some of the most disruptive consumer and enterprise technology start-ups in industry. Her body of work includes a deep concentration in finance with a successful track record across marketing, operations, HR, technology, and product searches.
Ms. Morelli Seiler’s recent work includes C-level placements for Gong.io, Square, Klarna, Rubrik, DoorDash, DocuSign, ThoughtSpot, Instacart, Dataminr, TaskRabbit, Exabeam, AppZen, and others. She has built out teams for top venture capital firms, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Benchmark Capital, and Norwest Venture Partners. She splits her time between Daversa’s headquarters in Westport, Conn., New York, and San Francisco.
Their innovations, she said, seemed to be changing the world. “I was thinking, ‘I want to be on that side of the table. How do I get there? I’m not an engineer. I’m not a product leader,’” she said. Then, Ms. Morelli Seiler remembered meeting Daversa founder and chief executive officer Paul Daversa during her senior year in college and turning down a job at the firm. “I asked for a second chance.”
A Professional Evolution
That was nine years ago. With Daversa Partners, and particularly Paul Daversa, Ms. Morelli Seiler saw an organization that believed youth is power, that amplified its women from the beginning and would give her a chance to drive real meaningful impact across a number of tech infused industries.
“From a very young age, my parents gave me a great example of what hard work looked like. I grew up blue collar in Pittsburgh,” she said. “My father was a steamfitter for 30-plus years. I watched his hard work build skyscrapers in my city; my mother was a nurse working with spinal cord and head injury patients; her hard work saved lives. And there was something very familiar and exciting about the firm at that time. We had 27, maybe 30 people, and it felt like a place where I could see myself not only accelerating my career but a place where my hard work would make an important impact.”
Ms. Morelli Seiler could not have been more prescient. With Daversa, she would go on to develop an expertise in finance, building a reputation with VC firms for placing chief financial officers that continues today, even as she’s parlayed her successes into an even broader book of business, in marketing, operations, HR, technology, and product searches, among other areas. “I’m really proud of the CFOs I’ve placed at companies like Square, Klarna, Airtable, Gong.io, CockRoach Labs, Fireblocks, Color, Udemy, Benchling, and Automattic, but functionally speaking, “You name it,” she said, “and I’ve done it.”
Daversa Partners Launches Unit to Advance Black Leadership
Daversa Partners has launched Dreamscape, a business unit dedicated to advancing black representation on the boards and executive teams of companies and investing firms in technology. To lead the business, Daversa has named industry veteran Clinton Browning as its newest partner and head of Dreamscape.
Most recently, Ms. Morelli Seiler has placed C-level executives for a wide variety of companies that she believes are making a real impact on the world, companies like Otrium, Life360, Volta Charging, Cambly, Flock Safety, Solv Health, Nuro AI, Duolingo, Ginkgo Bioworks, Dataminr, and Altruist. She has built out teams for top venture capital firms such as Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA, Benchmark Capital, and Norwest Venture Partners.
Her evolution at Daversa, she said, was in many ways driven by her life experiences of having lost her mother at a young age as well as seeing her fiancée, now husband, deploy as a Marine. “From a very young age, I’ve always had this greater perspective and empathy for the bigger picture. This translated into being a really good listener, understanding my candidates and clients’ intent, what they were saying, what they weren’t saying, and being able to read between the lines. This has become a much-needed superpower,” she said.
“In today’s often-referred-to ‘crazy market’ everyone can see tech is having its moment, but what people don’t appreciate is the pressure-cooker that it has created for countless CEOs and founders,” she said. “The race towards a SPAC or IPO, the push for a bigger valuation or funding round has only increased the need for game-changing executives at record-breaking times and has left founders and CEOs often lonelier than ever, with a real need for a sounding board,” she added.
“The evolution that I’ve had professionally at Daversa has been a microcosm for what’s been happening in the market, and it’s underscored the importance of hard work, being authentic and knowing how to really listen to the needs of my clients, candidates and investors alike,” she said.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media