October 21, 2022 – The uncertain state of the economy as well as the ongoing war for talent, among other issues, pose major challenges for talent leaders and recruiters for private equity firms across the board. At Bain Capital, Susan Levine has the ideal seat for seeing the big picture as we move into the final quarter of 2022, from progress in diversity hiring to the rise of the chief human resources officer, that will take us into 2023 and beyond. August Leadership’s Christine Sobhani and Greg Gerson recently sat down with Ms. Levine to discuss the type of talent that will succeed in today’s uncertain market.
“The macro environment is certainly tough,” said Ms. Levine. “The market prior to Q1 was already tough and it is still a competitive market for talent today. Many candidates in the market have up-leveled since the start of the pandemic. Compensation has also increased with new baselines across the C-suite. We are seeing multiple offers across the board for top talent across the entire C-suite”
Ms. Levine joined Bain Capital private equity in 2006. She is a managing director and member of the North America private equity team. As head of talent, she leads the human capital agenda in North America which includes ensuring the firm’s companies have strong leadership teams supporting Bain Capital’s organization acceleration and high-performance culture initiatives within its companies. Prior to joining Bain Capital private equity, Ms. Levine worked at Bain & Company for eight years as a consultant to clients in the financial services, consumer products and industrials sectors.
Here is Ms. Levine’s full interview with August Leadership:
We know you have incorporated diversity, equity & inclusion practices in your talent recruitment process at Bain Capital. How have you addressed DE&I at the board level for your portfolio companies?
As we all know, diversity remains a significant priority in recruitment. We feel greater diversity on boards is essential today and important for all our portfolio companies. While this has been an enduring focus of our efforts, we have stepped up our efforts on board recruitment and now incorporate specific goals and metrics for our team. We set a goal that the boards of all of our control investments in the U.S. be at least one-third diverse and each portfolio company has at least two independent board directors that are diverse. We are proud to say that we have hired 38 diverse board directors in the past 18 months in achieving the benchmarks we set only a few years ago.
What an amazing accomplishment! How did you lead your team to achieve these goals/metrics?
The key is we take a capability driven approach with each of our portfolio companies. Once a deal is finalized, we look at our value creation plan and figure out what specific skills gaps we have around the board table. Our objective is to make the board a competitive advantage. We then go to market to find the best talent with an emphasis on diversity. This has been a very focused and active effort. Our process is now centralized, and laser focused, working closely with our investment team. We have built a strong process and developed deep pipelines in certain core capability areas, such as audit, digital and risk. This has enabled us to quickly identify potential talent for board roles as they arise. One important key learning is companies need to be open to hiring first time board directors with high potential. We have hired a number of first time board directors and have invested in their development by sponsoring a training program for our first time directors through Directors Academy’s NextGen Directors program.
We have seen a major uptick in search activity for CHROs in PE backed companies. Also, we have seen a lot of talent roles in private equity. What is driving this activity for CHROs, Talent roles and HR in general?
I believe the CHRO role has become increasingly challenging since the pandemic. Almost overnight, CHROs were confronted with new levels of complexity. All the mental health, wellness, health and safety, return to work, attrition, DEI, ESG and a numerous other factors led to even greater complexity. CHROs are now almost universally being looked upon as strategic thought partners to our CEOs. It’s a truly exciting prospect for the right candidates looking for fast-paced, ever-changing environments.
Do you consider CHROs having the same impact on driving value creation as the CEO or CFO? If so, what characteristics do you look for in “star” CHROs?
Yes, we have always thought this way at Bain Capital. Our CHROs are strategic thought partners to our CEOs and critical in the ability to execute against our ambitious value creation plans. We have a consistent approach to assessing all of our leaders, working closely with a leadership development provider. We then take an active approach to evaluating the performance of our CHROs in role and gleaning important insights on what drives success in role. We are constantly looking to learn and feeling insights we glean into our interview process for CHROs. Our learnings have highlighted the following important characteristics for CHROs:
- Interpersonal impact. Our CHROs are confidantes to our CEOs and act as leaders within the ELT developing strong relationships with their peers.
- Thinks commercially. Shape and influence broad business strategy and is a credible voice beyond their function.
- Resilience. Ability to take on everything thrown at them (specifically since the pandemic) and builds the long-term agility of the organization.
- Strategic Acumen. Ability to carry and lead, see around corners and be insightful. Builds people and talent capability across the organization.
- Drive for Results. Strong execution orientation, getting things done at pace
- Team Building. Hire strong talent all levels increasing talent density through talent acquisition, management and development Focused on and increases diversity, equity and inclusion across the business.
Any final thoughts?
We are continuing to raise the bar on our success rates for portfolio company executive hires. Hiring strong, fit for purpose executives and then focusing on how to accelerate a high performance team culture is the key to creating real equity value for our companies. We are also focused on driving consistency in our processes in order to create learning loops on profiles that are successful in our portfolio. The more we can learn about the behavioral and intrinsic characteristics that drive success, in addition to experiential, the more we can feed these learnings into our ongoing recruitment processes. We are intentional about how we do this, which enables our broader teams to learn on an ongoing basis. Pick a spot, drive consistency and stick with it.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media