Spotlight: Redefining the Search Sector for PE Leaders

May 18, 2022 – Smooch Repovich Rosenberg is the founder and CEO of Smooch Unplugged. She brings strategic investor relations officer search consulting focus to the PE arena as a means to helping firms realize their
portfolio company valuations as these entities contemplate entering the public markets. Her 30-plus year collaborating with pre-IPO companies across industry sectors is one of the most unique search consulting strategies in the marketplace. Working with PE firms’ portfolio companies and other pre-IPO companies across North America, Europe, and Asia has been a brand enhancer for her as an expert in the capital markets and the deep and broad investor relations officer search work she and her team conduct.

Ms. Repovich Rosenberg recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss her approach to finding top PE talent and how her firm works with clients.

Smooch, how has the private equity sector changed throughout your career in search?
Especially today with the pandemic’s effect on the talent equation, I believe PE firms have a clearer understanding that talent identification and recruitment of exceptional talent has become more highly competitive. This is a direct result of CEOs, boards of directors, and overall management teams raising the bar on performance for those recruited into their leadership teams. In addition, I believe that PE firms are seeking more sophisticated search partners whose knowledge and expertise is not only highly focused such that they are considered “subject matter experts,” but there is a strong appetite to collaborate with firms who actually have long-standing relationships with specific talent sectors.

What kind of leaders are PE firms seeking at the moment?
Corporate athletes – professionals who are diverse in their thinking—embrace a continuous improvement mindset, and those who can traverse broad global business topics and issues.

How has the most recent economic downturn impacted the PE sector?
On a broad scale, I have no idea; I suspect that PE firms stay the course during downturns and continue focusing on how to get a return on their investments, which is where a firm like SmoochUnplugged has distinct leverage as a result of focusing in recruiting of investor relations officer talent. There are a couple of ways that PE firms obtain a return on their investment – sell a portfolio company to a larger entity, or take them to the public markets which requires specialized preparation long ahead of the listing date. This demands the attention of a seasoned IRO who knows intellectually and intuitively how to position a private company’s brand and financial metrics for the IPO (IPO readiness) and an IRO who has an exceptional track record with the global investment community as it relates to advancing a company to the
public markets.

What do you see looking ahead for the private equity sector?
Increased focus on the IPO process which the markets seems to favor more than a SPAC that non-PE firm sponsored entities have seemed to choose in the past couple of years – it seems SPACS have fallen out of favor with talent as well.

What are some positive outcomes for businesses coming out of the pandemic?
I believe that there are a tremendous number of positive outcomes that the marketplace is already experiencing, and there will be more to come, such as:

  • Raising the Bar Effect: CEO and boards’ increased expectations of senior leadership team members – the “raising the bar” effect, which has been a necessary shift for many years.
  • The Flexibility Pivot: Shift to more intellectual and psychological flexibility in terms of corporate structures, working environments, and how executives lead their organizations and teams. This, most likely, will result in developing savvier professionals whose intangible leadership attributes will be sharpened.
  • Intentional Inclusiveness: The notion of people being inclusive historically has been left to individual mindsets, and now management teams are making an intentional pivot to weave inclusiveness into the fabric of their cultures, which means advancement for a broader slate of talent than ever before

What functions have become more in the spotlight?
All functions that are direct reports to a CEO as well as two additional key leadership roles – investor relations officers and chief communications officers, both of which are essential to advancing companies’ brand stewardship with the investment community and evolving a new partnership with internal constituencies. Both functions make the good times great and make the unfortunate times better, with all internal and external constituencies.

What kind of value are PE firms looking for working with executive search firms?
Today, PE firms demand that search firms serve as very specific subject matter experts in niche areas, especially those functions that are evolving constantly, year by year. Investor relations is a terrific example – when a pre-IPO company is contemplating becoming a public entity, the private-to-public journey can be a very foreign one to the portfolio entity management teams. As such, if the search consultant is not a subject matter expert who can advise CEOs and CFOs about the complicated process and critical nature of the responsibilities of creating an effective stewardship/relationship with the investment community, many portfolio companies will be ill-prepared to become a public entity management team.

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