TillmanCarlson Names CEO

By adding new executive coaching services, this search firm intends to provide clients with a more fully integrated approach. Here’s the latest news from Chicago.
TillmanCarlson Kelly Carlson president and CEO

January 25, 2018 – Executive search firm TillmanCarlson has appointed Kelly Carlson as its president and CEO. Entering its 16th year, the firm says her promotion sets the stage for growth, innovation and the ability to provide a clear alternative to larger human capital firms.

“When we founded the business in 2002, we set out to build a firm that was distinctly different from the large executive search firms,” said founder Rob Tillman. “We also sought to establish a firm that would live on beyond its founders, committed to the guiding principles of teamwork, transparency, responsibility and authenticity.” With both partners now in the prime of their careers, he said, “it is the perfect time for Kelly to serve as our CEO, and I’m excited to exclusively focus on leading our most senior-level searches, and formally launching our executive coaching services.”

Ms. Carlson joined Mr. Tillman a year after the search firm was founded after having worked with him in her previous role for Russell Reynolds Associates. For eight years, she was in Russell Reynolds’ Chicago office as member of its technology practice.

Built to Last

“Rob and I have enjoyed great success over the last 15 years, and we’re more optimistic and confident in our ability to serve our clients in an outstanding fashion than we’ve ever been,” said Ms. Carlson. “I’m grateful for Rob’s vision, passion and commitment to building a firm based on teamwork and doing great work, and TillmanCarlson is truly built to last.”

Ms. Carlson recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss her promotion and to look ahead at what to expect from TillmanCarlson in the coming years.


Kelly, how do you expect both of your roles to change and do you see the firm moving in any new or different directions?

The beauty of being part of a small firm is the lack of bureaucracy and fewer distractions from the central focus of serving clients. Rob will exclusively focus on leading searches, advising clients and launching our executive coaching services. I will take on the leadership of our firm to ensure we have the best team in the industry while continuing my work in the market doing what I have always enjoyed – recruiting key leaders for our clients. It’s a subtle shift but one intended to position the firm to continue to thrive and grow for many years to come.

You mention that your promotion sets the stage for continued innovation. What kind of innovations we can expect to see in the future?

Our most significant innovation to date came at our start – it was our decision to make all client interactions as transparent as possible. In 2003, we built a very clean worksite that allowed clients to see everything related to their search including candidate pipelines. This was common sense to us, since we think that openness and accountability are central to building an effective partnership. The kinds of innovations you’ll see from us in the future will reflect who we are and the same common sense approach to serving our clients. Clients want to recruit the right leaders for their companies and do more to ensure their success. With our new executive coaching services, we can provide our clients with an integrated approach without the complexity and cost of working with larger firms.

You talk about the need to provide clients with a clear alternative to larger firms and that you are distinctly different. Discuss that a little more Kelly.  

The search industry isn’t known for its innovation or for the value of the services it provides. As the large, global firms have grown, they’ve focused on geographic expansion and revenue generation. But that emphasis has now shifted to adding new services to become even bigger, instead of focusing on the purity of executive search as the core service. Clients want proven expertise from their recruiting partner and assurance that their search is important and will get the attention it deserves. They’ve become uncomfortable with the off-limits conflicts that the large firms often try to downplay – bottom line is they want complete access to the talent pool. That’s what we can give them. The old view that size and scale equate to access is giving way to a new view that small and focused equate to full access and quality. When clients select us, they get experienced partners working closely together and a level of commitment that is unsurpassed in the recruiting industry – and clients are increasingly seeking us out.

Tell us about Rob’s new executive coaching services?

As senior-level executive recruiters, Rob and I have provided counsel to hundreds of clients and candidates over the years, so the evolution into coaching makes sense. It is completely aligned with searching for talent. Rob trained as an executive coach, and we think that integrating this service will highlight the complimentary nature of recruiting key leaders and continuing to assist them in the onboarding process. We will formally launch our coaching services later this year, and we’ll focus on what each client wants and needs. In situations where it makes sense to continue to serve as a leader’s executive coach, we will do so, but only where we have established a trusted partnership.

Kelly, where’s the action taking place right now in your business?

Almost 80 percent of our searches have focused on recruiting CEOs, CFOs or CIOs. While we’ve worked with companies of all sizes in a variety of industries, recently we’ve seen a dramatic increase in activity with middle-market companies and private equity investors. One of the biggest trends we’ve seen is the value creation prospects available in private equity-backed situations. The number of opportunities to serve as the CEO of a $50-$250 million company has dramatically increased and the equity upside is increasingly more attractive. In the CIO and CFO markets, demographic shifts are having a significant impact on the available talent pool. As Baby Boomers move out of corporate environments and prepare for retirement, it has never been more important to identify, track and recruit the next generation of leadership.

“As Baby Boomers move out of corporate environments and prepare for retirement, it has never been more important to identify, track, and recruit the next generation of leadership.”

Can you share some of your recent experiences in the market or a search that illustrates the trends you see?

As I mentioned, we work closely with private equity investors primarily in recruiting CEOs and their direct reports at the portfolio company level. Our private equity clients are both challenging and knowledgeable, and in many ways, they thoroughly understand what we do. After all, investment capital has been readily available, but human capital is much more difficult to find. As a result, nearly every private equity firm has upgraded their talent acquisition capabilities and many have added key leaders in-house. We recently worked with a leading private equity firm in Chicago that has a dynamic approach to building a network of proven executives. We recruited a chief talent officer who will not only drive this process for the firm but will also deliver enhanced capabilities to its portfolio companies. We see this trend continuing as private equity firms recognize the importance of a pipeline of experienced and vetted CEOs and direct reports that can be tapped as portfolio companies are acquired.

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

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