When Should You Use an Executive Agent?

Melissa Henderson July 5, 2017
Mature woman using telephone at desk in office, smiling

Over eight years ago, while I was practicing retained executive search in a large firm and a boutique, it became clear to me that retained executive search is broken. On a daily basis, I was receiving calls and requests, asking if I could flip the retained search model.  Was there a better model? Well, I thought so and researched, developed the model, bootstrapped, took the leap and launch Summit six months later with three clients.

Having first-hand experience, I knew that search firms, paid by hiring companies, have little if no incentive to cater to the candidate. Hiring companies, retaining the search firm, pay high fees to gain access to a pool of candidates, persevere through an elongated and often frustrating process, settled for who is not ideal, miss other great potential candidates because they are not on their radar, and face the search not being completed at all. Whether the individual executive aspiring to their next role, a corporate quickly seeking vetted talent or a private equity firm seeking expertise for their portfolio companies, the executive agent is the most impactful way to go.

As An Executive

At retained search firms, candidates have very little clout. You likely have found that your calls go unanswered, months pass and you get frustrated. So, why do they appear to not care? Because you are not their client. Unlike retained search firms who work for hiring companies, executive agents serve as a personal representative and advocate, much like a professional sports agent serves a world class athlete.

You need greater leverage in the marketplace, whether you are in transition or currently in a busy role. An executive agent will get you clear about your value proposition, brand it, create a strategy and targets. The executive agent will do the hard work of finding open executive or board director opportunities, screen the companies, prepare you with research, practice interviewing and provide all the support and advice you need to be prepared and confident. Some agents will negotiate the offer and close the deal on your behalf.

What all of this means to you – greater access, exposure, leverage and acceleration in the marketplace.  It can dramatically cut the time it takes to find your perfect position or board seat — usually in less than half the time it would take on your own.

As A Company

There is a better way to executive placement than through traditional networking or retained search firms. Companies like yours pay high retainers or percentages often with a low success rate.  It is no wonder why executive searches can take six to twelve months to complete, if it completes at all.

Executive agents maintain a small pool of elite executives who are seeking to advance their careers, whether for their next role or an independent directorship. These executives are fully vetted, exceptionally qualified and motivated.  Many of them are below the company’s (or search firms’) radar and are out there for the taking.  They offer unique skill sets, domain and other expertise that you are very likely missing out on. Whether you are working your network, retaining a firm, or trying some other process, executive agents can be an extension of your process and a far quicker road to success.

Best of all, an executive agent should cost you nothing, as with our firm our fee is only taken by the executives we personally represent. In return, you as the hiring executive, human resources officer or head of talent acquisition get a highly targeted, streamlined result.

As A Private Equity or Venture Firm

Just like publicly-traded or privately-held companies, private equity and venture firms also pay high retainers or percentages to retained search firms. In my opinion, the challenges a private equity or venture firm faces with recruitment is far greater.  They are many other variables they must contend with – the Limited Partners, the size and range of their portfolio, greater scrutiny over expense reporting and the sheer volume of searches to handle on their own.

Private equity and ventures firms, who are in the know, partner with a top-tier executive agent who provides the firm with a unique service that does not cost them anything for accessing executive talent for their portfolio companies – whether for a management team role or independent director. The executive agent can be a vital part of the private equity and venture value chain. The relationship eliminates one of the most expensive aspects of human capital talent acquisition.

Whether a Managing Director, General Partner, Chief Human Resources Officer, Operating Partner or Head of Talent Acquisition, when their responsibility is to find executive or board talent for a portfolio company, they should partner with a tried and true executive agent.

 At Summit, I believe we are revolutionizing executive recruitment services. Just like buying or selling a home, not all agents are created equal, so dig deep before you leap. We have a strong track record of filling C-level positions for companies, venture capital firms and private equity firms, as well as boards of directors — often in half the time of conventional executive recruitment services. Because our unique model has generated intense interest across the country — from companies, boards of directors, private equity firms and venture capital firms, I am fielding questions from retained search firms and outplacement firms. Many of them believe the traditional way is broken and are wondering if there is a better way. I know there is.

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