A couple of months ago, I got to sit with my friend Patricia Marshall Harris (in person!).
During that time, we filmed an episode of her series Dishing with Patricia. We had a wide-ranging conversation about martial arts, serial entrepreneurship, food, and the ins and outs of executive search.
One of the things that Patricia was interested in “the stuff that they don’t tell you” about board and executive-level placement. How do people get those jobs? Where do they find them? It’s not widely understood, even by most executives. I learned about it by working closely with an executive search firm, and now I spend most of my days in that world.
Below, I'm sharing an excerpt of how I explained the executive recruiting process to Patricia.
“If a company is going to hire a senior executive or put someone on their board of directors, they have two ways to do it. They either just use their own networks—so, for example, I would call Bruce [Patricia’s husband and my friend] because I know Bruce knows people. So that’s me working with my own network, which is no cost to me. If that doesn’t work, I will have to hire a retained executive search firm. These are professional service firms and all they do is find executives. They get paid a lot—about a third of a year’s compensation for that executive. It’s a lot. How do they do it? They cultivate their own networks. So they’re, in fact, doing the same thing I was doing. It’s just all they do.
“And guess what? They’re almost all white. Mostly male. So who do they know? They know all other white men, because we’re human and we tend to know people who are like ourselves. Therefore, if we’re trying to increase diversity—which is the right thing and is good for business, producing more innovation, better profitability, etc—then we need a new model. I saw this as an opportunity.
“First of all, when I’m hiring, how is it that my only options for hiring are to do it myself or pay a search firm $150,000? Shouldn’t there be something more cost-effective, maybe tech-enabled? So, that was an opening in the market. And there is a clear opportunity to build more open, more inclusive option. That’s why I founded this company: AboveBoard.
“I did it together with the most innovative retained executive search firm, True Search. And here’s what it is: it’s like a job board, an online platform. The difference is that we have board and senior executive opportunities openly available—we have 620 of them on the platform right now. These high-level openings have always been hidden. If you were an executive, there was no way to know they even existed. Our members are executives, and it’s free for them. We vet them to ensure that they are at the executive level. Once they’re a member, they come in and can see all of these opportunities on our platform. And their presence is completely confidential. They can raise their hand to express their interest, to say ‘Hey i’m interested in this opportunity’ to connect with the company.”
And that’s how executive search works today and what AboveBoard is doing to change it. You can watch or listen to the full conversation here. There are a couple of great recipes at the end, and I can attest to Patricia’s skill in the kitchen!