BIZ SAVVY: Hiring the Higher-ups – Global talent on your own doorstep

By KRYSTLE CHOW
Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
Feb. 4, 2008 (Feb. 7 on OttawaBusinessJournal.com)

Everyone’s been talking about the talent crunch in Ottawa and elsewhere, but fast-growing optical networking company BTI Systems had no problems finding a new executive to oversee its global operations.

BTI’s management team got a little help from its friends to identify former BreconRidge president John Haydon as the ideal candidate for its senior vice-president of global operations role, and he joined the company earlier this month.

Franca Marinelli, BTI’s vice-president of global organizational development, and CEO Lance Laking shared with the OBJ some of the elements to consider for an equally smooth ride in the executive recruitment process.

OBJ: Could you describe John Haydon’s role in the company?

LAKING: Global operations … includes our overall manufacturing strategy, it takes in our customer care, customer service organizations. It also includes our information management systems, our IT strategy as being a critical deliverable for the senior operations executive. In that, we have John Haydon working very closely with our sales organization to help drive the business scaling, and with that there’s an extension to his involvement both with our customers and supporting them from the operations side, and our channel partners. It’s a pretty multi-faceted and involved position that is certainly part of our senior executive team.

OBJ: And why did you decide to hire for this particular role at this particular time?

MARINELLI: The company, having sort of focused in the last couple of years on development, was at the juncture where we were prepared to scale and grow our global operations. So basically that became the catalyst for looking to hire someone of John Haydon’s calibre with his expertise and his proven track record.

OBJ: What were some things you considered in hiring for your global operations executive?

MARINELLI: Someone who understood growth in our industry, understood our customers and had interfaced and dealt with that sort of customer and market space. I think also someone who had proven experience in terms of understanding the overall building and growing of an operation internationally, relationships with contract manufacturers, understanding delivery models in terms of customer service, customer care, manufacturing operations. Those were sort of the technical and experiential components that we considered.

OBJ: How did you identify Mr. Haydon for the position, and what was the process like?

LAKING: I think we have a great network amongst ourselves at the management team level, and that’s complemented and expanded with our board-level participation that includes both our investors and our independent board members, all of whom have some level of domain expertise in our market and in our sector. So that horsepower that we brought right out of the starting blocks for networking, targeting and identifying potential candidates is a pretty powerful one.

MARINELLI: The traditional approach to recruiting is you go to the executive search firm, that holds a lot of value, but … we had the good fortune of a very strong network where our last four hires have actually come through our network, so these are known proven individuals in their area of expertise, in their domains.

It was timing and opportunity. We strategically had identified and early decided that this was going to be one of our key hires. We started to develop the framework of how the role was going to align to the overall strategic thrust of the company and literally started some dialogue with our network and started to identify a number of individuals, of which John Haydon was one. The alignment and timing was just right. I don’t think we faced any challenges, but it was just how the stars aligned, I think.

OBJ: So why did you decide to hire a North American executive instead of looking to the markets where you’re planning to expand?

LAKING: BTI Systems is an Ottawa-based company; our activities and our customers are situated around the globe, but the lion’s share of our executive management team resides here in Ottawa, and so having that tight linkage to the other senior management members is important. That’s not to take away from looking at other possible candidates elsewhere in the world, but … John Haydon was a “known commodity” to us, the timing was right and opportunity knocked. It was just beautiful synchronization of both John being interested and us having the time and growth plans to be able to accommodate that.

Specific to John Haydon, he has a very accomplished international experience; he’s just returning to Ottawa and Canada from several years of international experience in Europe and in Asia, so that’s fresh experience in John’s back pocket that is really to our advantage. So it’s not that we’re leaving the international component on the side. John absolutely brings that and the fact that he chose for lifestyle reasons to return to Ottawa, that only strengthens the position that we have here with John because his whole life-work balance is optimized and he can jump in here and hit the ground running.

OBJ: What sort of tips do you have for companies thinking of expanding abroad and looking to hire for this type of position?

MARINELLI: At a generic level, I think when it comes to attracting for hiring, probably the most critical thing is having a compelling story for what the strategy of the company is. I think that is, first and foremost, the most critical in terms of the engagement and interest of top talent in the executive field.

I think when you’re targeting and attracting executives of a certain calibre who bring a certain level of professional exposure, like in John’s case … what you create in terms of the story to attract them has to be how are they personally going to influence and be rewarded by their contribution. We spent a lot of time with John talking about where BTI is going, the critical component of that role, but mostly about his technical skills and his experiential background and how that’s going to contribute to the company.

I think the third piece is in addition to building that success story, it has to do with the organizational culture, and I think the leadership team that you become a part of also has a big role in hiring executives. When you bring, let’s call it over 15 years of experience, that’s sort of the second half of your career or profession, you want to be a part of a team that’s building something great.

THE EXPERTS SAY

Expanding globally really does require the executive search to take a much larger mandate; you have to throw the net farther … You’d want to be leveraging strong partners with previous relationships with customers in other parts of the world to get access to them, so the executive you’d be looking for would have relationships with partners that touch those customers directly on a regular basis. The person would also … need to understand that the channel partner is the front line (for the customer) and you’re backing them up; it’s a more complicated operational model. They have to understand the difference between managing customers directly and managing partners in an arms-length manner.

E.A. Clarke, partner, Stonewood Group

Some of the most important things are experience with contract manufacturing and offshore manufacturing, which are huge for companies still designing and building product. There needs to be an understanding of the logistical and transportational issues of moving product … there’s a huge amount of gross margin on the table, and you have to think of the implications on quality of manufacturing in China and shipping to Latin America in a cost-effective way. A lot of companies that haven’t been involved in the global operational footprint, it’s surprising to them how complex it is, with local knowledge required. It also depends on whether it’s the … supply chain side of global operations, which can be managed from head office with someone with a ton of experience and a willingness to travel. If (the job) involves the management of channel partners, it pays to have someone on the ground there because it’s a lot to do with how business gets done and products get sold. It can be a steep learning curve for someone to get up to speed. On the operations side, the widget has to come out with certain specifications and it’s easier to manage remotely.

Jim Harmon, managing partner, Ray & Berndtson Ottawa

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