Bullhorn’s Executive Vice President of Enterprise & Salesforce, Ryan Murphy, recently sat down with Bob Livonius, Operations Advisory Executive at New MainStream Capital, and Lisa Maxwell, Founder and Managing Partner at Gerard Stewart, for a conversation on how impactful having a trusted executive search partner is when finding the right senior talent.
Can you share a little about yourself and your partnership with Gerard Stewart?
Bob Livonius: I’ve spent 25 years in the staffing industry as an operator until about 2015. Now, I’m working on the boards of staffing companies and making acquisitions with private equity. I joined the industry from selling computers for IBM. Of course, a computer is a far more error-free product to deliver than a human being in the staffing industry. Here we’re focused on hiring people that hire people to be placed on an assignment. So, it’s all about people in this industry.
The industry veteran executive who introduced me to staffing, who I admire to this day, hired me 28 years ago to run a $140M healthcare staffing company and he specifically said, “I do not want somebody from the staffing industry.” A few years later when we had a conversation about why he said that, he said, “The reason is that I only wanted to teach you the things about staffing that I wanted you to know and to develop a new vision for the industry.” He was very visionary. He created what is now known as the MSP in the commercial and professional sectors of our industry. I followed in his footsteps and helped create the MSP in the healthcare sector.
Following my retirement as President at AMN Healthcare, I started joining boards with private equity firms. I’m currently doing three different board activities. I am on the board of GrapeTree Medical and work with Supplemental Healthcare and Nomad Health. We recently sold ettain group, an IT platform where I was on the board.
Where my partnership with Lisa Maxwell of Gerard Stewart, comes into play is knowing that I can share a great deal about a company when we are in the acquisition process. And, I can talk to her confidentiality around our strategy on leadership movements. Our relationship allows me to think through: if we bought this company and we had to replace the CEO, what is the likelihood of us being successful?
Lisa has been successful in placing three new CEO’s for me in just the past few years. One perfect example of that is GrapeTree. We acquired the company based in the small town of Milford, Iowa, near Lake Okoboji. It’s a wonderful place if you’ve never been, but it’s a very small town and we were worried that it would be hard to attract a CEO to relocate to that market.
We ended up hiring someone without a traditional staffing background from the call center industry who was located only two hours away and has since relocated. But we really focused on the question of where can we find the right talent for this market? It’s a perfect scenario where working with Lisa, we talked about this long before we pulled the trigger to buy the company. And, in this case, we had our new CEO on site along with the new investors to meet all the employees on the day of closing. So, it’s wonderful to have a partnership and know that you’ve got somebody you can talk through ideas with and get sound advice on what’s realistic to do before you even make an acquisition.
Lisa and I have also exchanged a lot of information back and forth over the years about what’s going on in the marketplace. Where do we see the growth and where do we see people exiting? That has helped us focus on the best opportunities.
Can you elaborate on how you assess finding the right fit for a role even if they come from outside of that particular industry?
Bob Livonius: Generally, I’d say that having staffing experience is a big plus. And, if you can find somebody with the right track record and has staffing experience, they’re going to have the edge. But it also depends on what the vision is for growth of a company.
Another perfect example with GrapeTree is that we wanted that company to be more of a call center operation than a traditional staffing model. Our CEO put in a Mitel telephone system and a quality control department. These are things you would typically see in a call center. Our CEO knew what to do to revolutionize a traditional staffing operation. Another example, the CEO of our IT staffing company had great ideas about advancing us into both as HIT practice and Managed Services in IT. We needed to recruit leadership that specializes in each of those areas, but with the background of staffing as well. Overall, when you talk about changing the vision of the company, you may need to go outside the staffing industry.
What intangibles do you look for when hiring for an executive role?
Bob Livonius: It’s going to sound fundamental to everybody, but people skills, accountability, integrity, decisiveness, and creativity are top of my list. Has the executive been deeply involved in client relationships and are they good at that? What’s the tenure of the team around them? Do they attract and retain great talent that would follow them if they could? The thing I say over and over and people get tired of me saying, but we’re in the people business. We don’t have any manufacturing plants. We don’t have any products or patents. We just hire people to create an inventory of people.
You need to thoroughly interview the person, take them to dinner, and do detailed diligence with team members at all levels. Oftentimes for a key position, I’ll go as far down the organization chart as I can and find somebody that used to work for that person.
If the person is going to be my CEO or my COO of the company that we’re buying, I’m going to do that personally. I’m not going to subcontract that part to my search partner. You must be able to answer: is this person going to be the culture fit I need? Will he/she take the company in the direction we need? And finally, do I want to take a phone call from that person on a Friday late afternoon? Will he/she be fun to work with? Life is too short, and those things are far more important than the track record. The track record gets you in the door. Then comes the cultural match.
Check out part 2 of our conversation to hear from Lisa on her relationship working with Bob and New MainStream Capital.