The Role of Executive Search in Succession Planning & Planning for Success

Journalist Peter Clayton interviews Sheryl Blackburn Vice Chair of the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation and Search Chair

Peter:   Hi,  this  is  Peter  Clayton  with  Total Picture Radio. Today, we’re going to go behind the scenes of the retained executive search conducted by Perry- Martel International for the Canadian Livestock Records Corporations, the CLRC.  I’m speaking with Sheryl Blackburn who was the search chair for the committee to hire a new general manager for the CLRC.

Sheryl, thanks for taking time to speak with me. First of all, tell us a little bit about the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation. What do you guys do?

Sheryl: We provide a registry service   for category  animals  across  Canada, and we provide the proper documentation so that they can certify that they have a purebred animal.

Peter:   Let’s talk about your executive search.   From what I understand, this is the first time you’ve used a search firm to conduct an executive search for your organization.

Sheryl: That is correct.

Peter:   Give  us  a  little  background  on  that.  What  was  the  decision  process?  Why did you decide to go out to an outside firm to fill this position?

Sheryl: Because I was frustrated. In the past, our  employees are long term employees. I have one employee right now that’s been there 42 years. Most of them  have  got  over  20  years.  In  the past, they’ve just promoted    from within. That has not been a good fit.

Coming  from a professional background, working with a charted accountant  firm,  I  said  to  the  board, “You  know,  we  can’t  promote  within. We  didn’t  feel  that  the  current  GM really did a GM job. This is too big for us as just a board to do, to set up a committee and try  to  get the advertising, to know how to advertise properly, to know how to go through all of the criteria that you need to go through to narrow the field down, then to go through and do all of the interviewing.”

We  had gone  through  a  process  with trying to hire an assistant systems individual. It was just mind blowing. The resumes were all over the place, from somebody  with no  experience to somebody with so much experience but there was no way they would even fit into the organization. I said, “If we go with a search company, they’re going to narrow that field for us. We have to spend some time figuring out what we want in a position. I think that will be the better way, especially since we weren’t promoting from within.”

How we came to David Perry was that we have retained a law firm in Ottawa to deal with employee relations. We went to them, to the lawyer there and asked him if he could recommend anybody. He recommended a couple of companies, and then we had an initial meeting with them, the chair of the board, myself, and general manager. Through the end, we figured that David Perry’s organization, even though he wasn’t used to dealing with as small of a level   as   what   we’re   dealing   with because we were very impressed with his international ability and everything like that, that if he was willing to take us on, we figured that he was the best fit with the information that he provided to us being able to go forward.

He had a plan in place before coming and talking to us and that was very impressive, and then when  we presented it to the board, they thought that that was the best alternative also.

Peter:   From what I understand in this conversation, you really felt that the current general manager, who I believe had been in the role for about 35 years.

Sheryl: He had been with the organization for 40  years  and  been  in  the  role  for 15 years I think.

Peter:   You really needed to  redefine what a general  manager  was  going  to  do  for the organization.

Sheryl: You got it.

Peter:   How   did   David   help   in   that   whole process?

Sheryl: After we decided to go with him, then he and the chair and myself, we sat down.  We had given David job description  letters  currently  in  place. We then talked for about four hours, saying  what  we  didn’t  like  about  the job,  what  we  would  like  to  see  as  a board come forward. He asked a lot of questions. We took our time and gave it a lot of thought but we came up with what we thought in the end was where we  would like  to  go  with the general manager.

Then we took that to the board to ensure that the other board members were   in   agreement   and   that   there wasn’t something that we were lacking, but it was just a case of I guess they’ve experienced being able to  ask various questions. We explained in a great amount of detail what we as a board, the roles we were fulfilling in the last 12 years but we didn’t think as a board member we should have to do.

Peter:   You really redesigned what the whole GM role was going to be from a standpoint  of  some  of  the  strategic things that you felt that that individual would need to be able to accomplish.

Sheryl: That’s right, our actual job description is very concise but yes, Dave was able to come up with a good GM job description after our discussion.

Peter:   He  had  sent  me  actually  something called  a  position  profile,  so  I  guess that’s  what  you  guys  signed  off  on, right?

Sheryl: That’s right.

Peter:   That’s really interesting, Sheryl, because now  everybody  is  on  the  same  page. This had to be somewhat of an educational process for you guys as well to  just go through this whole process before you start running out there placing job ads. Now you really have a defined document that states exactly what you’re looking for.

Sheryl: Yes, and I can’t talk highly enough of Dave. He spent the time, he provided me drafts for anything we needed changed or adjusted, then all of the other information he gave me, the 500 questions to ask when you’re doing an interview,   provided   a   write-up   he’s done on Don’t Hire a Liar, and he provided  us samples for doing reference checks, although he did all of the reference checks.

He provided us  with so     much information to guide us along the process,  something  that  neither  Dan nor I had done before. We’d gone for job interviews but never had done really the other side as in depth as what this was going to be. He let us do our thing but we always knew he was there to keep us in check.

Peter:   It sounds like a real educational process that you guys went through to really get an  understanding  of  what  goes  into, and why you go out and hire someone like Dave to begin with.

Sheryl: Definitely. If we have to do this again at the senior level, management level, that’s exactly where we’re going. The very interesting part about it is some of the people who we interviewed have even  indicated  that  they’re  going  to keep David in mind because they were so impressed with the whole procedure also.

Peter:   Let’s talk a little bit about the interview process. Once you’ve  got  this document, the position profile, and everyone from the board on down has agreed to exactly what this individual needed to have from a standpoint of background and qualifications, what happened next? How did David go out and find these individuals and present you with what, two or three people to interview?  Is that   basically what happened?

Sheryl: What happened was David then, after we had that put in place, he then had his search team go out. He only looked at people that were currently working. He came up with four individuals. The first go round, he said to me, “Now, this is only to do a baseline. I need to know that I’m looking for the right individual.”

We then had our interviews, talked to them. Then afterward, Dave and I talk after each individual. He was then prepared actually to go out with that information and continue the search. I told him that of the four he had brought forward were such good fits that I didn’t think it was necessary to search any further, that I thought the next round of interviews should occur with Dan, the chair of the board who is also on the committee with me.

It was actually five we talked to the second time around. David found another individual.  We narrowed it down to two individuals  and  we  did then the board interview. I had picked I think six questions from his list of 500, so that the board would get a feel for the individual and came up with then the final decision.  The final decision was actually made right after the second person was interviewed.

Peter:   This was successful from your standpoint then. The first four people that he brings in are good fits for your organization.

Sheryl: He nailed it right on. I think what the biggest  thing  was  is  because  we  had that conversation beforehand, he asked some  hard  questions,  he  had  a  real good  idea  as  to  what  type  of  fit  we were looking for, what type of person we needed. When he brought forward the candidates, like I said, there was no doubt that either one of the first four would have been a good fit.

Peter:   What  were  some  of  your  takeaways from this whole process that you could distill for us?

Sheryl: When you go out  and hire  a professional,  you’re expecting a professional standard. With Dave, he acted in a professional manner all the way through. He provided more than enough   information   to   help   us.   He would always ask me how to rank the four.  When  I  would  rank  them,  he would question me why I put them in the order that I put them.

He really makes you think. He doesn’t leave you out on that island, that deserted island. He brings you into the peninsula sort of thing because he gives you information. He guides you but he doesn’t direct you into the person who he thinks should be hired. He doesn’t say, “Well, I think this is the best fit for your   company,   and   these   are   the reasons why.”

He says, “Okay, who do you think is the best fit and why do you think they are?” He’s objective in it. He doesn’t interfere with your decision making. He doesn’t criticize. He just lets you go to come to your bottom decision.

Peter:   It seems like what  you’ve been describing to me, Sheryl, is he really assists you in your thought process and makes sure that you cover all of the different criteria that you should be thinking of.

Sheryl: That’s right, yes.   He gives you the material  that  you  need  to  help  you make that decision. I told him I read all 500  questions, and I read them three times before I came up with my six. He said,   “I’ve   never   heard   of   anybody doing that again.” I said, “But I needed to  understand  each  question  and  be able to pinpoint what I needed out of questions to be able to ask to know if I would have a fit or not.”  Like I say, he provided the information for us to be able to do that.

Peter:   You now have a new GM.

Sheryl: That’s  correct,  he’s  been  there  for  a month. It completely blows the board out  of the water  between   the difference between the two of them.

Peter:   You think this was a highly successful endeavor that you guys had here?

Sheryl: No doubt in my mind, it was well worth every cent that it cost us. I can say I’m 95%    positive   that    if    we    had    as individuals done this, as just board members, and I’m not saying we’re not educated or learned people, don’t get me wrong, but I am 95% sure that we would not have the fit that we have currently   if  we   had   done this independently.

Peter:   There certainly is a value to bringing in an  expert,  someone  like  David  Perry. This is what he lives. This is what this guy does every day. Everybody has their own  specific  skills  and  expertise.  This just happens to be David’s, finding the right       fit            for people  going     into organizations.

Sheryl: You’ve got it.

Peter:   Sheryl,  thank  you  so  much  for  taking time to speak with me. Based on your experience, you would hire David again to do one of these searches for an executive?

Sheryl: Oh   yes,   there’s   even   going   to   be documentation  put in the file  a permanent file about David so that for future  boards  to  know  that  this  was very successful and would always suggest that he also be retained again for a future search.

Peter:   Again Sheryl, thanks so much for taking time to speak with me. I really do appreciate it.

Sheryl: Thank you.

Peter:   We’ve    been    speaking    with     Sheryl Blackburn, the search chair for the committee to hire a new general manager for the Canadian Livestock Records                       Corporation.      The        retained executive search was conducted by David Perry, Perry-Martel International. By the way, this search was completed about two months ahead of schedule and comes with a one year guarantee. To learn more about Perry-Martel International, visit their website at

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